Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Crumbling ceilings, Commissioners and why women hold the secret to the future of work

Cressida Dick takes her place as the new Comissioner
In the end, it wasn't a sudden smash, more a gradual crumbling of the ceiling. The progress of women in top jobs has been steady but sure over the past couple of years. And so far in 2017 it feels like it's reached new levels. Theresa May has been keeping a tight grip on leadership. Last week she pulled off the virtually impossible task of snatching a solid Labour seat in the Copeland by-election. A feat not accomplished by a sitting government for the past thirty years. 
Jeremy Corbyn mystified by loss of Copeland

Thursday brought the news of Cressida Dick's appointment to lead the Metropolitan Police, ultimate bastion of male dominance. Interestingly much of the coverage cites her popularity and respect with the London police force suggesting she combines professional expertise with good people skills
Theresa May and Cressida Dick have something else in common. They were appointed following men who had left prematurely. Women still often get the top jobs when times are tough - when organisations feel they have run out of male choices. But this doesn't have to be bad. There's nothing like taking on something that your predecessors have failed to fix and turning it around to boost the ego. In Dick's case she's taken up the reins after the early departure of Sir Bernard Hogen-Howe. The role has become something of a poisoned chalice with few of her predecessors emerging with their reputations enhanced

The fictional crime world is reflecting reality with the new season of Channel 4's fantastic No Offence. This police drama has an almost entirely female cast - all the lead characters including the gangland villain are women. And not nice fluffy ones. But tough, ballsy, often flawed and sometimes unpleasant women. in other words a realistic group of people getting an important job done. And it feels no more of a 'statement' than a woman in Downing Street or running the Met. 

In the communications world, The Holmes Report 2017 has nearly doubled the percentage of women in their 2017 People to Watch index. No one commented on this - it was just seen as normal. 

But with a narrative of exclusion and smashing ceilings, perhaps we lost sight of the real goal - for it to be run-of-the-mill for women to be in charge. There's a time to fight - and a time to normalise. 

Which is not to say every aspect of gender equality is fixed.  

Some things are taking longer - and proving more persistent. Sexism certainly isn't going away. The Everyday Sexism project which I first wrote about over a year ago is depressingly full of examples - some quite horrifying - of the kind of regular sexism that women of all ages, races and religions still routinely experience.

It's a year since the government announced that large companies would have to publish their gender pay statistics. The UK PR industry is hot on the issue, with leadership bodies pushing for gender pay transparency to narrow the gap faster. But it is still better than in many parts of the UK economy.

There is still much to be done and we can't relax. But perhaps it's time to consolidate significant gains and release energy for new problems, not just recycle the old ones.

The productivity crisis in the UK workforce is accelerating with fewer and fewer people available to fill the roles needed to support the economy in the future. An ageing population is a major factor - people are retiring faster than they are being replaced. Until recently, this gap has been hidden by immigration but Brexit may crystallise this productivity gap.  Businesses need to focus on how to address this gap. There are solutions being proposed and time is of the essence. 

Bringing women back into work from career breaks on a much bigger scale will make a real difference. The UK PR industry has made progress in this area that we can share. Returnships are a brilliant idea using ideas designed for first jobbers to ease women back into roles.
Green party joint leaders

Flexitime is important.  Models are becoming more common and accepted and again PR does well with over a quarter of people working in the industry taking advantage of these options.  The Power Part Time Top 50 showcases a wide range of women and men who are working in part time, but powerful roles. In some cases that's taking a four day week. In others it's job shares.  Interestingly two of its members are Sarah Lucas and Jonathan Bartley who jointly run the Green Party of England and Wales

Embracing automation is key and is another important area we should engage in. It has become a negative issue, often linked in media discussion to the loss of blue collar jobs and associated disaffection with mainstream politics. But there's a real opportunity to share our work proactively with machines. Getting this right will be key to building a productive future. It's about playing to strengths.  Machines can't manage people or take responsibility and blame but computers could - and can - be taught to make a perfect flat white

Women should be championing this trend. Working women have long been enthusiastic adopters of new technology to allow them to work whilst being mothers and running homes. From the advent of the washing machine in the 1960s to the wealth of apps with which many working women now juggle their lives, we are adept and confident at working in partnership with machines for maximum gain. We should be enthusiastically advocating a positive approach for introducing more automation where we can to support a healthier, happier and more productive workforce

There are many challenges ahead. But we've made real progress and should have the confidence to use that experience to tackle new challenges, not just recycle old ones. Let's apply the same energy to these that we applied to the glass ceiling.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Egos, Equality and the death of the Super-Chicken

“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?” The New Yorker

Am I the only person who is thoroughly depressed with their New Year social media feed? At every turn I am assaulted by hand-wringing posts and articles predicting the end of days .  But there's a notable lack of recommendations of action. Just endless analysis of the implications of the tumultuous global events of 2016.

