31 October 2019
Waffles and Pancakes
By Lynda Goetz
When I first read Claire Cohen’s article about Ernst & Young’s (EY) female executive seminar, I was disbelieving. What! In this day and age? Really? When I read aloud some extracts from the article, taken directly from the 55-page seminar notes, two female friends thought I had been taken in by some sort of spoof. Was this really, honestly, the advice given last year to 30 female executives in New Jersey hoping to further their career in a leading global accountancy firm?
I was immediately reminded of the Harry Enfield sketch of about eleven years ago ‘Women Know Your Limits’, which was hilarious (and which, if you haven’t seen, you should definitely watch). The character, Mr Cholmondeley-Warner, and his chums are pontificating over dinner when one of the women has the effrontery to express an opinion which contradicts theirs. A cartoon-style illustration is then given showing how women’s brains go into scramble-mode if they are trying to take in too much information; far better for them to stick to subjects like how much they love ‘furry kittens’!
According to the author of Ernst & Young’s 2018 Power-Presence-Purpose leadership seminar, directed at 30 female EY executives, women’s brains are not only smaller than men’s, but they absorb information ‘like pancakes soak up syrup, so it’s hard for them to focus. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square’. As Ms Cohen says, ‘What a load of crêpe’!
It seems utterly extraordinary that in 2018 women on an ‘empowerment’ seminar were expected to listen to tosh like this, including advice not to talk to men face-to-face, as they see this as ‘threatening’. What century are we living in, for heaven’s sake? In a week when the Office for National Statistics published figures showing that over the last 20 years the number of mothers in work has grown to 75.1 percent, and a couple of days ago statistics showing the gender pay gap has fallen to almost zero for full-time workers under 40, why is it apparently still so difficult for women to succeed or to be given equal opportunities and pay in so many areas?
It is interesting that the seminar which provoked so much mirth and so much anger took place in the US. Attitudes in the US do differ somewhat from those in the UK and Europe. A study only a couple of years ago in the States showed that whilst many Americans believe there should be equality at work, the attitudes to gender equality in the home are rather different. William Scarborough, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the authors of the paper told CNBC, “People’s attitudes toward gender in the family have remained more traditional, with the persistent feeling that women are better suited for childcare than men and should take on more household labor.” A British publication on British Social Attitudes appeared to show less favour for the traditional approach in this country.
This week Samira Ahmed appeared before a central London employment tribunal in her case against the BBC for equal pay. She argues that she should not have been paid only £440 per episode for presenting Newswatch at a time when her fellow presenter, Jeremy Vine, was paid £3,000 an episode for a similar programme, Points of View. Ahmed’s programme appears on the rolling BBC News channel, whereas Vine’s is on BBC One. However, Newswatch is repeated on BBC One on a Saturday morning and as a result actually gets double the viewing figures of Vine’s programme according to Ahmed’s lawyers, who are arguing that this is a case of gender discrimination. The current presenter of Points of View is another female, Tina Daheley, who is paid only £400 per episode – a fact Ahmed relates to her discrimination claim. The BBC argues that Jeremy Vine had ‘celebrity’ status and was thus entitled to more. Samira Ahmed has already settled claims with the BBC over her radio work, where she was paid up to 50% less than her male colleagues.
Nothing is ever going to alter the fact that (at least without the intervention of human science) women bear children. The very fact of doing so and the necessity of bringing them up, either by doing so oneself or delegating the job to others, means that women’s focus does change once children enter the equation and alter the dynamics of work and family. Whether women choose to step back from their career or to continue ‘full throttle’ should be their choice with their partner. When/if they continue as valued members of a workplace or find a new job with another employer, it may be difficult to establish an equivalence with a male colleague, but there should be no question of discrepancies or disparities of the sort we have seen at the BBC, where the nature of the work done is pretty much the same. Spurious arguments or reasons for differences should be laughed out of court. Indeed, thinking about it, maybe a little more humour in this debate might be helpful. Do watch Harry Enfield. I adore furry kittens and say so often. It means my other half finds me such a ‘dear, sweet thing’ and can occasionally be persuaded to take out that heavy trash can, if not to do the vacuuming! (I have never tried that approach in a job interview though.)