18 July 2018
Mary Portas

The subject of women and the culture we work in exploded into the public consciousness as I was writing my book, Work Like a Woman. Sexual harassment, the gender pay gap: skeletons have come tumbling out of the closet during 2017 and 2018.

It’s clear that work is working against women, even the most successful.

It’s not outright discrimination any more. (Usually.) In fact, we’ve got enough of a stake in the workforce today for many of us to believe that women are doing okay. We’re given jobs, earn about the same as men, until we have children, and some of us get to the top.

But the subtle barriers facing us range from our often doing jobs that are financially undervalued, to workplaces that don’t truly accommodate our roles as carers, or a ceiling that is all too often not made of glass but concrete.

And fifty years after we entered the paid workforce in large numbers, we are finally beginning to feel less grateful about the progress we’ve made – and are starting to get angrier about how much further we have to go before we achieve parity with men.

I welcome this. We need to be angry.

We are as strong, capable and talented as men, and need to start pushing for a faster pace of change to allow us to realize our true potential. Who knows where that will take us individually?

But this issue is about more than each one of us. It’s about something far bigger collectively. It’s about power. And the leaders who make the decisions that intimately affect our day-to-day lives.

Mary Portas | Let's create an unstoppable force for change in the workplace

It’s clear that work is working against women, even the most successful

Where power once lay in the hands of kings and bishops, today it’s with the leaders of politics, business, technology and finance. These are the people whose decisions dictate whose pocket will be worse hit by budget cuts, the pensions and prospects of millions of workers, and which war we will fight in.

And women aren't making these decisions because we aren’t at the top in anything like equal numbers to men.

Just two out of sixty-one British prime ministers have been women. There’s never been a female governor of the Bank of England since it was set up in 1694. Just one of the nine members of its current committee is a woman. A mere six of our 100 biggest companies are headed by a woman.

This top-line data alone tells us we haven’t got a foothold in the door of power. It's more a toe over the threshold.

It means we’re working – and living – in a system that doesn’t reflect the things we often want or our priorities.

Meanwhile self-serving competition, arrogance and focus on individual wins over the collective good are sadly too prevalent in the behaviour of many of our leaders today. This is why we have to make work more equal, allowing women to rise and take their equal place at the top of power structures. Creating a better balance between men and women will help us to start to shape a future that truly reflects all our needs, thoughts and considerations together.

Instead of suppressing women’s talents, values and expertise, putting essentially feminine qualities, like empathy, collaboration and flexibility, strength, courage and resilience, at the heart of the system will create a radical shift in how we work –  and live.

That’s not to say all women and men necessarily have – or don’t have ‒ these qualities. Each one of us embodies a million different aspects of the complicated kaleidoscope that is personality. But, like it or not, certain qualities have traditionally been pigeonholed as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ so that’s my starting point.

And I believe all of us would benefit from seeing more of what’s considered feminine valued at work because women may be at the sharper end of this, but many men are affected too.

Simply tweaking how things stand with a leadership scheme here or a pay rise there will not create the kind of change we need. Neither will paying public lip service while keeping a tight private grip on the status quo.

There must be a radical re-evaluation of how we work ‒ and a cultural shift at the heart of it.

That’s why we’ve got to work together.

Work is central to all our lives but only half of us are making the most of it – and we’re all losing out because of that. It’s time to find a new way to work that will help us create a better future for all of us – and our children.

It is time for change.

Be part of the change. Sign up to the campaign now at www.worklikeawoman.co.uk

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