Book: A Good Time To Be A Girl by Helena Morrissey

Hey guys!

I've been reading many books, and wanted to share this one with you, because I thought the messages and learning lessons in it were very pertinent to today's culture.

A Good Time To Be A Girl by Helena Morrissey

Helena is a British mother of nine children, and is married to a stay-at-home husband. She started her career as a junior fund manager at Newton, before being appointed to CEO, a position that she held for 15 years. Most importantly, she founded the 30% Club, aiming to achieve more women on boards and to tackle gender inequality.

The proportion of female directors on top UK boards has since increased from 12.5% to 30%, and there are now ten 30% clubs around the world. Yay!

Going to share some take-aways from this book. My own thoughts in italics.

What Women Bring to the Boardroom
  • Businesses need the right combination of human minds.
  • Deustche Telekom: "Taking on more women in management positions is not about the enforcement of misconstrued egalitarianism. Having a greater number of women at the top will quite simply enable us to operate better." say the company then CEO, Rene Obermann.
  • "When we have women on our boards, the dynamics are better, the decision-making is better, but there are too few of them."- Chairman of Centrica and Chairman of Lloyds Bank,

On Hiring
  • Chicken and Egg Problem: The male dominated, 'traditional' image and reality of the financial industry makes it hard to attract women and other under-represented talent.
  • Andy Haldane's Recruitment Challenge
    Candidates A and B vie for a position. They take tests based on attributes that are useful for hiring. A scores 8/10 and B scores 4/10. So who should we hire? Most will say Candidate A.

    However, what if the answers A gets wrong is what B gets right? And what if the questions existing employees get wrong is what B gets right? Though weaker individually, B strengthens the organisation with new skills they did not possess. Many companies now hire the 'best' individual, instead of the best person to complete the team.

    I really like this challenge and think it's useful building all-rounded teams. You don't want just a team that can only attack - you need people to pass or defend too.
  • "I am concerned about positive discrimination. A brilliant man should not be overlooked in favour of a less talented woman, and if that's being considered, it means the business leaders aren't really thinking about what we are trying to achieve through diversity. It makes no sense to try to solve on form of injustice by applying another."

    Firms shouldn't have to be forced into hiring diverse talents just cause they had to.
Women don't need to be Men
  • "You're not out for an equal slice of the cake as it stands today, you're out to change the recipe." - Kate Millett

  • Why do female leaders always need to be labelled as 'tough' and 'formidable'? This a perpetuation of the idea that women need to fit in with the male definition of power.
  • "I realised how much of my life had been spent working and being treated like a man. Even the way I was presented on TV fitted the profile. I was supposed to be 'scary, ball-breaking' but deep inside I knew I wasn't like that." - Mary Portas
  • If women can be encouraged to be truly women at work, they can make a big difference to the effectiveness of an organisation. The best performing teams are not necessarily the groups of the most talented individuals. It's also about the collective intelligence and dynamics that hold the team together.
  • Women feel less comfortable asking for pay rises and promotions, but getting us to behave more like men is surely not the right answer. Change the system and reward those with the greatest contributions instead.
  • "I've seen women being overlooked because it's assumed that they are not particularly interested - yet they have been waiting politely for someone to ask."

On Leave

  • "This isn't just about women, this is how men want to work too." Mary Portas shares her company practice of letting her top staff set their own hours and take open-ended maternity leave.
  • Netflix: Since 2010, Netflix's holiday policy has been to have no policy at all. Salaried employees can take as much time off as they'd like.
In theory this sounds amazing, but I've heard an anecdote that some companies in Singapore adopt this, and instead of feeling free to use their holiday leave, employees don't dare to take leave at all, for fear of being penalised in some way, or to be judged by their colleagues or bosses.

In this instance this move can backfire when the office attitude has not been changed or aligned to new, more flexible concepts. You can implement all sorts of new systems, but on the ground, if attitudes still remain the same, you unfortunately go back to square one, and sometimes even make things worse albeit your good intentions. No wonder nobody dares to rock the boat. 

On Obstacles 
  • Millett suggested that many of the ideas of the feminist movement at the time was being misrepresented and portrayed as destructive because the establishment felt 'very threatened'. She stressed that, contrary to reports, the movement was 'not out to demolish anything', but was looking to build new, additional lifestyle choices and for basic human riches to be bestowed on women. To become equal, but to stay different.

  • Warren Buffet: "The structural barriers are falling, but still an obstacle remains: too many women continue to impose limitations on themselves, talking themselves out of achieving their potential."
On Mentorship

  • One of the 30% Club programmes was its cross-company mentoring scheme. The male mentors said that their conversations had 'opened their eyes' to the issues faced by women in their own company, who either did not have the opportunity to raise the issues, or were not comfortable discussing with colleagues. The female mentees also felt that they were able to be more candid in their conversations with their mentors, rather than with someone at their own firm.
I think this is a great idea! Sometimes cold statistics from a survey cannot change your perspective, but a real person with real issues may. Stay open-minded and you may be surprised by what life brings you.

