What a Woman's Got to Do Pushy, Ballsy, Mumsy, Frilly, Frumpy: The Attributes Required by Women to Succeed in the Workplace. That's What Surveys Say, So It Must Be True, Mustn't It?
Treneman, Ann, The Independent (London, England)
It's a confusing time for women who want to get ahead at work. "Pushy Women Don't Make it to the Top" screams one headline. Evidently, to get promoted women need to be "cheerful, self- confident, motherly". This has me searching through the cupboard for my apron. But no sooner have I knotted the ties than I read something completely different. "If you really want to be successful, you have to adopt a masculine approach of being pushy and dominant. In short, you have to walk on dead bodies," says the next survey. Right. Apron off. Armour on. Then comes yet another survey on the subject, by the Industrial Society. "The writing is on the wall for the macho managers," comments one news report.
Well, all I can say is that it is nice to get out of that armour. At least I now know why I always carry around such a huge handbag. It's the only way to cope with having to change my identity so regularly. What a choice: pushy, ballsy, mumsy, frilly, frumpy! But, handbag aside, what really is going on here? Why are there so many surveys, with so many different results? Truly, do any of them really know what they are talking about?
It's a subject we cannot get enough of. The experts say that we have become obsessed with it for the simple reason that more women are at work than ever before, and more of them want careers, not just jobs. This is the Sexual Revolution at the Coffee Machine and, even though it's been going on for some time, we are still in chaos over what it all means. For years we've been saying that everyone is equal, and that it was only a matter of time before this was reflected at work. But now we have had to admit that we were wrong. "We have finally given ourselves permission to look at how men and women are different," says Liz Cook, a senior consultant for the Industrial Society. "We have had 20 years of equality legislation and affirmative action, and it hasn't really worked. What we've really got is that men and women are different and unequal." This has thrown up a whole new set of questions. What are female personality traits? How do they fit into the male-dominated workplace? Should women change? Should the workplace change? "Maybe," says Ms Cook, "by nature women aren't designed to be in the boardroom as it is today. That doesn't mean they won't be in tomorrow's, though." But tomorrow isn't in this year's budget planning session, and firms insist that they want more women at the top today, especially now that such female-friendly skills as listening and mentoring are all the rage. But the reality is that only 1 per cent of executive directors on corporate boards are women. "The figures on this are pathetic," says Sue Vinnicombe, of Cranfield School of Management. Clearly, the situation is grave. Everyone agrees that something must be done - and so far that something has been to conduct a survey (make that a dozen). Press reports present each report as saying something completely different from the one before. But what is behind the headlines? Surely there must be some wisdom in all this survey lunacy? I decided to deconstruct the most recent three surveys, and the results were instructive. Take the Industrial Society survey that concluded that the days of the macho manager are numbered. It turns out that this survey did not talk to managers at all. Instead it concentrated on the views of what it calls "followers", but what you and I would call underlings. Not surprisingly, these underlings liked in their leaders such qualities as honesty, trust and humility. It seems that these are seen as female attributes; ergo, the conclusion that macho is out, female is in. Sounds great. The only problem is that this is really just a report on what employees wish were true. It has nothing to do with reality. That is probably just as well. At least, that is the only possible conclusion that can be drawn when looking at the results of another survey, conducted by Tuvia Melamed, a psychologist. …