Women need to avoid a gender war mentality and work with men to counter sexual harassment in the workplace and macho work cultures, according to a new book by Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club.
The 30% Club campaigns to get more women in the boardroom. Morrissey’s book, A good time to be a girl, is optimistic about the opportunities for women today, but it says progression towards gender equality could be set back by three things. These include getting “stuck in the ‘gender war’ mentality”, emulating men and boys rather than bringing women’s “differences” to the fore and fretting that efforts in developed countries are self indulgent when so many women around the world still lack even the basic rights.
Morrissey writes: “It has, for many, never been a better time to be a girl, yet highly educated, affluent women often dwell on the unresolved issues. It’s important to keep working on those, but counterproductive if we complain more than we celebrate.” Instead she says women should work with the majority of men who are supportive of women and educate them if their behaviour is holding women back. “We need to be on our guard against adopting a victimhood narrative”, she adds.
The book is in part a response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In which called on women to try harder to get ahead within the existing system in order to build a critical mass of women at the top. Instead of women conforming and trying to fit into the traditional work culture, Morrissey counsels changing the system, reinventing the game by creating new ways of working and living for the modern world built on partnership and collaboration. She writes: “‘Leaning in’ is demoralising if what we are leaning in to doesn’t suit us – not because we’re prima donnas, but just because we don’t operate quite like that.”
The book sees opportunity in the economic and technological turbulence all around us and says gender balance is part of the solution to the problems facing many businesses today, including automation. Morrissey, who is currently Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General, is a firm believer that women bring different qualities to work than men, such as empathy, collaborative behaviour and empathy. She is not saying that men do not have any of these qualities, but she does question the effectiveness of the macho, patriarchal work culture that has been constructed, which can be alienating to so many people and which fails to develop so much potential. The book talks a lot about a “feminine brand of power” and about men and women working together to bring out the best in each other and to promote diversity of thought.
Morrissey talks about her own career and family. She sees herself as being part of the “transition” generation, allowed into a masculine club and still having to fit in. She says her career has been aided by self awareness, meritocracy and a supportive husband who is the primary carer for their nine children and she speaks about her children’s views of how their parents have bucked gender stereotypes.
The book also has advice for CEOs who want to promote diversity, including listening to those who are underrepresented, making HR one of the most important areas of the business, making design changes in recruitment, promotion and pay and advertising internally and externally what they are doing.
Morrissey says: “We have only seen the start of the widening gulf between corporate winners and losers. There will be no hiding place for long-established brands as innovators create new, exciting and relevant products and services – and ways of working that attract the best staff. In my view, three characteristics will have strong bearing on who wins and who loses: smart use of technology, aligning with customers’ values and fostering diverse talent.”
*A good time to be a girl by Helena Morrissey is published by William Collins, price £14.99.