It's a woman's world: dreams of a parallel dimension

25 February 2015 -


Through the lens of satire, we explore an alternate universe where the rules are geared towards inspiring women – in life as well as work

Lily Howes

“Morning darling,” sang Cara, skipping into the kitchen. “Where were you this morning?”

“Ella was up at five tottering about so we came downstairs to watch CBeebies. Bacon with your omelette?” said Martin, one eye on the pan, the other on Ethan mashing banana into the nooks and crannies of his highchair.

“Yes please. What have you got on today?” Cara replied, as she glanced over the front page of the paper. “GENDER PAY GAP WIDENS AS MEN LOSE OUT BY 15%” read the headline, accompanied by Prime Minister Theresa May’s endless promises that the Tories will fix it and opposition leader Yvette Cooper’s retort that that’s about as likely as men’s football getting a mention on Match of the Day.

“We’re pitching ideas for a new NHS marketing campaign to the directors this afternoon,” said Martin. “Well, when I say ‘we’, what I mean is Vicky will be doing the talking. I’ll be the friendly face handing out paperwork and cups of tea,” he trailed off despondently. “And remember I’ve got that Men in Business event after work. Lewis Payne is talking about how he climbed the ranks to become the MD at Langley ad agency. He’s the first man they’ve ever had at senior level, you know.”

Cara’s face dropped. “Oh God, that completely slipped my mind,” she said. “I’ve got our Nurturing Night with the new trainees this evening. I guess I can bring Ethan along with me and I’ll ask David if Ella can go for tea at theirs, but you’ll have to pick her up by seven.” Without waiting for a response, Cara kissed Martin goodbye and rushed off to her client meeting, baby in tow.

After dropping his daughter at school, and having a quick chat with some of the dads in the playground, Martin was finally on his way to work. He used the journey to focus on the afternoon’s proposals – aside from being briefly distracted by a poster for the latest superhero blockbuster. “Jennifer Aniston saving the day while Hugh Jackman fades into the background, as per,” he thought to himself.

But with his mind back to the task ahead, Martin couldn’t shake the feeling that they were missing something vital. The NHS was experiencing an epidemic: only 30% of low-paid caring roles were staffed by women. It was up to the public sector marketing agency, where Martin was an executive assistant, to create a campaign to recruit more women into lower and middle level roles in the NHS.

The agency’s top campaign managers were assigned to the project. Vicky, Nisha and Larissa had a proven track record of success and, as Vicky had said, “Who better to devise a campaign for women than women?” Martin’s role had been made quite clear: note-taking and tea-making.

At 2pm sharp his three colleagues led the NHS directors – Margaret, Zara, Kayleigh and Marie – into the boardroom, where Martin had set up projectors, flip-boards and refreshments. Vicky took centre stage and presented the case for their campaign: appeal to female empathy.

“Compassion comes naturally to women, they live to nurture and care,” she began, clicking through stats, evidence and mock-up content for 30 minutes, before pausing for comments. “Our multiplatform campaign will target these innate characteristics.” Martin winced, thinking of all the hours he spent cleaning up Ethan’s sick while Cara was strutting her stuff at glamorous business events.

“Can we have a few minutes to discuss among us?” said chief executive Margaret Woodall. In the corridor, Vicky worried that she’d messed up, while Nisha and Larissa assured her she’d done brilliantly. Martin, meanwhile, racked his brains for what else they might be looking for.

Seventeen excruciating minutes later they were invited back in. Martin refilled their drinks and returned to his seat on the periphery.

Margaret spoke for the group: “We were highly impressed with your strategy, potential content and the basis of your concept, but” – there it was – “we don’t believe that appealing to the compassionate side of women will be enough to convince them to make a huge lifestyle and career change.”

Amid the mild panic, Nisha waffled and Larissa flicked through her notes, desperate for a solution. Martin had had enough of the prevaricating. He heard a loud and assertive voice that sounded much like his own echo across the room.

“Practicality,” Martin said, as the wide eyes of seven successful women peered round at him, as surprised as he was at his sudden contribution. “Women need to know not just why they should work in these roles,” he continued, “but how they could.”

“What ever do you mean, Martin?” laughed Vicky; half of her mortified, the other half hoping against hope that his unexpected intervention was going to be backed by substance.

“Low-level healthcare jobs aren’t well understood,” he went on. “Women think it’s too much hard work for too little money. They assume that the hours are too long to function around family and their wider lives.

“The campaign must highlight the flexible options available and help women visualise themselves in the role. We need a balance between emotive and practical incentives.”

“Let me just stop you right there,” Margaret silenced. “Martin, is it?” He nodded.

“Well Martin, I think you just saved this campaign.”

Now take a step beyond the satire for some expert views on whether this scenario could ever happen.

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