Friday, 7 March 2008

Women, know your limits

At the corporate for which I work, we have managed to put International Women's Day (March 8th) on the calendar, with an annual comms campaign to raise awareness about the issues women still face, which has a mixed reception from men and women alike in France. Other countries in which we have a presence, welcome the idea with open arms, organising events and provide editorial which puts the French HQ in the shade. We mark the day with a celebration of the role models which inspire the rest of us in the company and by and large, the message from these women who have struggled to the top, is that it can be done, but it may be harder then it would have been for a man.

Last week, I was lucky enough to interview one of our most prominent female executives. Decorated several times by the French government for her services to business and industry, she has successfully combined three children with a glittering corporate career and remains an inspiration to other women in the group. Charming and helpful, she was a pleasure to talk to.

Her message was one of informed choice. If women choose a career - not necessarily a corporate career, I believe this holds true in most circumstances - they must accept that in most societies it will be tough and that they will have to work harder than men to get to the top. Companies can and should smooth the way with support and encouragement and give their women employees the opportunities to make their own career decisions, with the support of managers and peers. It is for her to decide whether or not she will be able to take on more responsibility soon after returning from maternity leave, or manage a new team with children of school-age at home. Some women I have spoken to at my workpace think that childcare issues for example, are not the employer's business and should be sorted out between parents, away from the office. They don't think women need special treatment, but personally, while we are still paid less, work harder and tend to be primary carers for our children, I don't see any reason to refuse every tiny scrap of support, every nod in the direction of flexible working, every payrise that nudges us closer to our male team members.

To plaigirise Harry Enfield (see clip above), if employers make a bit more of an effort: "Women, know that your limits are further than you think!" Happy Women's Day, dudes.

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