Who gets to the top?

Climbing the career ladder


I have done a few courses in my time. That means I get the odd few calls from various alumni teams, usually assuming I am making a packet and therefore able to donate lots of money to them. I also get a fair few alumni magazines. One arrived this week from my journalism course. It has a handy list at the back where you can track how all your fellow students have done. It makes interesting reading.

In my year there are several directors and editors. There are also a fair few freelances or people who have veered off the journalistic path. Maybe I’m just feeling in a bit of trough at the moment, but I couldn’t help noticing that most of the editors and directors were male and most of the freelances were female, myself included. I looked again. Maybe it wasn’t that simple. There were the odd exceptions – a female tv presenter, a political journalist of the year [and recently], an editor. Perhaps some were also technically freelances, but without the associated low pay and insecurity.

What made the difference? I’d be interested to find out. I recall that they seemed to know where they were going in a way that I never did. If I recall correctly, they went straight onto prestigious training schemes. Was having the right network and connections the key? Even so, I wonder how difficult has it been for them to maintain their careers post-children. I wonder if they have faced any discrimination as our inbox shows day in and day out that so very many women do and whether avoiding this is just a question of luck.

Research from Murray Edwards College Cambridge conducted on female graduates shows that the biggest challenges women face is a lack of support in the workplace. That included bullying, direct discrimination, the feeling that they had to work harder than men to be recognised and a macho culture. This is certainly my experience.

Was it luck, having the right support and networks or ambition that made the difference – or a combination of all three?

I sometimes think it would be nice to be a director or some such, something that recognises how long I have been doing this journalism thing, clinging onto my career and working flexibly [which does not in my case equate to fewer hours]. Not so long ago I had the pleasure of one boss referring to me as “the girl who does some PR for us”. I was in my mid-40s.

Perhaps it’s not so great on the other side – maybe I should interview the men. What is very clear is that the way work is currently framed does not take account of the fact that people have children and that this is not about some sort of lifestyle luxury choice. It’s just a fact of life.

I spoke to a younger woman yesterday about flexible working. She’s campaigning and angry.  I’m angry too, just maybe a bit more tired. It would be nice to be able to have some time off to recharge.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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