Women are equal to men! Women can do anything men can! Women have the world at their feet!
All very nice platitudes but, unfortunately, mostly lies. Things I heard on an almost nauseating basis during my education at an all-girls high school. Why, I wonder, did none of our teachers share home truths like these:
By 2012 women in the US had surpassed men on all levels of tertiary qualification and accounted for almost 60 per cent of the college-entry level workforce (hurrah!) – but currently hold less than a stagnant quarter of management positions (boo).
The global gender pay gap sees women paid between four and 36 per cent less than their male counterparts, with the gap increasing drastically as earnings do.
And my personal favourite: There are more CEOs named John (17) and David (15) leading FTSE 100 companies than all women combined (7).
Like most things in life, the more underdog labels sticky-taped onto a woman’s head the worse the picture looks. Heaven help the black, lesbian dwarf who wants to run Goldman Sachs.
Pin the tail on the alarmingly one-eyed statistical donkey isn’t a very fun game to play and like most fresh young women entering the workforce, I chose to ignore the recommended reading. You’ll understand, being as it is that my brain is more suited to investigating the best method of achieving pillowy-soft peach-and-walnut muffins for the office bake-off than contemplating the wall of mathematical injustice (‘Just as well those women don’t know their integers from their Instagram,’ the men cried in the boardroom).
Now I’m not saying it’s all a conspiracy and greedy suited white men the world over are diving into piles of cash and sipping martinis made from the tears of orphans and blood of unicorns (they probably are). But it’s a convenient hangover from a past which claims women were liberated in the ‘70s. And it’s one that I don’t see many WASPy types chaining themselves to houses of Parliament to try and change - in fact it’s one that passes without much remark, except around festive occasions like International Women’s Day.
So it was with ashen face that I read recently the Guardian newspaper had appointed its first female editor in the paper’s almost 200-year history. ‘No. Not so!,’ thought I. How could my snobbishly liberal, bleeding-heart, infinitely smug and wise Guardian have forsaken me?
“[Katharine] Viner becomes the only woman at the top of a daily quality title in the UK,” the paper’s report on its own heroics crowed.
It then, somewhat disparagingly, distinguished Viner’s achievement from that of the women at the top of the other drossy competition, no doubt the preserve of bigoted, club-footed louts.
“She joins a small group of women editing leading British newspapers: Lisa Markwell, editor of the Independent on Sunday, Victoria Newton, the editor of the Sun on Sunday, Sarah Sands at the Evening Standard, and Dawn Neesom at the Star,” it expounded.
I'm not quite sure why this came as such a shock. After years working inside newsrooms in different parts of the world, I have born witness in silent rage to the pitiful lack of women in senior positions – quite in contrast to the foot soldiers on the lowest pay brackets, comprised overwhelmingly of young, enthusiastic and childless women.
Because the other kicker is women are still the main caregivers, despite their academic prowess and notorious hard work. As soon as a female journalist falls pregnant, she is almost certainly on a one way ticket to public relations or, at the very least, freelance journalism. Unsociable hours and breaking news most certainly do not accord with ‘flexi-working hours’.
I wish Viner all the best in her new role, and here’s hoping she can champion change in newsrooms everywhere. But she’s fighting decades of encamped scratchy old white men who will hold on for dear life to the hallowed swivel chairs that bestow them the power to decide what is important in the world.
As the example of former New York Times editor Jill Abramson, the paper’s first female ed who was fired within three years (notably after finding out she was being paid 10 per cent less than her predecessor) goes to show, Viner may have won the battle – but the war is just beginning.