The impact of sexism on business

6 11 2013

We are, I’m sure, all aware of the discrepancies between the number of women in senior positions compared to that of men.

Rather than considering simply the numbers, it is worth considering the type of businesses that women set up.

If we look at a comparison, by sector, of women-led SMEs versus all SME:

community, social and personal activities ~ +6%
health and social work ~ +9%
hotel and restaurants ~ +4%
production ~ -6%
construction ~ -9%

In summary women more often head up businesses within what is often termed the ‘soft sector’ rather than the ‘heavy’ industrial and manufacturing sectors.

Why might this be?

Well it’s simple, as any venture capitalist will tell you, entrepreneurs should always do business in areas they know. So we shouldn’t be at all surprised that many women start and run companies in ‘traditional’ female categories like food, shopping and things that are family-related, especially if those markets are profitable. The larger concern is that for years many of the biggest companies catering to a female demographic were founded by men.

And it isn’t just in enterprise that women work in traditional female categories. We have many more women doctors now than we ever did, but women are over-represented in areas such as family practices and gynaecology. The same is true of female lawyers, who choose family law and non-profit work.

So while there are more women in traditionally male-dominated roles and professions than there have ever been, small “ghettos” within those professions, where women are allowed to work, are emerging. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this clustering but it is how we view that cluster. I chose the word ‘ghetto’ deliberately to reflect the value that is placed on these clusters. It is clear that as a society we tend to put less value upon areas such as nursing and hairdressing, areas where women cluster.

So it is about what we value and, though it’s subtle, what we value is attached to the masculine or ‘gender neutral’ (and often saying ‘gender neutral’ is the same as saying ‘largely masculine’). As a result we tend to undervalue the business areas that women choose. This is reinforced in the disparaging way we speak of ‘lifestyle businesses’ with particular regard to women-led enterprises operating in areas seen as traditionally female.

So you can see that we can’t really think about the types of business women start in isolation. We need to consider the bigger picture and include the types of jobs women take in the workplace and the value society places on that work.

The lack of value we place on work is important as it often translates into poorer pay and conditions for women in the workplace. I was at a conference a year back that was called in order to address the issue of getting more women into board and senior management positions within the businesses that constitute the co-operative movement. The debate raged about whether quotas needed to be introduced to get more women onto group, regional and national boards. My colleague stood up to make this very simple point: ‘the movement could do more to improve the position of women not by giving more to few women nearing the top of the organisation but by paying a living wage to the thousands of women who work at the lower and middle-levels.’ I agree and would add that they should do more to value the work that the cleaners and shelf-stackers and check-out staff do.

If we are serious about changing the work women choose, we need to go right back to the start and look closely at the role models that we are presenting to the next generation, as these role models will influence the choices young women make when entering the workforce and, therefore, when starting their own businesses too.

If we are serious about changing the landscape of business we need also to look at the value we place upon the type of work women do. And here I think that we might just be on the threshold of change. In the policy document entitled, “Supporting economic growth through local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones” Eric Pickles, on behalf of the coalition government opens with the statement, “Our economy is currently too dependent on a narrow range of industry sectors.” So, a suggestion at least that there should be less of an emphasis placed on traditional industries. If we read “male-led” instead of “traditional” then maybe signs of change, or an indication of an awareness that change is needed.

Here are just a few opportunities.

With an ageing population we are going to need far more carers, a female-dominated industry. There is a really possibility that society may actually come to value care and carers in this growing market situation. It is up to women to start and lead the large-scale businesses that run and manage the care system rather than leaving it to men to head up these companies. And in healthcare there are many high growth opportunities. The biggest currently seems to be digital healthcare, which describes the development of systems and technologies that have the potential to save lives by equipping doctors with quicker and more accurate information about patients. There is no reason why this should not be headed by the people who actually come into contact with the patients, predominantly women carers.

