Focusing on individual success stories is far easier than changing the way business operates – but doesn’t actually improve women’s working lives
The glass ceiling may have fewer cracks in than previously thought – a survey found that women still aren’t filling boardroom roles and, predictably, stereotypes about women being less rational and more emotional than men are partly to blame when it comes to the recruitment process. The survey, as with any discussion on boardrooms and getting “women on top”, will attract a lot of attention and debate. Corporate feminism is easy to sell and is unchallenging, as issues go – it became almost impossible over the summer to find a news site that didn’t feature the author of Lean In, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. As a branding exercise it works – personal stories about women who have climbed the corporate ladder and smashed the glass ceiling play well. Mary T Barra, the new head of General Motors has, the New York Times tells us, “completed a remarkable personal odyssey” in becoming the company chief, despite being a woman.
Few women will sit in boardrooms in their lifetime, and adding a few “golden skirts” in places of high responsibility doesn’t translate straight to a hastening improvement in women’s rights and quality of life. As comforting as the idea of “trickle-down feminism” might be, it’s never borne out in reality – the four most powerful jobs in Norway are held by women, yet politicians are considering allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions. The slowly shrinking gender disparity of MPs is constantly held up as a marker of progress, yet at the same time, Rachel Reeves promises to be “tougher” than the Tories when it comes to savaging the welfare state.
The problem with corporate feminism’s obsession with individual stories of success, and “having it all”, is that many women don’t have much at all. Women have been disproportionately affected by austerity, with single mothers and pensioners particularly affected. A few more women may be MPs or CEOs, but three times as many young women are locked into low-paid jobs than were 20 years ago. The fall in real-term wages affects women more, since they were earning less in the first place. Asking women to “lean in” is far easier than demanding we fundamentally change the way businesses operate, and how we reward and approach work.
Corporate feminism tells a story that is convenient to capitalism – if you just try, if you aspire, you and your hardworking family can have that great job and home life that Sandberg and Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer sell to us. Focusing on individual success stories, rather than structural inequality, is politically helpful to the Conservative squeeze on living standards. So if you’re languishing at the bottom of the corporate ladder rather than hammering on the glass ceiling, well, that’s because you didn’t want it enough.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663908/s/34b37bef/sc/38/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ccommentisfree0C20A130Cdec0C110Ccorporate0Efeminism0Ecapitalism0Ewomens0Eworking0Elives/story01.htm