Karren Brady backs stay-at-home mums as she takes Lords seat
Acclaimed entrepreneur and supporter of women in business criticises those who think housewives do “menial” work while raising a family
As she took her seat for the first time in the House of Lords this week, businesswoman Karren Brady urged the public, politicians and especially companies to respect the hard work of stay-at-home mums. Embracing her new title as Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge for her services to entrepreneurship, the mother-of-two praised women who committed themselves to full-time household management, admitting it was something that she personally didn’t enjoy.
“I had five months [between 2009 and 2010] where I didn’t work,” she told the Daily Telegraph, “and I found it really unrewarding. Because all the things you do at home are just taken for granted. I think that's a great shame because actually being at home and dedicating yourself to your family is a wonderful thing and should never be underestimated. “
Following the birth of her daughter Sophie, now 18, Brady took just three days’ maternity leave – a decision she now regards as “shameful”. She said: “It’s not something I chose for myself. But it’s not menial work and it should never be considered as that.”
Becoming the youngest managing director of a football club at the age of 23 – when she was hired to lead Birmingham City FC in 1993 – Brady took the club from the brink of bankruptcy in the lower leagues to an estimated £82 million value in the top tier of English football. In addition to appearing on The Apprentice with fellow peer Lord Sugar, the 45-year old is vice chairman of West Ham United, sits on the boards of Phillip Green’s Arcadia and Simon Cowell’s SyCo and acts as the government’s Small Business Ambassador.
Despite her regrets over sacrificing valuable time with her family, Brady says that encouraging women to be more confident in their business abilities is a challenge she continues to relish. “It has been difficult over the 20 years, things are getting better,” she said. “But I think if women like me don’t campaign for other women, who’s going to do it? So I take it seriously.”
She stressed: “I think it's important that young women have good role models, and it’s important that if you put yourself forward as a role model you take that job seriously.”
Recently, chancellor George Osborne said that he wants to get 500,000 more women in the workplace by early 2016. Also, by providing greater access to tax-free childcare, the government is hoping that many of those returners will be stay-at-home mums. Currently, the number of women in employment is at a record high of 14.4m – some 771,000 more than in 2010.
Brady says the cost and quality of childcare is the Number One factor preventing housewives from returning to work. “Something has to be done,” she said. “Women will not go back to work unless they know their children are safe and looked after in a proper environment that is affordable to them. It’s a really big issue.”
Gender equality in the workplace has been a particularly hot topic in recent years, and as the issue evolves questions staffers, politicians and customers are asking bosses what they plan to do to create a fairer and more welcoming working environment.
As we reported last month, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella was forced to apologise to his staff after he made some unhelpful comments suggesting that women should rely on “karma” if they wished to bridge the gender pay gap. While speaking at a public event to Maria Klawe, president of the California-based Harvey Mudd College, Nadella said that, for women seeking higher pay, “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”
He added: “that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.”
Following his comments, Nadella was hit by a storm of furious tweets from women who felt offended, and subsequently Nadella backtracked in a staff-wide email. “Towards the end of the interview,” he wrote, “Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved … If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”
For more on these issues, check out CMI’s research on The Power of Role Models.