I don't feel qualified to comment on whether we're in a re-run of the 1930s.  I just hope we're not.  But those doom-mongering commentators and I do agree on one thing.  Narcissists are on the increase and that's bad for business as well as bad for world security.  Where have they all come from?  Instagram, Whats App and other platforms must play a part.  Selfies have a way of making the most modest of us more focused on ourselves and the image we project.  Our love affair with reality TV must contribute.

'The Donald' is their new tribal leader. He may be the first global narcissist cross-over. He made a successful career out of developing and promoting a towering ego first in business then in reality television where narcissism is an entry criteria. And getting yourself elected against all the odds as the leader of the free world has got to make his ego hit new heights.  Anyone might start believing they're a bit special.

There's another common theme in those 2017 narratives. That right-wing populist leaders are rising because we've all got fed up with left wing liberals who don't provide charismatic visionary leadership that speaks to our priorities.  Perhaps.  But in politics as in business, our expectations of leaders have changed.  And whether we know it or not, we're reaping the results of our own habits. .

It's all about the super-chickens

Award-winning author and business leader Margaret Heffernan sheds light on this in a recent Ted Talk. She explains that  for the past fifty years modern management has followed the super-chicken theory.  It was named after an experiment by geneticist William Muir.  He took two flocks of chickens and bred them for six generations.  The first group was left completely alone.  In the second group he selected only the most productive chickens - based on egg laying - and bred them together to produce 'super-chickens'. After six generations the first group were happy, healthy and egg production had been boosted significantly.  In the second group only three chickens remained.  They had pecked all the others to death.

Margaret Heffernan: Why it's time to forget the pecking order at work

And so it is in business.  Organisations are wedded to the culture of the superstar in the belief that super results will ensue.  We aim to create the 'best of the best' and promote individual leaders with vision and charisma.

What's wrong with a bit of healthy competition?
Oh, that always makes women sigh.   Another Trump speciality, it's the bedrock of most reality TV and the rallying cry of the super-chicken.

As we can see, it turns out there's quite a lot wrong with needless competition and this path doesn't work any better for us than chickens. We know this really, but seem unable to learn from experience and find ourselves again and again bemoaning the lack of leadership choices.  Fillon or Le Pen? Clinton or Trump?  We are so hardwired, we are unable to break out. 

In response to Heffernan's Ted Talk, Reuven Gorsht, then head of Customer Strategy at SAP wrote:
"We criticize leaders today not because they are less capable than they were in the past but because we expect more than they can deliver. Our expectations of leaders have grown astronomically because of increasing complexity and the rate of change, causing our anxiety to go through the roof. No wonder the superflock is focused on killing each other. Imagine the pressure and the level of competitiveness needed just to survive".

So what's the alternative? 
Heffernan's talk cited three key common features of the most successful teams in an MIT experiment.  They were:
  • Empathy - team members showed high degrees of social sensitivity to each other
  • Balance - they gave similar amounts of time to all members so that no voice dominated and no one was a passenger
  • Women - the teams contained more women
Not only did the most successful teams feature more women, they also featured attributes that have often been described as 'female'.  Other research supports this.  But our addiction to the superstar culture usually overrides the data. Which is worrying because we've never had a more urgent need to crack this problem. Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School says:
“There’s a growing recognition that most of today’s truly important problems related to the environment, related to smart cities, related to health care simple cannot be solved without cross-disciplinary collaboration.”
Highly functional teams are the way forward and there is evidence that women tend to prefer team environments and men individual ones.  The snag is that this is usually seen as negative - driven by a fear of individual competition whereas men relish it.  Digging into this issue, I came across a a fascinating experiment which tested the choices men and women would make - individual or team - when money was involved. It showed that the women chose teamwork more often than men.  "Of course" I hear you say.  "Surely it makes sense to put more brains together.  Why limit it to one person when you could benefit from the wisdom of many". "No brainer".  But time after time, tests show that men have more confidence in themselves - and this experiment showed that the higher the stakes, the more they trusted their own judgement over that of a group.

