Monthly Archives : April 2013

Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg – one of the world’s most powerful women – shares her secret of career success. Don’t hold back or sell yourself short, she says. Does her advice ring true?

Sheryl Sandberg (reuters)

Sheryl Sandberg is the tenth most powerful business woman in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of some £530 million, and she’s adamant that she didn’t get where she is today without a healthy dose of assertiveness, determination and ambition.

In her book, Lean in: women, work and the will to lead, Sandberg addresses the dearth of women in leadership roles and investigate just what is holding them back. Her answer: not just extermal, structural problems, but internal obstacles which she says won’t fall down unless women themselves start pushing.

In short, what is holding women back is a thousand small decisions: failing to stand up for yourself when it matters, deferring to others first, being too modest about successes, deliberately holding back because of future plans to have a family.

“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and men ran half our homes”, she declares: and the reason why this is not so, she believes, cannot simply be blamed on the patriarchal establishment.

Using stories gleaned from her similarly high-flying friends and celebrity acquaintances (there is a lot of name dropping scattered through the book), as well as her own experience, Sandberg offers a solution. Don’t hold back, but commit wholeheartedly to your future success.

A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and men ran half our homes.Sheryl Sandberg

There are practicalities here too, a nod to those struggling to balance career and family life. Getting things done, she counsels, is better than trying to be perfect. Setting obtainable goals is crucial, although “dreaming is not doing”.

There is also advice on negotiating skills, and dealing with criticism wisely: charting that path to success, Sandberg warns, is like “trying to cross a minefield backward in high heels”.

To help chart that tricky course, she has set up a website encouraging women to set up their own “lean in” groups, along with videos and other resources. Jessica Bennett, from New York magazine went to one such group and was impressed.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

“She has labelled a solution for problems that are rampant among a generation raised to believe that we were on level footing – and a pragmatic approach to change it.”

Anne Marie Slaughter, who served as director of policy planning for Hillary Clinton, sparked a fierce controversy over the role of women in the workplace with her Atlantic article declaring “why women still can’t have it all”. She stepped back from her own leadership role because of her family: yet she has been equally complimentary, calling Sandberg a “feminist champion”.

But some of her critics have complained that her highly selective, unashamedly elite experience offers no help whatsoever to those who are less well off, single parents, less well educated, non-white? Women who lack the luxury of making choices?

At least, say supporters, the Facebook executive is trying to offer a partial solution to a compelling problem. In the United States, research shows that just 21 of the top Fortune 500 jobs are held by women.

Women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, despite President Obama’s renewed push for equal pay. In these recessionary times of unemployment and downsizing, women’s participation in the US workforce is starting to decline.

In the UK, the picture is depressingly similar. A report into women in top management positions commissioned by the Government, did reveal this week that the number of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies is now at a record high: up from 12.5% in 2011 to 18% today.

Decades away from equality

And outside that blue chip elite, the picture is even less rosy: the workplace is still “decades away” from equality.

And as for juggling that family with a high-flying career: that is no easier, either, according to a study of 2,000 women carried out by the Association of Accounting Technicians this week.

They found the overwhelming majority of new mothers feel they haven’t got enough confidence to return to work after maternity leave. Two thirds said they felt drained of self belief, while more than half thought they were no longer capable enough after taking time off. Instead they felt trapped by the drudge work of home life, robbing them of the space for creativity and ambition at work.

Just because routines and priorities change once women have a family, said the AAT, “doesn’t neccessarily mean that one’s career should be negatively affected or sacrificed”.

And that, in essence, is Sandberg’s argument. Stop being afraid. Do it anyway. Don’t shape yourself to fit around the world: make it bend around you.

As for the very real structural, historical barriers that still hold back women’s advancement, the “million cracks” in the glass ceiling that prevented even Hillary Clinton from fulfilling her presidential ambitions, first time round at least – that is not something that finds a solution here.

Men too need a manifesto for change: this burden is not simply on womens’ shoulders. The real struggle for equality is far wider than the Sandberg white, educated, wealthy elite, and it is a struggle which they cannot win on their own.

Matt Kenyon 16042013

Illustration by Matt Kenyon

This is a story about intersectionality. It’s going to displease a few people who don’t know what intersectionality is, annoy a few people who do, and enrage a load of people who don’t use Twitter. But I checked with my privilege, and my privilege said it was OK. (Don’t know what “check your privilege” means? This might turn out to be a problem for you, too).

