theresa may mp

Has the glass ceiling at Westminister shattered today?

Berkshire MP Theresa May must be quietly satisfied this morning at the prospect of more females to stimulate discussion in cabinet.

Hers has been a lone and strident voice for a long time and it is likely that the former equalities minister has pressed the Prime Minister to give more females a chance at top office.

In the past she has played a major role in making it easier for females to find their way through the male dominated corridors of power at Westminster. She has done her bit to remove the barriers.  I certainly don’t envy her role as Home Secretary.  In many respects it is the poisoned chalice.  So far today at least one new female has offered a top job – Liz Truss is being drafted in as environment minister.

I heard Theresa May at the C8 breakfast recently about the struggles females have had in her profession.  The cross she has had to bear for many years has been the press concentrating on her fashion sense rather than her political sense.  Without falling into that trap I will point out that she looked remarkably fresh and not as care worn as the television tried to portray her the week she addressed us for breakfast.  It had been an especially trying time for her and the night before I had seen photographs and television of her looking dreadful.  Selecting the photo or tv image where she looked haggard and care worn seems to be her lot.  Implying perhaps she is not up to the job. There are a lot of tricks done in print and tv. If a male was portrayed that way, no-one would notice.  Indeed, not many people would notice what they are wearing or how they look.  But Theresa has to look good as well as sound good it seems.

News that there was to be a Parliamentary reshuffle and women were likely to take top jobs came hours after the news that women can be bishops in the Church of England.  Another historic vote.  Another chip in the establishment glass ceiling. Are there other ceilings likely to come crashing down or do women still suffer as second class in the workplace.  What is your view?

When I first entered journalism my office was male dominated.  In fact I was called ‘boy’ whenever the sub-editors who designed the pages needed the help.  Traditionally the junior role I did at first was done by a boy – hence my title. I did not complain.  We were told that there were always others keen to do the job and not to complain about Dickensian hours or anything else.  I had signed an apprentice indenture and had to accept my lot.

Ironically my first break at having a column of my own presented me with a male title again.  It was the John Huffam consumer column.  Fortunately that name did me a good turn because it was the middle names of Charles Dickens and I hoped some of his writing style rubbed off. Being Dickensian paid off for that role.

There were many other occasions when I, like Theresa May and countless other ambitious women, had to prove my worth by being better than the males.  I also encountered sexual discrimination.  Jimmy Savile actually dangled his bedroom keys in my face and told me “this will be the only way you will get an interview”.

He was my first celebrity interview and I remember being scared about telling my bosses about it. In those days I knew there wouldn’t have been condemnation or support for a young girl shocked by the suggestion.  I expected and would have got ribald laughter and ridicule about it. My convent education would have been brought up by the men.  I kept silent and covered up the fact I hadn’t got the interview. I wrote a story which was accepted by the news desk without comment.  But I always resented how I was treated by the television personality and told friends I thought Jimmy Savile was a sleezebag. I was proved right.

I have also encountered un-intentioned prejudice.  One year, my male account manager colleagues in public relations were given bottles of whisky as a Christmas gift for achievement.  The boss meant well, but he gave me a pair of tights!  I accepted the gift with gratitude and good grace but couldn’t help thinking that I should have been given the same gift as the others.  Would that happen now?  Fortunately not.

When I had children it was automatically assumed I would take lesser roles and work part time. Maternity leave didn’t exist.  It has made a big difference to the way women progress now.  It is a step forward but plenty can change in a role during the months away from it.  That’s why some find the only way to solve the issue is to get childminding and get back to work quickly. Those who choose not to give up their jobs totally find it hard to juggle their family and work life.  It is a struggle to find the balance. Theresa May does not have children and maybe that has made it easier for her to rise to the top. What has it been like for you?

A lot has changed thanks to the likes of Theresa May who is tipped by some as our next Prime Minister.  She will have to encounter plenty more back stabbing I suspect on the rocky road to the top.

carla delaneyCarla Delaney Communications
Business Writer of the Year Award Winner
01628 526456

4 thoughts on “Has the glass ceiling at Westminister shattered today?

  1. Without wishing to comment on your own brief synopsis of prejudice throughout your life Carla….this is indeed a welcome change in the cabinet make-up in many ways, but it needs to be looked at in the round, not just the increased number of women. Taking a possibly slightly cynical (but maybe accurate, who knows) view

    **Gove had to go – well meaning and bright, but an electoral liability. Even I (as a staunch Tory, or poss even the dreaded UKIP) often squirmed when listening to him.

    **The rise of the “pro-Osborne” faction is I think significant….are we about to see “Blair v Brown” repeat itself with “David v George” if the Tories win the next election

    **The move away from the Climate Change agenda with the down grading of posts relating to this – expediency to keep the coffers topped up from big business pre-election and claim that the burden on the consumer of the green agenda will be reduced. Then ramp up the green rhetoric again after the election if they are in power.

    **Out with the old (for many, time had simply caught up with them) and the relatively inefficient…. in with the new and younger, which includes a few talented ladies as it should…however the full cabinet is now something like 23 male, 5 women, with a few “female observers” – valued but in the background – a bit like Honeysuckle Weekes in Foyles War!! We should not get carried away that it’s time for girl power – although I stress that all the lady appointments appear good ones on the face of it.

    **Theresa May for next leader – I think she will have to get past George first – and a lot will depend on who wins the next election – and of course all 3 results are possible.

    A fascinating time politically and electorally indeed, on which I could spend all day filling these pages…but that’s for another day!!

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  2. Carla, what you briefly describe in terms of your experiences as a woman in a man’s world is truly shocking, and also rather sad, but of course – not surprising… It’s the ‘micro politics’ between women and men that needs to change.

    Politics is the power of relationships writ large. Sometimes saying nothing seems to be the best option and often is… because ‘saying something’ arouses and triggers often predictable, but nevertheless uncontrollable outcomes and unintended consequences for the individual who dares to speak up and make themselves accountable (if only to him or her self).

    Rob, of course, there is always room for the cynicism concerning the instrumental and strategic motivations behind those appointments… I wonder if there is room in ‘the press’ for the quiet voices, for the softly spoken… dare I say it … for the so-called ‘feminine’? It is comforting to remember that there is no order in miracles and that life unfolds in its own way and in its own time – as do we all – men and women alike.

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  3. There certainly is room for the “feminine” Franciszka – but I don’t think many of these ladies fall into that category – they have almost by necessity got to be tough, determined, prepared to push themselves forward in a male dominated world….but above all they need to be bright and talented, which means getting there on merit rather than “the old boys network”…..although maybe the latter is now being challenged by the need for our leaders to be seen as “gender neutral”.

    I am sure more ladies will be a good thing for the whole cabinet / government process – all they have to be is good enough to do the jobs they have been given – especially since (albeit unfairly) they are going to be the subject of extra scrutiny just because they are newly appointed ladies in the pre-election spotlight.

    Perosnally, I hope they all do very well – maybe the next Maggie is amongst them!!

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  4. Sexism in the workplace is alive and well and I disapprove wholeheartedly. However, a sanguine retort can work quite nicely: “You look better in skirts than trousers, you should show off your legs,” was offered to me not long ago. “Thank you for letting me know. I’d like to say you give good tie, but I’m afraid I can’t.” Harmless, anodyne but the point was made and he culprit never transgressed again. Not with me, anyway.

    Let us not overlook that the media is guilty of fueling our female leaders’ fashion fire; last week I heard the round of female political promotion referred to as “Cameron’s Catwalk.”

    Shameful sexism writ large from people who should know better.

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