”Don’t lean in, change the system”
Genre: Business, Non Fiction (Adult)
Similar to: (ironically) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Could be enjoyed by: Bored business students
Publication date: 8th February 2018
As some of you may know, my undergraduate degree was in business (don’t ask – I really should have done English) and so I’ve retained a somewhat passing interest in the world of employment and in particular my specialist areas of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This field also ties in nicely with my feminist ideals and broader perspective that we should just employ people based on what they’re good at, not what we think they’re good at because of some lazy ass stereotypes (I probably need to put that into more polite wording of I’m going to use it in a job interview). So when I saw A Good Time to be a Girl I thought “huzzah! This will be a delightful crossover of lots of things that I’m interested in, written by a woman who has actually done some stuff and is educated enough to make a decent, interesting book out of her ‘journey’!”
Except…she doesn’t. A Good Time to be a Girl is just dull. It’s the story of the author’s corporate career and her creation of the 30% Club, a concept designed to make big business boards of directors 30% female. Whilst I applaud her efforts and I like the idea of a more gender balanced workforce (especially in the top tier) I don’t be necessarily want to read an entire novel about how she did it. There’s a lot of name dropping (I spoke to Sir Stanley so and so, who put me in touch with Lord thingybob) – all people that I’d never heard of – and the whole thing simply drips with privilege (I guarantee that all of these people are white, upper class privately educated men allowing a few white, upper class privately educated women in). No mention of ethnic minorities or people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, people from different socio-economic backgrounds, disabled people etc. etc…so in my eyes not really diversity, despite the fact that many of the initiatives for recruiting women into senior positions could equally apply to other under represented groups. Grrrr.
The main thing that annoyed me about the idea of a 30% Club was a) it’s a quota and b) if you are going for quantitative measures, why not 50%? 30% feels like a grovelling acceptance that businesses obviously can’t be expected to achieve equal representation but letting in just a couple of us…pretty please…means diversity has been reached. High fives all round! No more work to be done here!
What I really struggled to equate was the idea that a quantitative measure (30%) could be linked to the idea of a “better team” or “better working environment” – something that’s far more likely to be measured with qualitative research (questionnaires, interviews etc.). If you wanted to link the idea that teams that are gender balanced perform better based on performance outputs (sales figures, profits etc.) then there will be a huge number of variables affecting the validity of your research. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in the concept of diversity but I am saying that measuring it’s impact on the bottom line is very difficult – possibly the reason that Helena Morissey negated to do any follow up research into the outcomes of her project and instead focused on how many people signed up to it. Hmmmm.
I think it’s the author’s overall idea that women and men are two discreet, homologous groups who behave as “men” and “women” which I found most ridiculous. When we talk about wanting gender balance or diversity, what most companies want is to exploit the idea that having a group of individuals who will all challenge the status quo and bring new ideas and perspectives will be good for business performance. However, I don’t think that’s as simple as hiring a few token women to hit a target. Having a corporate culture that encourages debate, actively looks for diversification opportunities and pushes to attract the best talent is the only way that a truly diverse workforce will thrive. We need to remember that a culture that rewards yes men can equally reward yes women.
Morissey also fails to investigate the impact of the 30% Club on the very people that it’s meant to be helping – the women. I’m absolutely certain that an initiative which is so blunt in it’s aims would attract a lot of negativity. I’m sure that for many of the women promoted, there would be gossip that “she only got the job because she’s female” and that this would massively undermine both confidence of the women in their abilities and the confidence of the men in their employer. You hear none of the issues being discussed though – A Good Time to be a Girl has almost no negativity in it whatsoever. I think it was this focus solely on the positives that meant I really didn’t connect with the book – there was literally no emotion in it.
On the plus side, I liked the (somewhat tenuous, but whatever) link between diverse teams equals better business performance and if this had been backed up with proper research it would have been even more useful. I think that in order to “sell” the concept of diversity we need to focus on this concept far more, not some airy fairy idea that having more women in senior positions is somehow “the right thing to do”. I know I’d be far more inclined to listen if someone told me that they could increase our profits by 5% next year, rather than “I think we need more women…”.
I also liked the inclusion of the authors personal story (although written in a very impersonal manner) and thought that she would have some real insights into how to achieve a senior position whilst also having a family (she has nine kids). Unfortunately, instead of being a trailblazer for flexible working, she simply had a stay at home husband – something that the vast majority of families simply can’t afford to do – so no real insights there. I’m not even sure why she includes the fact that she was a working mum? It seemed a bit out of context.
Overall, I thought that A Good Time to be a Girl absolutely had a place as a business manual, but not as an exciting or engaging read. I liked the idea that diversity = success but needed far more evidence to back these claims up. I didn’t like the idea of a quota of women (particularly as the target was only 30%) and felt like many businesses would simply hire a few women to meet the target. I hated the way Morissey insinuated that diversity meant more women and didn’t look at all at any other under-represented groups and I didn’t like her impersonal style of writing. There are a few gems of wisdom scattered through the book but even as a feminist reader I have my limits.
Rating: Two CEO name drops out of five.
Unengaging, dull and empirically flawed. Perhaps a business student would get more out of it.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!