Last week, an argument on Twitter started in the manner characteristic of, possibly unique to, that medium. Someone called historian Mary Beard a racist. Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, asked what made Beard a racist. A small but persistent Twitter intersectionality-core rounded on Lewis, accusing her of mindlessly defending the establishment against outsiders, effectively using her platform in the mainstream to defend racists within feminism from the critical voices whom feminism ought properly to champion and defend.

That precis doesn’t quite evoke the tone of the attack: another Twitter feminist defended Lewis later with: “It is never OK to call another woman a vicious rancid bitch.” The fact that this needs to be said, in an argument between one feminist and another, makes me chuckle, though of course I won’t be chuckling if (when) it is said to me.

A racist feminist just wouldn’t make sense. You can’t fight for equality on the basis of one innate characteristic without signing up to the precept that we’re all born equal. The problem was – and this happens quite a bit on Twitter – a mistake at the outset. Beard is not a racist. Lewis got annoyed and left Twitter, though only temporarily.

It could be taken as an unfortunate misunderstanding, except for the obvious pattern; Suzanne Moore left Twitter after essentially the same argument, though it started not with perceived racism but with a remark that was taken to be transphobic.

Times columnist Caitlin Moran got on the wrong side of intersectionality when she said she “didn’t do race“. This made her a racist; also the mindless beneficiary of middle-class privilege, said critics. I weighed in, and said that not all feminists had to represent every perspective of feminism all the time. And middle class? She was raised on benefits. She’s rich now, came the reply, plus she has a platform; ergo, she’s part of the white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied, cis(gender) hegemony. To remain a true and respectful feminist with those privileges (never mind check them, it will take you long enough just to count them), your work must essentially be an act of atonement to all the people who are more marginalised than you are. As a feminist, you are occupying the space of the marginalised; to do so thoughtlessly is an act of trespass.

What makes me doubt this idea is its striking similarity to a technique of the right, the hyper-individualisation of every argument. Unless you are penniless right now, this second, you can’t complain about inequality. Even more exclusively, unless you were born poor you can’t take the side of the poor. I dislike the argument because it’s anti-intellectual, dismissing reason and systems – all the tools of discursive progress – and attempting to replace them with the power of personal testimony.

But on a purely pragmatic level we can all see, presumably, what the real goal is in this ad hominem play: if only the authentically poor are welcome on the left, that considerably depletes our numbers. If only the truly marginalised can speak as feminists, that depletes our numbers too. And if people “with a platform” are disqualified for being part of the power structure, that leaves us without a platform. This criticism started on the right for a reason – because it withers the left. We should think a bit more strategically before we internalise it.

But then I heard Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch speak at a public meeting this week. She said the media had three ways of portraying trans people: “The first is that they’re fraudulent. They’re not really who they say they are. We’d better humour them in their delusion. The second is trans as undeserving deviant. The number of times you get costs – usually inflated – set against the money you could have spent on kiddies. The third is trans as comedy.”

In other words, all the prejudice that has been disallowed by modern standards is now concentrated on this one, pretty small group. It is very extreme, these days, to refer to gay people as deviant, but still allowable to make this insinuation about transsexuals. It is apparently permissible, in our mean-spirited age, to talk about how much disabled people cost the state, but I can’t imagine it would be OK to laugh at them. Transsexuals are dealing with a prejudice way out of proportion to their number, facing not only the people who hate the idea of transsexuality but all the people who wish they were still allowed openly to hate gays, openly to laugh at the disabled – hell, probably a few who wish they could still openly despise women.

Women of colour, likewise, when they call white feminists “colour-blind”, are not saying every conversation about misogyny must start and end at the point where it bisects racism, rather that battles white feminists assume to be over have merely been shifted elsewhere (when the Equal Opportunities Commission existed, they did some research and found that 80% of black and ethnic minority women had been asked at their last job interview – illegally, needless to say – whether they intended to get pregnant). And that’s the better reason to “check your privilege” – not from some restrictive idea about how authentic you are, or whether you’ve endured the hardship to qualify as a progressive voice, but because not all prejudice is extinguished – some of it is just displaced. If someone else is taking the flak you would have got, in eras past, that flak is still your problem.

Twitter: @zoesqwilliams


(MoneyWatch) Gender is always a hot topic in economics, and nowhere more so that in the work of behavioral economists who focus on what happens in the real world rather than in theory. Of late, behavioral economists have been interested in lying: why people lie, under what conditions they are more likely to lie and what kinds of people are most prone to lying.

The findings are rich, complex and often contradictory. Among other things, academics at the Stockholm School of Economics sought to determine whether men or women were more likely to lie for financial gain. Building on earlier experiments, they got 312 pairs of students to participate in a game of sending and receiving money in which dishonesty was more profitable than honesty. Who would prove the more honest?