Clearly we're not giving off the right vibes or everyone would pick teams.  So if we want to make a real change, we have to overcome this view that women pick team activities not because of the logic of the power of a group but because they are afraid of individual competition - and of being judged on their own.

As we look forward into the uncertain complexities of this year surely that has to be a sensible area for focus.  We just need to gather the confidence to call out the super-chicken and argue our preferences with confidence - as a positive choice with better outcomes.

Monday, 21 November 2016

But most of all I'd like to thank...

For American readers - the term 'Award Season' summons images of movie stars doing the Oscar catwalk in the sunshine.  We do have a London version  - featuring celebrities freezing in flimsy dresses huddling under umbrellas bringing the traffic to a halt.

But for us lesser mortals, award season means one thing.  As winter kicks off, a few weeks of identikit ceremonies often in the same hotel.  Time was when it was the greatest buzz - getting invited,  getting dressed up, dancing until the lights come up, comparing hangovers. But as time marches on and the boardroom marches closer, it become an annual fashion obstacle course. Particularly if you're a woman...

You're 25 and you're an up-and-coming Account Manager being invited for the first time. The only decision you've got to make is to follow your mother's advice - legs or boobs but never both. You book a blow dry in Oxford Street after work.  You tweet through the awards ceremony, your agency wins an award, you hit the dance floor and close the bar at 2am.  You move to a club and stay until 4 leaving the award behind on the dance floor. You wake up for just long enough to call in with 'food poisoning" (you're still naive enough to think people will believe you).

You're 35 and you're a Board Director and leading the account in line to pick up a major award.  Your major client is the guest of honour at your table. But in your head you're still 29 and it's a rare night off from childcare.  You sneak a prosecco at the office before you leave. You risk bare legs after a major dose of St Tropez in the shower.  You team them with a sequinned skirt and your best heels.  You drink more than you meant to - thank God for Uber - and wake up after two hours sleep with your toddler jumping on your head and cat poo on the landing. You load up on espressos and head in on the train falling asleep on the shoulder of a stranger next to you. The caffeine gets you through a day of emails until you give in and do your Waitrose order.

You're 45 and you're the CEO.  Your agency is short-listed for UK agency of the year so you have no excuse not to go.  Your urge to win only just wins out on your desire to have a quiet dinner somewhere nice with your rarely seen husband.

Can you do 'desk to dinner'? Not for a black tie event.  It just doesn't work.  Nice earrings and a pair of heels won't cut it.  You'll look like you can't be bothered.  Should you wear a cocktail dress or a long dress? Can you get away with a tuxedo? In your mind you're channeling YSL but the mirror doesn't lie.

Peering through horrible lighting in the office loo, you realise you've left your favourite make up item at home and your hairspray threatens to set off the office fire alarm.  Arriving  at one of London's finest hotels (OK, The Grosvenor House again - it's London's largest ballroom) you
do the bag shuffle.  Do you leave your computer/Ipad/spare shoes/make-up in a bag in the cloakroom while you carry your tiny clutch into the ballroom? Of course you do. And you spend all evening worrying that someone will walk off with your laptop and post your confidential emails on Facebook.

A quick trip to the ladies to check your lipstick before you venture into the fray.  You're met with wall -to-wall glamorous 20-somethings who are wearing tiny dresses, towering heels and no tights.  Nothing is guaranteed to make you feel more like the mother of the bride.

You spot your guests at the drinks reception and gratefully cross the bar to find a glass of champagne.  You check to see what table you're on.  If it's too close to the back you're not important or you haven't coughed up enough sponsorship money.

Then the awards themselves.  In the last ten years these have expanded exponentially.  It is a an amazing money-tree as each category charges for entrance and also gets sponsored.  So they multiply with abandon.   You sneak a look at the list of entries and can't believe your eyes.  You mentally calculate what time it will end and wonder if you will catch the last train.  If you win, your entire table will erupt with hysterical arm waving, cheering and rush up on stage.  If you lose you can guarantee it will be the time you've brought the client the campaign was for . #Awkward.

To while away the long evening, everyone drinks. I hadn't realised how much until I went to one awards dinner  when I was pregnant  and by half way through the evening the only person sober enough to talk to was the waiter.

