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Women and Success – Is Hard Work Enough? by Rita Payne

Posted by peacedevelopmentnetwork on March 14, 2010

Rita Payne


Women and Success – Is Hard Work Enough?

HIGHS

On the face of it 2010 hasn’t been bad for women so far. Kathryn Bigelow’s triumph at the Oscars, as the first woman ever to win the Best Film Award, couldn’t have been better timed, coming as it did on the eve of International Women’s Day.

Then on Tuesday (March 9) India passed an important milestone  – the  Upper House of Parliament approved a bill to reserve a third of all seats in the national parliament and state legislatures for women. The fact that there were noisy protests from opponents of the bill resulting in the suspension of 7 MPs indicates that the battle for stronger representation for women is far from over. The Bill, which was first proposed in 1996, still has to be passed by the Lower House of Parliament, though it looks as though it has enough support to win approval.

There is no doubt that women have come a long way in the last hundred years or so. According to the Independent, today in some highly paid professions such as medicine, there are more female entrants than male, because women are outranking men in academic performance. So, yes, there has been progress but how deep is this?

SOCIAL

In my years in the media I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with many successful women and note the frustrations of others who’ve failed to make the progress they felt they deserved. The media is a particularly difficult field because it’s so highly competitive. It’s seen as glamorous and exciting and competition is fierce with men and women vying for relatively few jobs. Once you get in, it’s tough to move from one rung to the next. Besides, the work is so pressurised everyone has to give 110 per cent. Forget 9 to 5 cosy hours, there are a bewildering range of shifts and patterns with unsocial hours. Night shifts, 15 hour days, you can be on call at night on weekends, over Christmas, New Year and other public holidays.

For those who are young, free and single there isn’t really a big difference in opportunities for men and women. These days if you are capable you will get jobs. The big division presents itself when you decide to have a family. If you’re working in twenty-four hour news the shifts play havoc with childcare arrangements. I’ve known women who’ve just had babies or others with three or four children beside themselves with anger and frustration at not being given promotion or sent off on an exciting foreign assignment. Seeing the stress these women go through I’ve often wondered if it might not be better for them to wait till their children are older. Compared to 15 or 20 years ago there are many more women correspondents and reporters in conflict zones who are as good or even better than their male counterparts. But I can’t think of many with children. I guess the lesson is that you have to be realistic about your expectations and something has to give.

This is what one well known news anchor had to say about her experience:

“I haven’t had the gender problem much in work, except for the strong presence of men with similar backgrounds in certain parts of the BBC which does give rise to a certain way of looking at the world…you can feel it palpably…and as you know, in some parts of the world I go to, us western women become the “third sex..” not treated the same way as women or men. Of course, the hard line Muslim groups have changed that..but certainly in some more traditional professions hard work is not enough and I think in general women have a harder time going to ask for more money, promotions, etc..the research supports this..but it now says women are their own worst enemy on this because of the wimpish way we approach it!”

In my case, I chose to lower my expectations while my daughter was young and took on more as she grew older, this is what I tell my younger women friends. Being older can be liberating, Now that I’ve officially “retired” I find I’m busier than ever doing new things that I never had time to do when I was at full time work. My daughter is now grown up which leaves me free to do things because I want to rather than have to.

POLITICIANS

As a programme editor I have interviewed or met several female politicians and got to know one or two of them over the years. Among them were Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the former President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika

Kumaratunga. It’s often been pointed out that  women leaders like the ones named came to power because of their fathers or husbands. But what struck me most about them was how isolated they appeared to be surrounded by people who often only told them what they wanted to hear. The pressures on them were enormous and they had to make agonising choices. I remember talking to Benazir Bhutto a couple of days before she was due to return to Pakistan after being out of the country in self-imposed exile for nearly ten years. She and everyone close to her were aware of the risks she faced and the possibility that her life was in danger. She took the decision to return and sadly her supporters’ worst fears came true when she was killed so tragically in December, 2007.

I remember, speaking to Chandrika Kumaratunga, the former Sri Lankan President, shortly after she survived a suicide bomb attack in December 1999. She was describing how her children were never really keen on politics and didn’t usually attend her public meetings. She recalled that for some reason she had asked them to come to this particular rally and was thankful that they hadn’t agreed otherwise they would have been in a position where they would have taken the full force of the bomb blast and would not have been alive today. Still shaken by the experience, Mrs Kumaratunga, in her BBC interview disclosed to the world media for the first time that she had lost an eye in the attack.

Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh has never recovered from the shock of the murder of her father and other members of her family after Bangladesh in 1975.  She herself was the target of a series of grenade explosions in 2004 when, as opposition leader at the time, she was addressing a rally in Dhaka. Twenty-three of her party leaders and supporters were killed in the blasts though Sheikh Hasina survived with a partial loss of hearing.

When she was in London in 2007 after the interim military-backed government, under intense international and domestic pressure, lifted the ban on her return to Bangladesh, I asked Sheikh Hasina  why she didn’t just give up politics since it had been such a painful struggle for her, she just laughed and said the people of her country wanted her back.

I’m not necessarily saying I supported the policies and tactics of these women leaders all, of whom had their critics. I just found it interesting to get a glimpse of their worlds and the sacrifices they had to make along the way which made me wonder if the benefits of being in power were worth the pain.

ECONOMIC

In recent days, newspapers and the media in general have been full of articles and reports to mark International Women’s Day. One key issue that stood out in all the coverage is the fact that despite all the success stories women remain scarce in senior management positions in the world’s top business companies. Here in the UK, according to figures from the Cabinet Office only one in 10 directors on the boards of FTSE 100 firms is female. Some 25 of Britain’s top companies have no women at the top at all. According to the Independent, companies argue that women are under-represented because they value their families more than their careers. But this was dismissed by Harriet Harman, the Equality Minister. She attacked “businesses that run on the basis of an old boy network” because they would never deliver “a proper meritocracy or truly family-friendly workplaces.”

Interestingly enough the issue of networking was the subject of an article in the Times. Under the title – ‘Why women are such bad networkers’ – the article argues that it’s no good thinking that hard work will get you anywhere. It’s advice, “if you want to make it to the top, you’re going to have to overcome your fear of socialising and start schmoozing like men.”

I’m not sure if I totally agree with this argument but it’s certainly worth thinking about. The author of the article writes: “Women are not natural networkers. We might be more capable in the workplace but we are more likely than our male peers to hide our talents and our selves behind the water cooler at the company do. And this failure to schmooze is holding us back. “

FUTURE

It’s 50 years since the second wave of feminists stormed the workplace, so what can women hope to achieve in the next 50 years? The Independent comments that things have not turned out in the way anticipated by the early pioneers of the feminist movement. It says that in the UK for example, a developed country, figures show that a generation of women are growing up, getting pregnant having babies and becoming single mothers, who have only a fleeting involvement with men. Lacking male role models, their children grow up and repeat the cycle. Figures show increasing numbers of young mums with no jobs, no money and no partners – few work and most live on benefits. The number of mothers whose mothers were single parents, too, has, has risen from 48% to 53 % over 10 years. It refers to a new book by Natasha Walter, ‘Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism’, in which she “writes of how the former visionaries have been let down by the ladette culture, as an avalanche of cleavage and underwear has overwhelmed them.” The paper comments that “younger women today have ended by fostering a culture that objectifies bodies while pretending to celebrate youthfulness and sensuality.”

Another woman speaking on a radio programme about the growth of feminism made a similar observation commenting on how young women these days, in the grip of celebrity culture, tend to look up to women who represent the old stereotypes from which their mothers and grandmothers fought so hard to move away.  But it’s important not to lose sight of the remarkable contributions being made by women not only on the international stage but in ways that do not attract the limelight. Women from deprived backgrounds bringing up families on their own, women who are working within their communities to improve the lot of those less advantaged than themselves and women in conflict zones engaged in efforts to promote dialogue despite suffering the horrors of war. Perhaps, the greatest measure of success will be when we reach a stage when men and women will be judged according to what they achieve rather than their gender. Thought I’d leave the final word to my daughter, Tania Payne, as a representative of the next generation. She says,

“ Our achievements should be of no surprise. The question is how are women supposed to achieve stuff without sacrificing the family…we’ll never be able to do it without help from men, so why don’t we forget about ‘Women’s Day’ and have a ‘Family Day’ instead?

Rita Payne

Chair, Commonwealth Journalists Association (UK)

Email:ritapayne@hotmail.com

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One Response to “Women and Success – Is Hard Work Enough? by Rita Payne”

  1. samuel quivido origines said

    very good analysis.I think its also good idea that we should not forget the contribution of men to the success of women and vice versa, otherwise we will never achieve the peace that we dreamed of. But I also agree that we should elevate the status of women where they are now to the level of men. And men should make rooms for this movements.

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