Of the 85 men who took part, 55 percent lied to secure a higher payoff. Of the 71 women who took part, only 38 percent lied. This is statistically significant. There was no gender difference in trust.

It is important to emphasize that, in this game, everyone was anonymous — no one knew anything about the other participant. This suggests that decisions about whether to lie derived only from a choice about whether falsifying the truth might lead to a windfall. In more personal circumstances, results may differ because other issues are involved, such as maintaining a reputation, appearing selfless or not wanting to hurt some else’s feelings.

Some will argue that, being anonymous, this makes the results far more solid. I’m not sure. But it does raise questions about the wisdom of leaving big banks overwhelmingly in the hands of men.

(via Margaret Heffernan CBS)

USC (US) / U. TORONTO (CAN) — The 2012 Olympic Games in London was the first time all participating nations allowed women to compete, but there were still 1,233 more male athletes and 30 more medal events exclusively for men.


A new report shows that in what was billed as the “Women’s Olympics,” international rules severely limited the number of female competitors who were allowed to compete in 11 of 26 sports.

For example, in boxing, as many as 250 male boxers were allowed to compete but the number of female competitors was capped at 36. In water polo, up to 156 men could compete as compared to 104 women. Judo allowed for up to 221 male competitors and 145 female competitors.

In men’s racewalking, canoe/kayak, rowing, shooting, boxing, and wrestling there was no matching event for women.

“The perceptions of equality that led to London being called ‘the Women’s Olympics’ by some commentators are inaccurate,” says Michele K. Donnelly, a post-doctoral fellow in sociology at University of Southern California.

“The focus is almost always on medal counts and success stories, but it’s important to point out that the experience of men and women athletes is still substantially different.

“Following the celebration associated with women’s involvement in all sports for the first time at the London 2012 Olympics, it is now time for those sports to more equitably represent men and women competitors.”

The authors credit the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the progress to date, especially in the last 15 years, but they argue that the organization can still do more.

“The IOC is ideally located to be the moral leader in taking these final steps towards gender equality and to persuade the international federations that only gender equal events will be permitted at the Games,” says Peter Donnelly, director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies at the University of Toronto.

“We have called on the IOC, as the gatekeepers of the Olympics, to make a final commitment to gender equality at the Games in terms of an equal number of events for men and women, and near equivalence in the number of participants.”

The report was co-authored by researchers at USC and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies.

Source: USC

It’s a time of freedom, a time when people are away from home, often for the first time and understandably they tend to go a little wild. Freshers’ week is by now an infamous rite of passage, an alcohol-fuelled blur that most students spend the rest of the year attempting to remember. My personal memories are just as hazy as my flatmates’, but one night in particular stands out.

After attempting to out-drink the boys in our flat (having been crowned an honorary ‘lad’, an accolade I bear with mingled pride and disdain), we met up with some other guys. Suffice it to say that one of them took a more than keen interest and didn’t seem to realise I wasn’t returning his attention. After a very long night, I was left to wonder as to whether I’d deserved this harassment.Slutwalkfter sobering up, I quickly came to realise that what had happened was not usual freshers’ week behaviour. Or at least I hoped it wasn’t. When I came to talk to my flatmates about it, I was told that if I hadn’t been flirting with him, or let him into our flat, he wouldn’t have got the wrong impression. It wasn’t just my flatmates either. It was also the person appointed by the university to ensure that we were all feeling safe and happy within our accommodation. The message I received from this incident was that if you’re a young woman and you talk to a man, you deserve everything you’ve got coming to you. Because talking means sex. Surely.

When I asked my flatmates to stop making sexist jokes, I was shot down, told by the guys and girls that it was just harmless ‘banter’ and I shouldn’t get so upset

I spent the rest of my freshers’ week and the following weeks feeling dirty and ashamed. I was constantly watching over my shoulder for the guy in question, terrified that he’d come and confront me for my double standards as I’d clearly led him on and then reported him and twisted the facts in some sick game.
I spent the following day unable to process not only what had happened, but also people’s reactions to it. Was it my fault? Should I have not spoken to him? Had I led him on?

As I got thinking about what happened, I tried to put it in the wider context of sexism at universities, an issue that the National Union of Students has, for the first time, placed at the centre of policy-making through their recently released report ‘That’s what she said’.

An example of the deeply ingrained sexist culture at universities is the now infamous website UniLad. UniLad was temporarily closed due to one of its members posting: “And if the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t spread for your head, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.” It was followed with: “UniLad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.” When I read this out in a room with three guys in, one of them laughed and didn’t understand why it could be construed as offensive.

