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Do women need positive discrimination?

Do women need positive discrimination?

I am not sure how this will work, but in the budget it has been announced that £12.5 million has been set aside to encourage women entrepreneurs. As with a lot of government initiatives I wouldnt be surprised if there are caveats on this limiting it to the long term unemployed.

As a woman entrepreneur, it may sound strange, but I find this slightly patronising. I am in my late 30s and apart from a minor incident in 1985 have never experienced any sexual discrimination in the workplace.

People are quoting statistics about the lack of females at board level but is that through discrimination or do less women want these roles?

Thinking of people I personally associate with , some are females with good jobs others would rather be at home and have no desire to hold down a demanding job.

I have always worked full time and in addition have been a single mother from when my children were babies. I also worked until the day before I gave birth with no. 2. I know this life would not be for a lot of people, hence I am in the boardroom, they are doing other things.

I feel we are in danger of getting to a stage when women in senior postions may be viewed as having got there through legislation rather than ability.

I would welcome any comments from any other females or males to see if I have been lucky and if discrimiation still exists.



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17th Mar 2008 20:00

Women don't need this
I qualified in the early seventies - my mid-sized (at that time) firm were keen that I should disprove their worries about taking on female articled clerks... The only discrimination I was aware of was not being allowed to go on away audits - I think because they were concerned for my teenage virtue!

After 5 years post-qualification working, I had my first baby and took 6 years out to look after my children - certainly wouldn't have been capable of organising a Nanny (and didn't want to). I gradually built up my Practice from home, working in school hours - doing more and more as my boys needed me less and less. I had hated tax but realised that this was what I mainly had to do.

I could really have done with a six-week refresher course to bring me up-to-date and revive self-confidence, but which was free (I wouldn't object to a bit of money being available for back-to-work courses for either gender); luckily I found an ex big four tax partner to act as my consultant instead.

What I did suited me and my family perfectly and I had no desire to hit the boardroom or go back to working with partners - although I do now have occasional twinges of not exactly regret, perhaps curiosity, for what the alternative might have been.

I agree that this budget measure is outmoded and patronising - women nowadays have the confidence and the ability to get wherever they want - by themselves.

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17th Mar 2008 18:18

I was also studying in the 80's and felt the effects of real discrimination. Working in industry, I was one of three people who applied for study leave and funding - the other two being male. There was funding available for only two people and I was turned down because I had three young children and the FD considered that I was far less likely to achieve the CIMA qualification than my male colleagues. I funded my own studies - which I did by distance learning and revision courses using evenings, weekends and holidays. Needless to say, I was successful, and owed no loyalty to the employer.. Both of the male colleages dropped out before the final stage. (Interestingly, one of these men told me that he found the studying too much when his baby came along!)

This kind of discrimination must be almost a thing of the past by now and I can see no benefit at all in tipping the balance in the opposite direction. The reality is that many a young mum now would choose to be a full time mum if it was possible to keep a roof over the family head on a single income - and why not? Since when has a position in the boardroom been the only measure of 'success'.

I take nothing away from those women (or - for that matter - men) who have reached the top in their chosen profession, but it isn't the right course for everybody. If the government addressed (or even recognised) the real problems instead of trying to fit the population into a set of pre-determined statistics we'd all be better off.

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By Anonymous
17th Mar 2008 15:58

Well said Ken....
I too find it abhorrent when a position is filled on the basis of some arbitrary quota to be met, instead of being given to the best person for the job.

When I was studying accountancy at college (in 1983) us females were in the minority and we worked with tutors who would not even ackowledge our existence (one ALWAYS referred to the class as "you chaps"!) I have also experienced discrimination in the workplace, on one memorable occasion taking a job over from a male who proved himself incapable of doing it, then finding out he was still earning £4k a year more than I was!

However I would hope that anything I have ever achieved has been on merit, and not because someone patronisingly thought I might need a helping hand as I am a poor delicate female.....

By offering "extra help" to anyone on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, religious beliefs or whatever negates the achievements of the others in that group. It is also just as offensive to give someone a job/funding/help because they are female/disabled/in a minority, than to NOT give it to them.....because of the patronising overtones. That is my opinion anyway.......

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By Anonymous
17th Mar 2008 12:36

anon female 35
You and I appear to be living parallel lives. I worked for a big 4 co after my first child was born 10 years ago, 3 days a week. As you say, the worst clients were on my list (tedious, difficult, boring). No one wanted me on their projects as "I wasn't there all the time", even though, when you look at how often people are out of the office anyway, it really didn't make much difference. It was not a good experience, and did not help my self confidence, or help make me feel I was making the right decision in leaving my child with a child minder every day. I thought I was imagining it, but am relieved to see I was not alone.

