Have Women Got Ability? Depends Who is Defining It

This week I was working with an organisation which wants to increase the number of women it has in management positions; it recognises that it has an unequal gender distribution, particularly as 75% of its employees are female. There is the usual imbalance at the top.

man woman shadow by linder6580 Stk xchgeI was talking to a small group about my course written for women to encourage them to think about a management role and how to lead while being true to themselves, called Women Ahead. On cue a man piped up that this was discriminatory, that a course ought to be offered to men as well because no one was now discriminating against women, they had equal opportunities and everyone should be appointed purely on ability.

I agree, but, I said, who defines what constitutes ability? If the ‘ability’ that is looked for favours just one segment of the work force, or population (of whatever gender)  then that is not a true or fair test. It’s why, I continued, we had to have equalities legislation to make sure that people from ethnic minorities or with disability were given a fair crack of the whip. There is a mass of evidence to show that *wasn’t the case pre legislation as organisations stuck to ‘we treat everyone the same‘ line, without ever questioning what ‘the same‘ was. Now we need to look at custom and practice in this very traditional organisation and make sure it wasn’t disadvantaging women; this needed an initiative right across an organisation. Running a course specifically designed for women and their issues was one small part of a larger plan to redress the balance.

But I should have saved my breath to cool my porridge as he was already onto the number of immigrants taking jobs, people getting promotion just because they were in a wheelchair, and women bosses he’d had who were awful.

Sometimes you just have to know when to walk away….

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* I know we still have plenty of problems in this area but we’ve moved a long way from the days when people could put up signs saying ‘no blacks’.

Photo by Stock Exchange Linden 6580
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Posted on March 28th, 2013 by

2 Responses to “Have Women Got Ability? Depends Who is Defining It”

  1. Poor dear man so far behind so far to catch up. If I had been his boss he would have thought me awful too and rightly so!
    In my role as regional supporter I visited a business/community club who are fighting to keep women (or ladies as they prefer to call them) out of their membership whilst not saying so because its againt the law.
    I was accused of coming to persuade them to change thier minds. I couldnt resist saying no I would never encourage such a move. I went on to add I believed there could be no woman in the UK who would want to join them and that they should stay as they are. They have two women joining them next month!!

    • Jane says:

      Those two women will need a bit of support I am guessing! There was no point in continuing the discussion – we were from different planets. Thanks for commenting , Charlotte.

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