Sadly, this attitude is not confined to the internet. A standard, pre-drinking drinks session, or even sober discussion, will inevitably feature jokes about lads’ behaviour or rape.

One in seven female students is a victim of sexual assault or violence while at university or college

When I asked my flatmates to stop making sexist jokes, I was shot down, told by the guys and girls that it was just harmless ‘banter’ and I shouldn’t get so upset. The guys didn’t mean it when they said that the only exercise a woman needed was to be able to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen and back. They didn’t mean it when they said that women’s rights were the biggest joke in history. And they certainly didn’t mean it when they made jokes about rape. Because it’s all just banter.

The fact is that one in seven female students is a victim of sexual assault or violence while at university or college. 90% of these students do not report what happened to the police and are most likely not to tell friends or family. 50% of them don’t talk about it because they are too ashamed or embarrassed. If rape and violence jokes are becoming an acceptable form of humour, how are victims of sexual assault supposed to feel able to talk about it?

Some guys participate in this culture to be one of the lads. Then there are guys who make a point of showing that they don’t buy into lad culture. They come across as the ‘nice guys’, the ones who frown upon those who openly treat women as sexual objects. Yet some of them demonstrate the same sense of entitlement felt by the men they disdain. They feel that, as the good guys, they are better than their peers and deserve not only a woman but, essentially, a fairy-tale princess – a girl who is sweet, innocent, pure and utterly devoted to them.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I have learnt from all of this is that behaviour that derides women is so acceptable at our seats of learning

Students.jpgI recently got told by one such guy that my confident attitude “makes [him] think there’s a darker side to [me], hence why I’d say you’ve got a promiscuous edge”. He also told me that my tattoo on my lower back reinforced this, clearly using his magical man intuition, mantuition if you will, to determine my sexual habits from my confidence and choice in body art.

Then in a seemingly random turnaround, I was told that I’m too intelligent to be “any old slag” and should therefore “be treated better than such”. The implication, notwithstanding the insulting use of the word ‘slag’, being that women with active sexual lives are somehow unintelligent. Or that, as a woman, to want to sleep with multiple partners you must be stupid as you should be saving it for your prince.

Lad culture has become a daily part of university life. Anytime anyone makes a joke that could be construed as offensive or behaves in a way that can be deemed insulting, it’s dismissed as banter with the shout “What a lad!” If you shout loud enough, you can’t hear people’s objections. This seems to be the philosophy of lads. Yet, people are offended. People are hurt and disturbed by their behaviour. Women are degraded, reduced to an object to be obtained through either demonstrations of extreme ‘laddishness’ or saving women from those men by being a nice guy.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I have learnt is that such behaviour is so acceptable. It is taken as a hideous rite of passage that every girl has to go through. Can we really condone a culture that exists within our centres of learning that makes young women merely accept assault as a fact of life? Unfortunately, it appears to be showing no signs of disappearing. This means, terrifyingly, that the men bringing up the next generation will be passing these attitudes on. We, as a society, need to address lad culture before it becomes any more ingrained and acceptable than it already is.

First image of a Slutwalk at a university in the United States, uploaded by Flickr user weaverphoto. Second image of students during a university freshers’ week uploaded by Flickr user jeisaacs.

One woman’s success does not mean a step forward for women. Far from ‘smashing the glass ceiling’, Thatcher made it through and pulled the ladder up after her.

Edwina Currie and Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

She was, of course, the first and so far only female British prime minister, Jon Snow reiterated on Monday night, insinuating that this achievement should in general be celebrated, never mind the specifics of her leadership.

“Yes and that was one of the many weird things about her,” smirked Alexei Sayle. In the pantheon of this comedian’s attacks on Thatcher, it was a retort that probably won’t be treasured longer than the best lines from The Young Ones.

This was hardly the first or even the worst example of a dig at Thatcher tinged so needlessly with sexism. Of all the things to criticise Thatcher for, calling her out for being a woman seems like something of a wasted bullet. Yet despite the attempts of some columnists to claim otherwise, Thatcher can’t really be seen as “a warrior in the sex war”, let alone as “the ultimate women’s libber“. Far from “smashing the glass ceiling“, she was the aberration, the one who got through and then pulled the ladder up right after her. On the same edition of Channel 4 News, Louise Mensch named only three successful female politicians as part of her defence of Thatcher – and only one of those was a Conservative.