You're 55 and you're the Chairman.  You can gracefully turn down the invitation.

You're a man and you take your dinner jacket to office hoping you remembered to get it dry-cleaned last time you wore it.  At 6.30 you change your shirt, get dressed and splash on some aftershave. Repeat for next 25 years.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Secrets and Lies - will new laws help women end discrimination?

Bullock admits to regularly lying about her age

The news this week that a US court has made it legal for Hollywood actresses to block their age from public access is both new – and as old as the hills.

Will it make any difference?

Women have lied about their age for generations.  Did Eve say: "Adam, before we go any further, I should tell you I’m actually 45"?  Sandra Bullock said "after a while you have forgotten how old you are because you have lied so many times".  TV talent shows clearly have some effect with Nicole Scherzinger (X-Factor), Paloma Faith (The Voice) and Anastacia (Strictly) all getting found out shaving years off their real age at the start of their careers.

Why? Presumably because they felt they couldn't admit to being their real age, and once they started, the deception is very hard to stop.   Ageing is tricky for women – and increasingly men - because it is inextricably linked with society’s perceptions of a loss of power and virility.

But is it the number that matters?  Or rather how you present yourself?    I can’t remember the last time that I read something saying women should consider themselves middle-aged at any age.  Far from it. This week UK Prime Minster Theresa May turned 60 declaring confidently that "60 is the new 40".

I touched on this issue in an early 2015 post. Since then it feels to me as
Daphne Self -  at 88 the world's oldest supermodel
though we've made strong progress, particularly in the historically youth-obsessed fashion world.  Models such as the stunning Daphne Self  stare out at us from giant billboards. Grey hair is now a positive fashion choice.  Catwalks have been featuring young models with dyed grey hair, celebrities have been throwing away the root touch-ups and going natural - and getting admiration and column inches.  Even Kate Moss and Rihanna have been experimenting.  It's early to tell whether we're giving up the blond ash highlights for good, but it's a positive trend.

And it's not just fashion. At 82 Mary Berry is in demand as never before.  Most recently she has been fought over as the crown jewel in the hotly contested decision to move the Bake Off to Channel 4.

So why did the Californian judge  pass this law? Why not simply continue to promote older role models?  I think it reflects how far we still have to go. We've made real headway, but at heart we're a society that seems incapable of avoiding age as a way of helping us to understand our place in the world.

I don't think this is just a female issue, although there's no doubt society is harsher on women ageing than on men. Fertility plays a role. Men go on being fertile for a long time and women don’t.  Take Sir Martin Sorrell. I saw him speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago. At 71, he's the UK's highest paid CEO and about to become a father for the fourth time. He's never looked better or more powerful.  No women could do that all at the same time. This was an invisible issue in the past, but now that more women are in top jobs we’re seeing the long standing attitudinal differences play out in discrimination. At least that’s what the Hollywood actresses felt.

I don't think it's realistic to pretend you can keep your age a secret anymore. Almost every day we  exchange our personal details for the digital platforms and convenience we love. We must  be happy that Facebook knows more about us than some of our close friends or we wouldn't keep using it. We live in a world where anyone with a few minutes can find out this stuff.

If I think about my age at all, I'm hopeful.  I was born in 1964 (so now you don't even have to look that up) and I have an excellent peer group. Michelle Obama, Diana Krall, and Fiona Bruce - all '64 babies like me.  And like me they can't do anything about it.  We can't go back and say "I'd like to be born in 1967 please - or 1975".  It's just a thing, and probably the least interesting thing about us. It's our destiny and along with these fabulous women I'm taking on my fifties with gusto.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Rewarding Outcomes: Why we need to widen the pay gap to deliver real equality in the workplace

The gender pay gap rarely seems to be out of the news. Theresa May provided extra impetus in her first speech as Prime Minister saying: "If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man".

The latest contribution to the debate was last week's publication of a major new piece of research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. demonstrated the ongoing reality of the problem. The report shows that the overall gender gap remains.

Slowest progress has been in  the most highly educated group where there has been little progress for twenty years.  The data also proves the popular assumption that women in part time roles get paid slightly less.  But the most dramatic finding was the impact of having children.  Here women pay the price:
"The crucial observation is that the gap opens up gradually after the first child arrives and continues to widen for many years after that point"

Once women return to work after having their first child, the gender pay gap starts to accelerate as each year passes - hitting a massive 33 per cent by the twelve year mark.

