Whatever Happened to the Glass Ceiling?

What do Pepsi, Kraft, DuPont, Xerox, and Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals have in common?

Two things: all would be on any list of archetypal American industrial conglomerates – the sort caricatured as being run by fat men with top hats and cigars – and all are, in fact, now being run by women Chairmen.

Note that they all use the title “Chairman”, not “Chair” or “Chairperson” or “Chairwoman”. That is in itself significant.  Public sector types get very worked up about women not being in positions of authority, and see “inclusive” nomenclature, tokenistic quotas, and legislative nonsense like Britain’s Equality Act (have we mentioned that we dislike it?) as the best way to promote women. 

The private sector adopts a different approach – it simply rewards success, irrespective of gender.

The irony is that the relaxed private sector actually has a better record of putting women at the very top of the pyramid than the obsessed public sector. You do not see many women Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, or Mayors of major cities, but you are seeing a lot of women CEOs and EVPs – future CEOs.

A system based solely on merit actually favours talented women more than public sector tokenism.

More than that, every woman who heads a company in the private sector – from a part-time small business to a major multinational – knows she is there because she deserves it. Unlike their public sector sisters, they did not need special treatment. Every one of them earned her place. The markets would not allow it any other way.

Note also that women are more likely to reach the very top in business in the meritocratic United States than in Europe, where there is more tokenistic legislation.

Some still complain that there are fewer women in higher management in private business than men. There probably always will be. Women are more likely to desire career breaks, for obvious reasons. That is their choice, and choices have consequences. That is the nature of choice.

What is now beyond dispute is that no position in private business in the West is inaccessible to a woman with the ability and the ambition to seek it.

In this, as in so much else, the public sector, instead of telling us what to do, should be trying to copy our example.   

Just How Gaga Can You Get?

The top priority of Britain's incoming Coalition Government should have been to restore economic stability and create the conditions for a meaningful return to growth.

And, as everyone keeps telling us, the power horse of that economic growth will be small businesses.

Or will it?

Today sees the enforcement of the euphemistically named Equality Act, one of the greatest works of stupidity from the current government's economically illiterate predecessor.

Lady Gaga
Lady GaGa at a US equalities rally

Here are some of its implications:

  • Employers can no longer ask prospective employees about their health. Being sufficiently well enough to work is a pre-condition of doing any job but we are no longer allowed to ask!
  • You can bring a discrimination case against your employer just because you assess yourself as having been offended by a conversation others are having. Not just a conversation – any conduct you deem is unwanted to you. Your employer has no control over this but remains liable nevertheless.
  • Employers must positively discriminate in favour of ‘minority groups’. Does being an employer count as a minority group? How far away are we from having lawyers assess every employment application, sit in on every employment interview and promotional panel?

So obviously economically self-defeating is this piece of legislation we do not need to spell out why. Whereas there is a case to argue that it is wrong to discriminate on matters which have no impact on someone’s ability to do their job, this legislation manifestly undermines British business’s ability to be competitive, forcing it to recruit people incapable of doing their job.

Now, in case we ourselves are discriminated against by being called heartless bastards, we do agree that this daft legislation has noble intentions. But the problems it seeks to address – where they are genuine rather than imagined – are society's problems.

It should be for society to bear the burden of all this fairness. Indeed it will, but not as intended. The cost of all this regulation, while providing a ginormous trough for lawyers, consultants and regulators to stick their parasitic snouts into, will be borne by business, not society as a whole. In effect, another huge tax on business and a tax that will fall disproportionately on small and entrepreneurial ventures.

The government is looking to small business to create the millions of jobs needed for economic recovery. Way before this ridiculous move we were predicting the Jobs Crunch. This particular contributor long ago decided never to take on an employee in present day Britain, not because of the cost but because he has an enterprising nature and doesn’t want to spend his time at work acting as an über-administrator.

Many will now follow suit. Others less savvy will see their businesses go under with the sheer weight not just of the regulatory cost but the time costs too. Time that should be spent generating wealth.

It is this impediment to economic growth which will be the burden society as a whole ends up paying.

Our previous blog post lamented the lack of a representative voice for small business. Not even we could have imagined their impotency in fighting this move – a job left to a columnist from the left-of-centre, generally anti business, Guardian newspaper.

If This Is Feminism, We Approve

Experience dictates that someone with the title “Equalities Minister” (sic) is not likely to be a friend of business.

We are therefore delighted to be able to write in praise of Lynne Featherstone, MP, for her excellent suggestion that Joan from Mad Men should be a role model for women.

Her point is that women should be proud of their natural body shape and that the fashion for women to look like stick insects is a marketing con. As we pointed out in a previous post – under some business pretext or other – this is a point on which both men and feminists are agreed.

Yet there is a broader point that Mrs Featherstone missed but which supports her case for Joan as a feminist role model.

Anyone who has seen the television series – highly recommended, by the way – will know that Joan is the best manager in the advertising agency for which she works. While the partners seem to spend most of their time drinking and committing adultery, Joan is the one who actually runs things.

Joan is loyal, intelligent, organised, socially perceptive, efficient, and a born leader. Think of her as a Company Sergeant Major with the curves of a D-Type Jaguar, or perhaps a sexy version of Margaret Thatcher.

The last season saw her sidelined, married to an unappreciative dolt. Things went downhill at the agency without her. The priapic partners had to sober up and set up a new agency in just 48 hours. Chaos ensues until one of them says he knows someone who might be able to help. Cue Joan’s dramatic return – the moment she walks through the door, everyone knows everything is going to be all right.

Yes, Mrs Featherstone is right on this one: we need a lot more Joans. Every businessman fantasises about having one – and not for the reason most people might think.

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