What is being said is more important than the way it is being said

27 06 2011

As often happens with my blog, two things come together to make me think about a topic.

This week I read a piece in The Guardian that suggested that women “are held back from reaching the very highest levels in business because of the difficulties they find in striking the right tone of language during high pressure meetings.” and last night I watched the latest episode of The Apprentice.

I don’t really like The Apprentice but I am an addict, partly because I tweet, and viewing and dismantling the programme later on line is compulsory, but also because of morbid curiosity – it’s like watching someone walk into a lamp-post or ride their cycle into a bush. You don’t really want to watch but you can’t take your eyes off the impeding crash and can’t help laughing. Last night a young woman, I don’t know her name but she wears too much make-up and a permanent sneer, was in the boardroom with two men; the tecky one and the toffy one as it happens. She hadn’t done very well in the task, she made a few sales and spoke French, a useful but non-essential skill in Paris, but her overall performance was poor.

Her performance in the boardroom was the usual mix of petulance and finger-pointing, both literally and metaphorically, but it was Lord Sugar’s comments that made me sit up and take notice.  He commended her for being ruthless, for being prepared to eat people and spit people them out for breakfast, for being prepared to walk all over people. And Karen Brady said she had put the boys to shame.

So it would appear that the attributes more closely associated with men, aggression and ruthlessness, are what Lord Sugar is looking for.

To return to The Guardian article for a moment, women were seen to use phrases like  “I am probably speaking out of turn, but…” and “sorry to cut across you like that but…” but self-deprecation can lead to women appearing defensive and weak.

But surely it’s not about behaving as men do but about being  assertive without being confrontational.

My contention in the debate that continues about getting more women into the boardroom is that it is not about gender, it is about attitude. If we appoint women who act like men then we may as well just choose men! Even if we adopt a quota system to address the difference in numbers of men and women in the boardroom if the attitudes of the board memebers is just the same as each other then we haven’t truly tackled diversity.

What we need is a society  where what is being said is more important than the way it is being said.

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