Have now been happily and fruitfully self-employed for 8 years, despite the gasps and doubts from those I worked with when I resigned.

anon female (slightly older than 35)

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17th Mar 2008 10:05

Not enough time elapsed yet...
I think that the "powers" never allow enough time for major society changes to filter through. Yes, females, ethnic minorities, disabled, etc are under-represented in every aspect of modern life, but instead of whining about how few there are, and ploughing even more money in, surely we should be thinking about just how far we have already gone in the right direction, due to changes made in the past decade or two.

When I started in accountancy 25 years ago, I never had a single ethnic nor disabled client and I would estimate that only 5-10% of clients were females with their own business (though many were of course subordinate partners with their hubbie!). Now, looking at my client base, us being a new practice established 7 years ago, over half our clients are women (many with subordinate hubbie partners) and we have 10-20% of clients who are ethnic or disabled. To me that is quite an achievement and a substantial change in composition. We have done nothing to encourage this - we take on all-comers to our practice as long as they are ethical, moral and legal - it's just the way society is evolving.

I'd say we should just let things carry on as they are. We have the anti-discrimination laws, there is now far more open-mindedness about the abilities of minorities, etc, less "ism's". If we aren't careful, we will go too far in the opposite direction (as always happens) and then have to start artificially encouraging other social classes and taking away rights and incentives to get back to the ideal middle ground.

As for positive discrimination, I personally find it abhorant, whether it is for females. ethnics, disabled, etc., and any ideas of quotas etc is simply ridiculous. The best person should always get the job - if that means reasonable changes to entry qualifications etc then fair enough - to create a level playing field, but in my mind, giving incentives only to certain groups, and closing options to other certain groups will fuel division in society.

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By Anonymous
17th Mar 2008 09:36

Discrimination does still exist but...
I don't think that alone would account for the lack of women at senior levels.

I have two children aged 7 and 4. When I had the 7 yo I was working for one of the big 4 in London, went back 3 days a week after maternity leave. The experience was less than satisfactory for all concerned. At a senior manager level which i was then, the firm doesn't actually want people working part time but is forced to do the family friendly show and pretend all is good and they are a great family friendly employer. As for the employee, I was viewed as having less committment therefore got given the 'easy' aka boring clients as they would put up with not contactiong me 7 days a week. I can see why I got those clients but it was very hard to go back into the workplace and be given the cr*p without being given a chance to prove myself.

I lasted 16 months back at work part time before leaving, and I held the record for the longest part time fee earner in the history of the department of 200.

I then went to a local company as Finance Manager, a step down in career terms, taking another 40% paycut, to take a job which was actually meant to be part time so there were none of the pressures of the big city career.

I am now building up my own practice alongside the part time job and hope soon to be able to give up the day job, but only when my little one goes to school in September.

I guess the point to this is that yes discrimination does exist, and to an extent I can understand why it does HOWEVER the main point is that parents, both male and female, have to make a choice of whether family life or career is more important and it is still likely to be the woman who takes the family carer role and so has to sacrifice the career accordingly.

I have sacrificed my career, but not for a second do I regret it. I have less money but my children know me, we all have choices to make in life.

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14th Mar 2008 18:04

12.5 mill could buy a lot of grief
The money won't go very far in helping women into the boardroom; but it will give the impression generally that women are being given an unfair 'leg up'.

I think if a woman really wants to be in the boardroom, she will get there on her own merit. If she is really prevented by male discrimination does she really want that particular boardroom? (it's more likely to be their loss than hers). If she's good enough, she will find her position.

The biggest problem with any positive discrimination is that it has the effect of devaluing the achievments of those who didn't make use of it.

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14th Mar 2008 15:23

The question is Dan...
... is that because they are unable to become entrepreneurs or is it because less women WANT to be entrepreneurs?

If you look at the proportion of self employed Sparkys who are women I'm sure it will be way below 50%, but I doubt it is because women are unable to get into it (ok, so perhaps the blokey blokes wouldn't want their wiring doing by a girl).

I think the generalisation that if women/disabled/non white people are under-represented in a profession they need help to re-balance things is not always correct, I feel often it is because that gender/race isn't as interested in the profession as the rest. I can't speak for women, but from what I've seen they are often just less interested in the cut throat behaviour often needed to reach the top.