With retail giants failing or otherwise leaving the high street there is a huge opportunity for small specialist retailers. My contention is that the high street is changing, not dying, and there is a real desire to halt the growth of commuter towns and build character back into the places in which we live and shop. This drive is personified by Mary Portas who is working, and has been given public money, to energise 12 towns. It’s not much, but it’s a sign of things to come.

While computer games have long been seen as a male-only enclave, this is changing. Games used to be sold on the quality of the graphics. This is no longer the case. The graphics are uniformly pretty good and so this aspect of the game is a given. What sells the games now is the game play, storytelling, and more than that the psychology of the characters. This opens up this whole arena to women. And I think no one would argue with the assertion that social media plays to women’s strengths in communication and collaboration.

Women have provided the backbone to volunteering in this country for many, many years. Activities like befriending, meals on wheels, staffing charity shops and supporting local PTAs. In the current economic climate, with more and more closures of public services, it is often women who take responsibility for keeping open services such as post offices and libraries. We are starting to see the emergence of social enterprise as a way of providing community services and we are seeing a new band of social entrepreneurs and these are more likely to be women.

The challenge, as before is that for years many of the biggest companies catering to a female demographic have been founded by men. The opportunity is that the changing landscape, moving businesses towards care and social enterprise, will favour the female demographic. The challenge is to make sure that women are in a place where they are able to capitalise on these opportunities.

We should, then, be keen to ensure that women think big enough with their start-ups as, while men are competing to build the next Amazon, Facebook, or eBay, women-led start-ups still tend to focus on small niches. As we’ve seen the niches may be growing of their own accord, but we do need more women who are willing to build large businesses.

It may be that the rise of the social entrepreneur will aid this process as the emphasis for social enterprise is on creating surplus rather than profit and of creating value for all the stakeholders and not simply for the shareholders. Women may in the past have been discouraged at the prospect of creating billion-dollar businesses by the spectre of working in, and with, the old-style testosterone-fuelled board. By replacing that competitive environment with one more conducive to collaboration, as is often the case with social enterprise, we should see more women creating large, sustainable and profitable enterprises.

karen is managing editor at
looking at business issues from a more diverse perspective

Here comes the cavalry

8 08 2013

It has become a bit of a mantra, a favourite one of mine if I’m honest, to assert that the banks and the bankers are responsible for the current economic downturn, as it is euphemistically called. But even though it is certainly true, it isn’t the whole truth.

Consider the facts, simply expressed. The banks had accrued too much debt. They had so much debt that lenders stopped lending to them. Under this pressure the banks themselves stopped lending any money. The economy got into trouble and the banks got into even more trouble. So bad was their situation that the government (using our money collected by taxation) had to bail them out.  And why did the banks have so much debt? Because they had taken out loans, ie borrowed lots of money, in order that they themselves could lend money to people who wanted to borrow it from them in order that they could buy stuff, particularly property.

So there is a case for saying that the economic crisis wasn’t created by reckless lending but by reckless borrowing. The banks, as any other business dedicated to creating value for shareholders, was simply responding to the marketplace they found themselves in in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A global economy fueled by conspicuous consumption.

And neither is it good enough to say that the banks were too big to fail in a way that implies that it is a fact that not only cannot be disputed but one that  is nothing to do with us.  In the 1980’s British banking laws were changed to allow building societies to demutualise if more than 75% of their members voted to do so. In practice the societies transformed into banks not just with the consent of their memberships but with the enthusiastic support of their members. There was a rush to open accounts so that individuals could benefit from demutualisation, so called carpet-bagging. But while this practice did occur, most of the pressure to demutualise came from members looking to cash in on a quick windfall.

So it is partly our own faults that we now have a banking system which, unlike the vast majority of other developed nations, is dominated by a very few banks that were deemed to be too big to fail.

A side-effect of the model of capitalism we have created is the hero entrepreneur, lauded for creating multi-billion dollar businesses, many of which have been shown to be socially irresponsible in their determination to avoid their fair share of taxation.

So this crisis has proved beyond all reasonable doubt, that a world economy fuelled by ever growing consumption is not a viable option, that banks as currently structured and regulated cannot continue and that we need alternative models for entrepreneurs. We need to rethink capitalism to move away from the idea that if we all keep buying stuff everything will work out alright in the end.