Problems Men face too
  • It's difficult for men too, to work out how to be modern yet 'sensitive', yet also relevant and successful in terms of status,earnings and power. Men are desirous of changes for women, but they are also uncertain over their own place in the world.
    Hence, some choose to do nothing to play it safe.
  • Only 1 in 100 men took up shared parental leave in the first year it was available. Of those who did, 51% said they risked being viewed as 'less of a man'.
  • Women shouldn't feel under any pressure to copy men, and men shouldn't feel pressured to live like their fathers. The change will come when it happens for both men and women and when we all start to learn that we have options to live differently.
Using your Privilege to elevate others
  • If you benefit from a race, financial or gender privilege, use it to support others who do not have these privileges. 
White and middle class? No matter. Use your privilege for good. Reach out to people with your unique position. I also want to see how this can be applied in Singapore where the majority is Chinese. 

Thoughts from the Morrissey children
  • "I think the biggest obstacle to achieving gender equality is girls' lack of confidence, together with people in power not really seeing the need to change, or perhaps not wanting to change."
    The status quo is comfortable for some players, and they will do things to protect their own status and benefits. Let's think about WHY young girls feel insecure. Is it reinforced by attitudes adults hold, subconsciously? Do you tell little children about what girls can and cannot do? If yes, you are part of the problem too.
  • "When people think who's in charge, many people think of men, because that's the way they have known things to be. As more women become involved that will change."
The development of Women's Rights, as a pyramid a la Maslow's Pyramid

Safety - Education - Civil Rights - Employment - Being Value - Equality
  • It's difficult to reach the pinnacle if the foundation is not secured, but the basics alone understate women's potential as human beings. Help to progress women on different levels of the pyramid. Those towards the top of the pyramid can have not just greater impact but wider appeal if they are mindful of the broader context.

    Example: Alyssa Milano, Hollywood actress helped the #MeToo campaign become viral after tweeting, "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." And that they did.
Other thoughts
I think it's important not to demonise the entire male population. Yes, some men are more monstrous than others, but painting everyone with the same brushstroke is so passe. Every community has good eggs and bad eggs. It's not fair to stereotype an entire community based on some bad behaviour. It's important to remember that men are not to be hated, and that they can be cooperative partners and allies in this effort of equality too.

What's Happening in Singapore

Answer: It's pretty sad. Let's take a look at the news reports.

Is there a glass ceiling for women in Singapore business?
  • Singapore lags behind other financial hubs such as Hong Kong and London with just 9.7 per cent of women on company boards in 2016. It even underperforms neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia and India.

  • “Companies and public bodies are led by male boards, interview panels for senior roles are almost always all male with sometimes a token woman from HR, departments are headed by men and we are surprised that women don’t get a look into leadership?” Lavinia Thanapathy, the President of PrimeTime said.

  • There is a lot of denial from the government and from business that there is any problem that needs addressing,” she added.

  • Ms Chiang wants younger women to "get over it". “Recognise it exists and move on. Just do it, to be good in what we do as women, to perform and show, then lead by example.”

  • According to Junie Foo, Co-Founder of BoardAgender, an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation, having to appoint women for the sake of meeting a fixed quota can smack of tokenism.
  • The aim is to adopt a target of at least 20 per cent female board representation in companies by 2020. But it’s a lofty target she says as “to even reach 11 per cent, we would need another 75 more women directors,” she noted.
Singapore’s gender wage gap widens in 2018
  • The wage gap between men and women in Singapore increased in 2018 to the widest in a decade, an analysis of the Manpower Ministry’s labour statistics has shown.
  • The report said: “Working longer hours may help with career advancement and eventually lead to higher pay.”However, this does not necessarily mean that women are working less hard than men, the report added.
  • "Women tend to spend more time on housework compared to men. In turn, this can mean that women end up working fewer hours at their job due to taking care of household chores and childcare, burdens that are not typically borne by men."

What I think : Companies recognise what's happening, but it seems like little is being done to spur initiatives. Singapore usually adopts a wait and see approach, hopping onto bandwagons rather than being a trail blazer, unless it's something that really threatens its existence (say, water issues). It's a less risky approach, and policy-makers are always hesitant to make changes to an existing structure that seems to be working (for some people, not all). In this sense, progress may be slower in Singapore than other societies. 

Ending this post with a quote from the book! It was a very helpful and illuminating book, and I hope this post helps you get a little interested in the issue at the very least.

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale, American author, Historian and Unitarian minister.

Let's work together to a better world!