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By dan06
14th Mar 2008 14:46

Not wishing to rely too much on stats but only around 14% of owner managed companies are currently run by women entrepreneurs which is an awful figure and shows there is a huge disparity between the number of men and women in business.

However, whether the government should be setting aside funding specifically aimed at female entrepreneurs is a different matter. Personally, I think such efforts encourage more discrimination. What the authorities should be doing is promoting an enterprise for all strategy rather than channelling money off in different directions.

Dan Martin

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14th Mar 2008 13:56

Steven, you asked
what does £12.5 million buy? Well, it is just shy of the amount necessary to install an IT system for online filing trust tax returns.

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By Anonymous
14th Mar 2008 13:02

There, there, love...never mind..there's nothing wrong with a bit of extra help, because after all you deserve're such a lovely little cutie.

Now run along and make me a nice cup of tea...

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By Anonymous
14th Mar 2008 12:37

Does discrimination still exist?
VL is fortunate if she has hardly ever experienced any discrimination. I've certainly experienced both overt (and illegal) discrimination and what I'd call 'cultural' sexism in the workplace, and anecdotal evidence from many friends confirms that my experience is not unusual. I think she may be somewhat naive in wondering whether discrimination still exists; didn't I read the other day that the gender pay gap is wider than ever, even 30+ years after the Equal Pay Act?

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By Anonymous
14th Mar 2008 12:18

Not sure
I have had two "interesting" experiences this week -
1. I had a major grilling from a new partner in an existing partnership client. He wanted my entire life history etc and the more I think about it, I think he wants a male accountant he can play golf with (apologies if this sounds sexist in itself, but these people exist). He was trying hard to find "problems" which don't exist and was pretty abrupt, and to be quite frank, I can do without clients like this. If it means I lose an existing client, I shall not lose sleep over it. I doubt any government incentive will change his attitude.

2. A male client who actively seeks female professionals to advise his business as he thinks any female who is in this position will have had to work twice as hard and men in the same position and will therefore be better at her job. (Don't worry, he is happily married! I was told this not by him but another client who knows him.)

I am encouraged by the Conservative's proposal to allow men to take 6 months paternity leave. If men were just as likely to disappear for a few months as women, it would do an awful lot to level the playing field.

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14th Mar 2008 10:55

I wonder what £12.5m buys in the world of government spending these days .... not an awful lot I suspect!

I think to a certain extent we have all moved on a bit and if my social peer group is anything to go buy then the struggle will be to get anyone in to the boardroom. By the time talented people get to their mid thirties and have accumulated sufficient experience to grace the boardroom they are looking for a change in their lives! Of the friends we made in our late twenties when we were corporate bods, I would say that 80% are now either:

Working from home
Set up their own small business
Full time childcarers

... these were all successful people and none are older than 41/42.

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By Anonymous
14th Mar 2008 09:47

Not sure it really is positive discrimination
Positive discrimination usually means promoting people because of their sex[***]/race rather than ability to do the job and I am 100% against that as all you get is people not up to the job in senior positions which reinforce any stereotypes already there.

However if funding is being targeted at those issues which generally affect women - eg how to get affordable childcare, or improve confidence levels which is an issue a lot of women have problems with, then I think it is money well spent.

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By Anonymous
13th Mar 2008 13:17

I agree
My thoughts completely. This thing about not enough female board members is a total red herring.

I would be interested to compare the average length of time it takes for a male person to reach board level and then see what percentage of women have dedicated themselves to business for the same amount of time.

The same issue applies when people talk about women not earning as much pay as men.

There will always be some removed statistician telling us we can't succeed becasue of our sex[***], colour, marital status, postcode or schooling but it is all a load of total rubbish. It just provides get out clauses for people who don't want to succeed.

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13th Mar 2008 12:12

My thoughts exactly
After watching the Apprentice last night I was left in no doubt that women are as capable of being bullies and possessing the lack of manners and feelings necessary to rise to the top of an organisation as their male counterparts :)

But seriously (well, I stand by the above...) I do feel that sexism should be addressed but that giving advantages to women to help them succeed is either sexist in itself or implies that the women lack a quality neccessary to get there on their own.

And the women who get there (under their own steam or not) will always be viewed as having had an unfair leg up, which demeans the whole thing.

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By Anonymous
13th Mar 2008 12:08

Any form of discrimination - positive or negative is wrong in my view.

The government should be told that this is contrary to the law and to forget it. But one has come to expect such inept things from this government.

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