The analysis makes for uncomfortable reading.  It's easy to see why commentators reach for the 'equal pay' moniker in response.  But I think this is misleading.

The IFS research shows a significant drop off in employment rates for women after having their first child.  As we know, of those who return to work many choose part-time options. If you are happy to trade part-time convenience for a lower rate of pay,  that's fine.  But the current argument doing the rounds of social media seems to be that all part time jobs should be paid at the same rate as full time jobs.  And further that if this doesn't happen it's condemning women (who are the majority of part time workers) to the 'Mommy Track' by denying them the top jobs.


It's hard to pity Kevin Roberts. The erstwhile Chairman of Saatchi left his job over his comments made at the end of July. His comments implied that women don't have the same ambition as men, and it doesn't matter that they're aren't may of them running advertising agencies. But by pushing him out, the harder discussion gets shut down.  And it needs to be had if we're going to see progress.

We need to face some facts.  Most top jobs require you to take responsibility for outcomes. Not processes, or inputs, or workstreams or pathways.  But results - results that can be measured and judged. And our society is moving away from incentivising these challenging roles effectively.

Public pressure over pay differentials between bosses and workers is hiding a difficult truth.  That it's increasingly much more attractive to be a Number 2 than a Number 1. There's a nationwide shortage of Headteachers with research last year showing 88% of teachers think top roles are less appealing than in 2010.  More and more GPs want to go part-time or retire early -  BMA/ICM research concluded that 17% of GP are considering going part-time, including 28% of those who currently work full-time. Any headhunter will tell you that filling top roles is harder than it's ever been.

All cite increased pressure on decision making with public pressure and criticism ready to undo careers at a moment's notice. For many people - men or women - it's just not worth it. Number 2 roles bring almost all the same benefit and virtually none of the downside.  And if that doesn't appeal, many think if they have to work so hard and take a lot of risk, they're better off working for themselves. According to Start Up Britain, start ups have increased by nearly 30 per cent in the past five years.

This is diminishing talent pipelines - particularly amongst women. We need to incentivise these roles better, so that it is worth taking them. Being in the public eye has never been less attractive.

There can't be a better example that the role of UK Prime Minister. The UK media love to use the Prime Minister's salary as a benchmark for top salaries - implying that it is the ultimate top job and
that anyone earning more than this is shockingly overpaid.  The salary for this top role is £142,500.  In comparison, the Speaker of the House of Commons receives slightly more £142,826.  The PM has to take responsibility for 64 million people and the fifth largest economy in the world. John Bercow, the current Speaker, has to keep order amongst 650 MPs.  I know which option I'd go for.

In the past decade I've been in the top job and in the senior management team.  I know the difference first hand. When you're in the top job, you own the outcome.  Alone. That's why they call it 'the loneliness of leadership'.  You're never away from the worry.  But it's virtually impossible to worry part-time about full-time outcomes.   If you think you're going to have to choose between laying off staff or selling a division of your business, you can't say "I'll get back to worrying about that on Tuesday morning".

And it's the same in the public sector.  As a patient, it feels like no one individual actually 'owns' your outcome - your health.  Instead, it feels like everyone owns a bit of the process.  Many of the people delivering their bit of your healthcare process are doing so part-time. That's great for providing job options that fit around families, but is the patient actually better or worse off?

Wrapping these issues up in a drumbeat about equal pay isn't helpful.  Instead organisations need to recognize that men and women need to see real incentives to take the top roles. Incentives and rewards that will allow women to view these roles as more realistic options for them to return to work full-time.  That in turn will deepen the talent pool available which has to improve long term outcomes whether for shareholders, schoolchildren or patients.

Monday, 25 July 2016

May's Way - The UK's new Premier is bringing a fresh perspective on leadership

Few expected Theresa May to become Prime Minister.  She always had the ambition, reportedly telling her friends when at Oxford as an undergraduate that she wanted the top job.  But she didn't look likely to succeed Cameron. Painted as a rather dull detail freak with no social skills, during her leadership campaign she described herself directly saying:
"I know I’m not a showy politician. I don’t tour the television studios. I don’t gossip about people over lunch. I don’t go drinking in Parliament’s bars. I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve. I just get on with the job in front of me".
But her first few weeks have shown her to be a creative problem solver, with a clear vision and an appetite for controversy and risk taking. I've underestimated her, and if her first few weeks are anything to go by I think she'll turn out to be a very interesting role model for women leaders.
The odds were against her. But hers is a story of gritty determination, luck and holding her nerve.

