I 'm a woman who started out on the front foot. I went to an all girls' school and was one of the few women on my maths degree course - because as the theory goes, there were no boys in class to potentially intimidate me. Since that time, I've gained a few degrees, worked at some amazing places and yes, I've even clinked glasses with our digital hero Tim Berners-Lee. The only feminist decision I'm likely to make this year is whether I keep my own name when I get married (afterall, 17th century Sarah Jennings was a formidable character and I'm not sure I'm ready to part company with her just yet!)
Despite all my bragging, I'm not the type to stand on the roof and shout. I'm most comfortable behind the scenes: a convenor of people, an encourager, a nurturer. I know these are my natural tendencies from countless 360 degree reviews. There's nothing wrong with them but it appears that these female characteristics are at odds with those needed to fuel the ambition and drive to reach the top. At least, this is what I'm led to believe.
Are these stereotypical characteristics the reason why 32% of councillors are women but only 12% are leaders of councils? We get a place at the table but don't quite manage to seat ourselves at the head. My question has always been is it me or is it the attitudes of the people appointing me? Could it be the same for women councillors - is a man more likely to be voted into the top spot because people don't 'think' women have the right characteristics to lead?
Female stand up comics have long suffered from this. According to a survey
last year, only 1 of the top 20 highest paid comics is a woman - Sarah Millican (who, frankly, I don't find that funny but I guess that's my opinion!) One of the issues is that general opinion states that 'women aren't funny.' Start to believe this and you end up reinforcing a myth and put generations of women off becoming comedians - they don't think they're funny and audiences have been brainwashed into thinking they're not funny. As a stand up, you're straight in at the deep end - there's no working up the ladder and testing the water; it's just you, a mic and an audience. You live and you die on that stage.
So how do we break this cycle whatever the career we choose? I took part today in the Guardian online debate - 'Where have all the women gone?'
Unsurprisingly I think all the participants were women. But I think that's ok. Towards the end the panellists were asked to give their top tips for those of us wanting to get to the senior spots.
There were the usual ones: believe in yourself; you're as good as anyone else if not better; network with other women in your sector so you can share experiences / tips / frustrations; put yourself forward for senior roles (either voluntary or paid), celebrate the skills and experience you do have.
All well and good, but I've come to the conclusion that just ensuring it's me who succeeds isn't good enough. I feel that as a woman, it's my duty to help create an environment that ensures other women succeed.
It's time to shrug off the brainwashing, step outside the matrix and see things for what they really are.