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Why are women still not being taken seriously at work?

Human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, met with national authorities on behalf of Nasheed whose jailing for 13 years following a highly controversial terrorism conviction in March sparked widespread international condemnation Photo: Getty Images
A mushroom cloud of retro-sexism appears to have bloomed above the country, as though the derogatory attitudes we thought had been left in the 1980s have simply been simmering underground, waiting to reemerge, all along.

Indeed, it is impossible to ignore the results of the Labour Party’s elections, which failed to return any woman to a leading role (Leader, Deputy or Mayoral Candidate) - nor the appointment of any woman to what are (traditionally) thought of as the most senior offices of state: Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, or Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Even though the outstanding candidate for the latter position – Angela Eagle MP, formerly exchequer secretary to the Treasury in the Brown government and later shadow chief secretary to the Treasury – was far more qualified than any rival.

Shadow business secretary and first secretary of state, Angela Eagle Photo: Yui Mok/PA
Photo by: Shadow business secretary and first secretary of state, Angela Eagle Photo: Yui Mok/PA
Women have been told for years that we must achieve on merit; having done so, it turns out being the best is no longer be good enough.

As Mrs Clooney might well wonder. Despite two degrees in law from Oxford and New York University, and an illustrious pre-marital career working for the International court of Justice, the UN and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, she is only in constant demand for ‘high profile cases’ on account of of her Hollywood husband, according to Justice Minister Edward Faulks QC.

Lord Faulks has now heartily apologised for his comments, but there’s no doubt he’s not the only one to hold such opinions. Last summer, the Associated Press described her in a tweet as: “Amal Clooney, actor’s wife”.

Amal Clooney's illustrious pre-marital career was dismissed by a government spokesman
Photo by: Amal Clooney's illustrious pre-marital career was dismissed a government spokesman
When it comes to hard-fought-for workplace equality, it’s hard to escape the discomfiting sense men are now moving the goalposts.

An apt idiom, as this week also saw Clarissa Farr, high mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School, in London, attack private boys’ schools for turning out young men with sexist attitudes - revealing her former pupils are quitting top jobs with “some of the most sought-after companies in the country” in order to escape a laddish culture including endless football banter and sexist remarks.

Workplaces, perhaps, like investment bank Jefferies International Ltd, where Dalal Belghiti, a female trader claiming £3.5m for sex discrimination, alleges bankers made ‘bids’ for good-looking women and labelled those deemed less attractive as ‘offers only’.

These attitudes are more prevalent in the workplace than one might like to think, confirms a new survey of 2000 British women by Stylist magazine, which will be debated at their Stylist Live event, next month. It found two in five women have been expected to make the tea and endured sexist innuendos from colleagues, a third have had their appearance commented on or been accused of being pre-menstrual, and a quarter have been joked about in a sexist way or patronised in meetings.

Most staggering though, 87 per cent believe – perhaps Angela Eagle MP among them - they have been passed over for promotion because of their gender.

For Heidy Rehman, a top-ranked financial stock analyst in the City, this was what finally drove her to quit the large American investment bank where she had worked for 13 years, to set up Rose & Willard, an ethical and feminist British womenswear brand in 2013.

Heidy Rehman, founder and Managing Director of Rose & Willard
Photo by: Heidy Rehman, founder and Managing Director of Rose & Willard (Photo: Geoff Pugh)
“My boss told me I was his best performing analyst,” she says “Yet, I knew I was being paid less than my male peers, and I was passed over for promotion. It was so frustrating.”

Whenever Rehman brought the issue up, she was told, “Next year’s your year.” But she admits, “I thought, ‘I can’t keep doing this. What can I do in another year that I haven’t already achieved?’”

Rehman was already well versed in having to stand up to casual sexism. “If I answered a colleague’s phone – which we all did, regardless of gender; you don’t want to lose a client – I could expect to be treated as a secretary because I was a woman. That drove me up the wall, and I often called men out on it.

“You have to deal with these situations assertively. But I knew it would have been futile to go to HR about pay inequality; complaining doesn’t go down well.”

