Review: The Trouble with Working Women

Two women in business suits sit discussing something


What was the point of BBC Two’s The Trouble with Working Women, asks Mandy Garner?

Once the term “investigate” meant an in-depth probe of a subject, throwing up new ideas and information. But what did I learn from The Trouble With Working Women [BBC 2, Monday], an “investigation” by Sophie Raworth and someone called Justin Rowlatt? That women can shoot, that there is a pay gap between men and women which may be perhaps, perchance to do with women having children, that looking after children and working is a bit of a slog, that some people haven’t got flexible working, that Justin Rowlatt, whoever he is, is very annoying? At one point, surrounded by women workers, he asked the perfectly groomed Raworth, who looks like she should have been able to make a more intelligent programme than this, if they were all secretaries.

The programme was clearly aimed at the “General Public” so covered all the obvious points. There were interviews with Accenture about their flexible working and maternity leave policies and how they managed to retain the best staff that way. But infuriatingly, there was a sort of smug acceptance that men could make do with two weeks’ paternity pay. The only men who were interviewed about paternity policies were sitting under the stern gaze of their female and very vocally anti-flexible working, anti-maternity pay boss. Unsurprisingly, they were a bit wishy washy on the subject. There was then a mention of the obligatory survey results which seemed to show most women and men didn’t want men to be the carer of a newborn. Again, this was not particularly surprising if we are talking about newborns and there was no attempt to delve any further into the issue than that.


There were “experiments” designed to pit the presenters against each other – with Rowlatt playing Neanderthal man and Sophie Raworth being the voice of working women. Again, they told us practically nothing about anything, but were probably thrown in to keep people interested. They failed.

We heard that there was sex discrimination in the City, that surgeons work long hours which don’t fit very well with family life, a boxer said men were superior to women, there were vox pops from random people about random issues. Erin Pizzey and Rosie Boycott were wheeled in to have a go at early feminism’s lack of interest in childcare issues and we were informed that there is a “glass maze” rather than a glass ceiling that working women have to negotiate. As the programme wore on Raworth increasingly spoke of her own opinions about being a working mum, but Rowlatt, who has three daughters, didn’t mention a thing about his family life except to say that maybe he wouldn’t want his girls to fire guns.

So what was the result – that women have more complex career choices than men, but that it is all fundamentally about “choice”? There was no real examination of anything, including what “choice” actually means. While they interviewed Accenture, the main message on flexible working that came out was that it was a bit of a drain on companies’ resources: it might help retain talented staff, but at a bit of a cost. Perhaps I should just be happy that there has been a mainstream programme about being a working mum/parent, even if it was on BBC 2.

Part two was a slight improvement. There was a househusband, the big names were all in there [Harriet Harman, Cherie Booth and Lynne Franks] and they talked about all the arguments around equal pay – women doing different, less well paid jobs, confidence, self-worth, single sex schools, whether women “choose” less well paid jobs. And Justin at last spoke about his family, but there was little discussion about whether work itself needed to change to accommodate families – both for mums and dads. Instead the programme seemed to accept the main breadwinner/primary carer model was the right one and there was no alternative.
It was all okay, it seemed to imply, because even though women were less well paid, they led richer lives and were generally happier. Hurray.

What did you think?

Comments [1]

  • says:

    You are so right – the BBC treat us like thick ill educated oiks – I couldn’t even be bothered to watch it all – the programme could have been condensed into a 10 minute slot for the actual factual information it gave….. I don’t need to go on – seeing Cherie Blair made me switch off.

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