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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

April 2013


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month


GENDER EQUALITY: Has Anything Changed?

Like many others I have become addicted to the television series Borgen, the compelling Danish drama of the country’s first female Prime Minister and her efforts to balance her personal and private life with the demands of leading a government. In the final episode of the second series, in February, these competing demands on her attention reach a crisis point. Her daughter suffers a nervous breakdown. Birgitte Nyborg, the PM, decides she must take a leave of absence to devote her full attention to helping her daughter get well.

Birgitte appoints a deputy prime minister to fill in for a month. Coalition partners in the Parliament and the press soon begin bellowing for her to resign. A woman they say cannot handle the demands of leading a government and still attend to her family. Refusing to engage in the debate over whether a woman could be prime minister she makes a rousing speech. She recalls for the MPs that it was a century earlier the first women were allowed to enter Parliament. “Do you want to go back 100 years and fight the fight again?” she asks. “I’ll be damned,” she says, “if I debate my gender.”

So what’s new?, I thought. Has anything changed?

Fifty years ago, early in my career as a staff writer on a magazine, my editor told me
he would not be giving me as much of a raise as the other writers (all male), because he said my husband earned a good salary.

Today women in the UK and US still earn less than men in the same job.
Even though the gap has narrowed.

Gender inequality surfaces again in this final episode of Borgen. The young successful journalist, Katrina, tells her editor she has begun a relationship. “Congratulations,” he says, “but let me know if you plan to become pregnant. I hope you don’t. I have to think of my staffing needs.

His question about Katrina’s pregnancy plans is illegal in Denmark, as it would be in the UK. Even in a country we think of as one of the most socially advanced countries in the world this is still an issue. It is not unusual for interviewers to ask someone’s age, marital status and whether they have children. And according to several Danish trade unions the number of pregnant women and those on maternity leave being let go by employers has spiked in recent years.

I ask my daughter- in- law, Louise, for her view on gender equality in the 80s and 90s. Her career began in the corporate world when senior management was very much a boys club. It still is. Becoming one of the boys resulted in camaraderie not only in the organisation but after work in somewhat raunchy drinking spots and meetings on the golf course. Few women were being groomed and put forward for the top jobs, though by now they were a significant presence in middle management,

Louise was called the “most powerful woman banker in Europe”. But that she says was because there were so few women bankers. Louise was the first female to be approved by the German Financial Services Authority.

For lawyers and other professionals in the workplace the picture has not noticeably improved. Females are still set back in their careers because of having children, with maternity leave affecting salary, training and advancement.

The current hot topic of gender equality is the call for more women company directors. Lynn Forester, Lady de Rothschild, and one of the world’s most successful businesswomen, has accused large firms of settling for weaker “beta men” in the board room. In an interview in the Sunday Times, de Rothschild says: “Corporations need to open their minds more to the qualifications and qualities that women bring. When thinking about a board, men will always think of Richard and William and then someone will say, ‘What about a woman?’ And their response will be, ‘How do we get Hillary Clinton?’ They want the superstar women yet are very happy to have beta men.”

“What is making a change in the business world," Louise says, "is technology, because you don’t have to be part of an organisation. You can be an entrepreneur. The hierarchy has broken down. Technology creates a lot of smaller entrepreneurial organisations. You can even be on your own and start your own business. If you get a good idea you’re on a level playing field.”

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