Monarch of assertiveness, of course, is Karren Brady, now Baroness Brady, whose response to a disrespectful junior became legendary. When the then 23-year-old managing director of Birmingham City Football Club was challenged by one of her own footballers on her first match day, who said: ‘‘I can see your t--- in that top’’, she retorted cheerfully: “Well, don’t worry – when I sell you to Crewe, you won’t be able to see them from there.”

Baroness Brady has no trouble asserting herself in the workplace Photo: Clara Molden
Photo by: Baroness Brady has no trouble asserting herself in the workplace Photo: Clara Molden
Perhaps the shortage of women like Baroness Brady in senior roles - currently there are only five women that are FTSE 100 CEOs and female representation only accounts for 23.5 per cent of available board positions at these companies – can be ascribed to institutionalised misogyny, as new research from Columbia Business School in New York concluded earlier this year.

The study killed off the myth of women known as Queen Bees - jealously guarding their positions from usurpers of their own sex. Instead said the team, the most likely explanation for the failure of more women to reach the boardroom is down to a desire among men to lock them out: “Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain a small number of women on their top management team, usually only one,” the authors concluded.

Charlotte Proudman has received misogynistic abuse and death threats, since going public with a 'sexist' message she was sent on LinkedIn
One of the key problems for women taking up leadership positions, warns Katie Lee, Managing Director of communications agency Gravity Road, is that “we are expected to earn respect when we are appointed, whereas men get respected because they have been appointed. That can be frustrating.”

Another subtle point is that Lee, like many senior women, is an inveterate note-taker in meetings: “Every female director I know turns up with a Moleskine notebook and a pen, whereas men grab a sheet of old paper on the way in or don’t bother at all.

“This puts women into the role of administrators or secretaries. Yet, it seems supremely unprofessional to me that you wouldn’t take notes on everything your client is saying. I train all my junior staff – both genders – to take notes all the time, and I can feel some of the men bristle initially.”

As Rehman points out, pay inequality is the clearest quantifiable indicator that sexism is still alive in the workplace. According to the Fawcett Society, the overall pay gap stands at 19.1 per cent (2014) measured by median gross hourly pay.

Actor Sienna Miller highlighted the problem last week when she revealed she had turned down a role in a two-person play on Broadway, as she was offered less than half her male colleague’s pay. In a new interview with Vogue, Miller said: “The producer wouldn’t pay equally. He wouldn’t pay me within a million miles of what the male actor was being paid. The only way is to make a stand. We are going to have to make sacrifices to make change. I want to turn up and feel dignified.”

A struggle Sacha Romanovitch, new CEO of Grant Thornton, and the first female boss of a major City accountancy firm, recalls from her early days of training. “At networking events, you’d walk into a room of 200 men, with just a scattering of women, and be aware you were being looked up and down,” she says. “It was really quite intimidating, being assessed for something which wasn’t about my workability, and I think it still does happen to younger women.

Sacha Romanovitch, new CEO of Grant Thornton, has become the first female boss of a major City accountancy firm
Photo by: Photo: Tom Wilkinson
Rehman believes change will come, but more effort needs to be focused across business into improving talent ‘pipelines’ – channels that take female graduates from first jobs all the way to the director’s office.

Now an MD herself, she finally has the chance to put her morals where her mouth is: “I don’t want to perpetuate the domineering stereotype: the idea that women bosses are either weak or bitches, and there is nothing in between. I hire and promote women on merit.”

Fiona Hathorn, a former investment director and senior asset manager for Old Mutual and Hill Samuel, who now runs the social enterprise Women on Boards, believes these recent bursts of retro-sexism are, in effect, growing pains - reflecting women's steady gains in the workplace, and men’s unease at suddenly having to compete harder to get to the top.

“Many companies today like Lloyds, RBS and PwC have set targets for gender diversity at senior manager, executive director and board level,” she says. And while she accepts some perceive unfairness in such quotas, she counters: “Disgruntled men are misinformed men.

“Seventy per cent of new FTSE board appointments are still going to men. Yes, it is probably more competitive for men today - but so it should be.”

Why are women still not being taken seriously at work?
by Victoria Lambert, telegraph.co.uk