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 Delaney Communications
Business Writer of the Year Award Winner