Future feminine: a career battle won?
A panel of experts ponders whether current efforts at inspiring women could lay the foundations of a future gynocracy
In our satirical feature It's a woman's world: dreams of a parallel dimension, we contemplated a world in which women have won their career battle and reign supreme. But how likely is this scenario to come about?
We spoke to five workplace gurus to find out...
All together now
Kate Burt - CEO of British Rowing and founding member of The Guardian’s Women in Leadership community
Women’s rise in power is starting to unfold via positive innovations – such as Helena Morrissey’s 30% Club – as well as women increasingly joining boards. However, I doubt the change will go as far as women being in control. We still face barriers and it is not a matriarchy we are striving for, it is equality. Such a shift would affect everything culturally: sport, arts, the media – though I’m not sure sports coverage would ever be balanced. I think we’d see more collaborative working with women at the helm, but problems may arise from our fear of confrontation and lack of self-belief. A senior female colleague once said that men are in the top jobs because of a triumph of ego over ability – an assertion that often rings true.
Mary Honeyball - MEP for London, Labour spokesperson for Women in Europe and member of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee in the European Parliament
Both the boardroom and the debating chamber are less than 20% female. Men dominate management roles, the judiciary and the cultural sector. We are so far away from a world where women fill the majority of senior roles that it is difficult to envisage what it might be like. However, I think we would lose as much as we gained. Some problems might retreat if 80% of the people running our institutions were female rather than male, but different issues would arise. The factor that really drives standards is diversity. Organisations work best when they reflect the diverse and independent-minded nature of society.
Emma Burnell - Campaigns and public policy professional and political blogger
I don’t think there’s any real prospect of a shift to a world led by women – we are so far from that now. The goal is equality, not another extreme – we don’t want men to feel the way we feel now. But envisaging what a matriarchal society would be like, I imagine the working week would be very different. The way we run our lives now is bizarre; we go out and sit at a desk for eight hours a day. In a women-led world I think it would be more flexible and home-based. I also imagine the physical world would be smaller. I recently bought a car and when I told my male friend what model I’d gone for he questioned why I’d not bought a bigger one. “Because I don’t need a big car” didn’t seem to be a good enough answer. With women in charge things would be more compact and there would be less emphasis on “big”.
Plus ça change
Dr Ben Fincham - Senior sociology lecturer at the University of Sussex and part of the Gender and Inequality Research Group
I would be happy to see women as the dominant sex but I suspect things wouldn’t be as different as we think. To be successful in business, people are often expected to be focused, ruthless and driven. When a man behaves in this way he is seen as successful; when a woman acts in the same way, she is often vilified. The problem lies in ideology. Unless women brought with them a different ideology, I don’t envisage much would change. One way to provoke a shift could be through the messages we give our children. Change will occur if we attack these social constructs and give children the chance to be less constrained by gender.
Tina Amirtha - Quality engineer and freelance journalist
Such an extreme matriarchal society would not exist in today’s industrialised world, but there are signs that the balance is shifting. More women hold positions of power and participate in work outside of the home than 50 years ago. More men are stay-at-home dads. But there is a trend that middle-class men continue to lose traditional manufacturing jobs and may need to embrace more feminized service roles to regain a foothold in the economy. If men were prevented from assuming less “masculine” career paths, then this fictional world might materialise. But a feminist society is one about equality, not marginalisation.