Even those leading the Leave campaign expected Britain to vote to stay.  Among those rare people who foresaw the outcome, I doubt whether many would have predicted May in Number 10.  Instead, as the reality of actually voting for Brexit sank in, there was a widespread assumption that the electorally successful Boris would succeed.

Ironically May probably has Michael Gove - someone whom she has publicly fallen out with - to thank for her escalation.  Had it not been for his Brutus moment with Boris and the subsequent collapse of his own  leadership bid, no doubt Boris would now be chairing his first cabinet meetings and wrestling with the comings and goings of Larry the Downing Street cat.

To my slight surprise, watching May settle into the top job has been a lesson in what good female leadership looks like.  She had a plan.  Which made a change.  No one up until that point appeared to have a plan for anything - least of all the fabled Brexit. But not May.  She was able to roll out a new cabinet in just 48 hours.  And it was a cabinet that had a lot of thought applied.  A lot more than anyone can generate in two days. I had a vision of May sitting through endless meetings over the past few years working out her Fantasy Cabinet.  You can just imagine her doodling a secret mind map and plotting.

Most controversially, she put Boris in as Foreign Secretary to almost universal astonishment not least from Boris himself. But lest he should rub his hands with glee and think he had real power, she had thought ahead.  She stayed in control by restructuring the role to remove oversight of International Trade.  And what's more she's turned Chevening - the grace-and-favour house that goes with the job - into a time share, forcing him to bunk up with his other two hard-core Brexiteers David Davies and Liam Fox. The Guardian has helpfully posted some handy guidelines for the new house-sharers.

But she's exacting a high price for those stately home weekends, pushing all three men into the front line as they have to work out how to extract the UK from Europe.  How's that for accountability? She pours additional pressure onto them at every turn by helpfully reinforcing in her first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQ) and any other time she gets a chance that 'Brexit means Brexit' and the British people have made it very clear that migration controls are their priority.   Davies and Fox must be loving that.  I doubt whether the reward of every third weekend at Chevening makes up for the prospect of the horrendous negotiations with Juncker and his merry men that they must trudge through.  Meanwhile she doesn't ignore the details.  Osborne has been unceremoniously downgraded from his two-story riverside pad  to a tiny office next to the photocopier. And what of  her opponent in the leadership race - the hitherto unknown Andrea Leadsom?  She who destroyed her own hopes by telling a Times journalist that May's lack of children made her unsuitable for the top job.  After that, most people would have cast Leadsom into the political wilderness.  But May is clever.  Instead she put her in the cabinet where she can keep an eye on her.  But it's agriculture. That must have made Andrea jump for joy.

Now May is installed, it seems as though she was always destined for the job.  She's taken control seamlessly, bringing some semblance of calm into the political maelstrom. First stop was Scotland to see Nichola Sturgeon.  When asked how they had got on, May said that there were plenty of things they could do together even though they  don't agree on everything.  This is a female leadership preference - focus immediately on what can be done even if the person on the other side of the table is threatening imminent divorce.  She delivered a barn-stoming performance at her first PMQ last week Theresa May takes on Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs

Again it felt as though she'd written those comments over the past few years, just waiting for the opportunity to deliver them.  The relish with which she taunted the hapless Jeremy Corbyn showed she's not above a bit of political derision.

We saw her again later that day giving a press conference with Angela Merkel.  We don't know much of what the two women discussed but I bet it was something like this:
"We're leaving Europe.  That's what the people want.  You know how this works Angela - you have the same problems in your neck of the woods.  So let's agree to take our time, be sensible, make sure we minimise any instability.  OK?"  
For Angela, the news that Britain is leaving Germany alone with France as the only large player in Europe with any money has only made a bad year worse. She seemed happy to agree to a delay to signing Article 50.  Perhaps in the hope that May is someone she can work with.  Anything Merkel can do to soften the impact of Brexit is worth some public nice words.

Much has already been written about May's fashion sense.  I have written before about female leaders being judged disproportionately by their appearance.  Many cry 'unfair' but May doesn't seem to have any issue with this.  Rather she appears to embrace it. Her decision to 'wear' her cleavage to Osborne's budget can't have been an accident.  Sitting beside him, she must have known it would have prolonged airtime during the long budget speech.