In truth, Thatcher is one of the clearest examples of the fact that a successful woman doesn’t always mean a step forward for women. In 11 years, Thatcher promoted only one woman to her cabinet, preferring instead to elevate men whom Spitting Image memorably and, in certain instances, accurately, described as “vegetables”. You may not be a fan of Edwina Currie but, really, was she any worse than John Gummer? “You would see MPs who came into any politics after I had and who were no better than me being promoted over my head,” said Currie this week. “She had been offered the chance to get on and effectively she then refused to offer it to other people.”

As Matthew Parris evocatively put it in Monday’s Times, “She rather liked men (preferring our company, perhaps, to that of women), [but] she thought us the weaker sex.”

This attitude – that men are fun but dumb, women are smart but strident, a view of the sexes that seems to come straight out of a Judd Apatow film – led to various quotes of hers that some like to twist into proof that Thatcher was an unwitting feminist. These include, “We have to show them that we’re better than they are”, and “Women can get into corners that men can’t reach!” But really, such statements were anything but, first because sweeping statements about genders are the opposite of gender equality and second because they revealed her real attitude towards women, which lay behind her notable lack of female-friendly policies, her utter lack of interest in childcare provision or positive action. (They also reveal how she loved to surround herself with yes men who were always men.) Rather, she was a classic example of a certain kind of conservative woman who believed that all women should pull themselves up just as she had done, conveniently overlooking that not all women are blessed with the privileges that had been available to her, such as a wealthy and supportive husband and domestic help. (Interestingly, Currie also recalled that when she approached Thatcher in 1988 to get approval for the world’s first national breast-screening programme, she tried to appeal to the PM initially “as a woman” but that swiftly proved unsuccessful. So instead: “I put it to her that we would be saving money.” That did the trick.)

Women aren’t always good for other women because the gender of a person matters a lot less than that person’s actual beliefs. I am reminded of this every time the debate comes up about whether more female bylines would reduce sexism in the media. Yet the Daily Mail has more female bylines than any other UK paper and is not exactly a totem of gender equality and female-friendliness.

Contrary to an increasingly common belief, “a woman who is successful” is not synonymous with “a feminist”. On the day Thatcher died, the Daily Mail ran a piece claiming that Coco Chanel “was a feminist before the word existed”. Leaving aside the detail that the word “feminist” came into existence in 1895, comfortably in Chanel’s lifetime, the woman who valued femininity above all other qualities in a woman and was heavily involved with the Nazis, including a wartime relationship with German officer Hans Gunther von Dincklage, could not, in any circumstances, be described as a feminist.

And nor could Thatcher, much to her relief as she allegedly abhorred the word, as doubtless Chanel did, too. Both were successful women who could play the flirt card when it suited them, but ultimately had little interest in being kind to their own sex; Thatcher especially resented being defined by her gender. People should pay her the respect of doing the same after her death. She wasn’t a feminist icon and she wasn’t an icon for women. Any attempts at revisionism do no favours to her, women or feminism. To claim that any woman’s success is a boon for feminism is like saying all publicity is good publicity. Seeing as women aren’t a minor Brit-flick grateful for even a bad review, that truism doesn’t quite hold true here. She was a prime minister who happened to be a woman. It’s how she would have, if pressed, put it herself.


Femen, the Ukrainian feminist group, have staged another topless attack on Vladimir Putin, as he toured a factory in Hannover this morning. The Russian president was in the company of German chancellor, Angela Merkel at an industrial trade fair in the city, when several women burst out of the press enclosure and exposed their breasts while chanting slogans.

Femen posted a picture of the ‘sextremist’ attack on the group’s Facebook page at 10.00 am GMT. The same post said that activists had been shouting “F*ck you dictator!”. The message written- in Russian- across the back of the single topless activist visible, reads: “F*ck off Putin!”.


The Kremlin has already issued a response, urging the German government to punish the women:

“This is ordinary hooliganism and unfortunately it happens all over the world, in any city. One needs to punish (them)”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Reuters India reports.

The two leaders apparently moved quickly to a neighbouring hall as security detained the women. The protest took place as Putin and Merkel were passing Volkswagon’s stand at the fair.

Putin is in Germany to help open the Germany’s leading industrial trade fair, where Russian business was being heavily promoted. Putin had already been met by several hundred (clothed) demonstrators on Sunday, protesting against a crackdown on non-governmental organisations in Russia.

The Ukrainian group, whose motto is “Our aim is protest, our weapons are our breasts!”, have previously tried to reach Putin. They came close in February last year, when topless members tried to steal the ballot box used by the Russian leader to vote in presidential elections just 20 minutes after he had left the building.