She has been known to favour Vivienne Westwood tartans and those famous animal print shoes.  Her Comms head, Katie Perrior says her wardrobe is May's way of expressing her personality. The outfit she chose for her first PMQ  was Lagarde-esque.  May claims to love clothes and asked for a subscription to Vogue as her luxury item when she appeared on Desert Island Discs. She seems to welcome the catwalk that being PM offers and will embrace it.

I'd like to see her with a softer more modern hairstyle.  Grey hair can be amazing as Lagarde has shown, but currently May's hair doesn't move and reminds me of the Maggie Thatcher helmet. A bit 1980s.

She could usefully give her new Foreign Secretary some style tips.  He appears to favour the 'I found this on the floor - quick shake - that will do' school of dressing. With a Savile Row make over and a decent haircut, Boris could make a real impact. He's got all the raw material - big brain, international pedigree, great engagement skills.  It's just that too often they don't connect in the right order.  But if he can sort that out, he might surprise us all yet.

But for the foreseeable future, it's all going to be about Theresa May. And my hunch is that we'll learn a lot from her about how to lead. For starters: Step into the leadership limelight with confidence. Have a plan. Know what you're going to do. Be clear from the outset who's on your team, what's expected of them and hold them accountable.  State your goals. Clearly.  Don't shy away from controversial choices.  Engage with other senior women as early as you can and get working on problems you can solve avoiding unnecessary posturing over things you probably can't.  Know what suits you, stick to it and don't forget every time you go to work you've got an opportunity to use yourself to reinforce your values and priorities.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

All Hail Neato - Boardroom here we come. Will domestic robots finally set women free?

Robots could be the unlikely weapon not just putting women in the Boardroom but keeping them there.  The shortage of a good pipeline of women for senior roles is well documented. Research suggests this is in part due to the time and energy-sapping demands facing women to manage domestic life as well as their careers.  Fewer women than ever describe themselves as housewives, but almost no men claim this territory. The time-consuming nature of domestic tasks stretches the capacity and patience of most couples.

Some men are Domestic Gods but research shows that the balance of these tasks are still done by women. The wealthy have always known the solution to escaping domestic servitude is staff. And today they still hire a support team of nannies, cleaners and housekeepers.  But that’s beyond most budgets.

Source ShopperVista
The great hope for everyone else was the dream of technology.  The web helps. The UK is second only to China in our enthusiasm for online grocery shopping.  It's a real boon for working parents.  But we’re still depressed by our dirty homes and guilty about microwave dinners. And this does nothing for our enthusiasm at work.

It feels like a frustrating lack of progress. Since the 1960s brought us affordable washing machines, we've believed that freedom from domestic chores was just around the corner. During the 1970s scientists turned their attention to our food, introducing frozen meals and space aged mashed potatoes. I remember my mother buying her first dishwasher in the mid-1970s.  A transformation.  After that we thought it would be a hop, skip and a jump to guilt-free careers. But somewhere in the last ten years it all started to slow down.  In fact we appeared to go backwards.  Agas – first invented in the 1920s – became the most desirable kitchen item and as expensive as a family car. Hi-tech and fast was out.  Slow and ethically sourced was in. Fast food – demonized by the health lobby - took a back seat in popular culture.  Media encouraged us to cook healthy family meals from scratch and eat together at least five days a week. Anything less suggested negligent parenting.

I’m a strong believer in the family eating good food together. My solution was a weekly cooking and freezing bonanza to allow me to give the family home-cooked meals and still work a full day in a demanding job.  They did eat a lot of stew, but you can’t have everything.

But three years ago came the game-changer.  Just as my domestic nest emptied – I bought my first robot.  Meet Neato the robot vacuum cleaner.  It was love at first sight and has remained so. This is one of those rare moments when you know that you will never go back.  A daily clean is a piece of cake with no supervision.  It can even cope with the drifts of my black Labrador’s hair.

I think this is the start of a real revolution.  A robot chef already exists and will be launched in 2017.  At $15,000 it’s going to be a while before we all have one. Robot lawnmowers are becoming more commonplace and affordable. It’s taken  sixty years but finally we might be able to dedicate less energy to running our homes and more to building our careers.