So here comes the cavalry.

The era of self-congratulatory entrepreneurs, of businesses focused only on shareholder value, if not quite over completely, is certainly coming to an end. We are on the brink of what Tony Bradley writing in the3rdimagazine, has termed societal entrepreneurship.  This is different to social enterprise, I think, as this sector has up to now tended to create social entrepreneurs in the same mould as the hero entrepreneur. Individuals striving to create value for themselves and just a few others.  Societal entrepreneurship, or co-operative enterprise as I’d prefer to call it, focuses on creating value for all stakeholders; those within the enterprise, clients, suppliers and the wider community.  A co-operative, societal enterprise takes the hero entrepreneur out of the picture, or at least places them amongst a crowd.

Banks are leaving poorer communities which leaves room in the market for pay day lenders. Ironically, reforms to the banking system here in the UK, which mean that banks have to have larger cash reserves to protect themselves against the level of debt that they faced in 2008, will make it more difficult for competitors to enter this market place. So how are we to create the diverse banking systems found in, for example, countries like Germany? Well, ideas are coming from the most unlikely places. The Church of England has committed itself to forcing pay day lender Wonga out of business by encouraging the greater acceptance and utilisation of credit unions.  A credit union is a member-owned financial co-operative democratically controlled by it’s members and operating to encourage saving and to provide credit at affordable rates. Many credit unions also support community development. By employing this model of financial institution stakeholder, rather than shareholder value is improved. The role of the credit union goes beyond finance into societal, community enterprise, as with the micro-finance of the Grameen Bank system developed by Muhammad Yunus.

There is a growing desire from investors to have at least some of their capital generate a social as well as a financial return; to have social impact.  Social impact is a way of evaluating just how the organization’s actions affect the surrounding community.  The creation of tangible, measurable social impact is increasingly important in the development of business models, public policy and finance.

And large corporations can no longer simply pay lip service to their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy. It was once acceptable for big business to send out their staff once a year to clear some wasteland in the name of team-building and CSR or to sponsor a charity.  Corporate businesses must start to consider all of their stakeholders and to make sure that their actions have a positive impact, not solely in terms of job creation, in the communities in which they are based. If they don’t move this way themselves then investors will increasing push for them to do so. Some companies, like Unilever, are starting to take this seriously with a commitment, set out in a sustainable living plan,  to double the size of their business while simultaneously reducing their environmental impact.

While capitalism may well outlive the current turbulent economic climate there is at least a movement towards sustainable capitalism. Adoption of co-operative enterprise, encompassing community development and community based finance is a powerful first step.

Change the system not the women

16 07 2013

“For a woman to get half as much credit as a man she has to work twice as hard and be twice as smart. Fortunately this isn’t difficult.”

We’ll have all heard that saying, and probably most women had a smug smile or snigger of recognition when they first heard it.

Many successful women have even been heard to use it to imply that they must be much better than their male colleagues to be in a similar position of power and influence.

But put the quotation another way, that if a woman and a man are equally smart and work equally hard then the man will enjoy four times the success, it isn’t quite so funny.

And here is a problem with the hero entrepreneur, or the “shero”, a term that is gaining currency amongst this type of entrepreneur; it encourages us to focus on what women need to do and how they need to be to succeed in the current system when what we should be doing is focussing on structural inequalities. Focussing on women who have achieved great things fortifies the illusion that all women could succeed if only they tried harder, stayed later in the office, were more confident.

Last year I was on a discussion panel which followed a presentation of the book, “Beyond The Boys Club” by it’s author. I had agreed to sit on the panel as the meeting was to discuss the vexed question of increasing the numbers of women on corporate boards. I have to confess that I only read the book on the day of the event or I probably would have declined the invitation. That said, the panel debate was excellent but the book itself promulgates the very worst aspects of the current system. It perports to teaching women how to beat the men at their own game when we should be changing the game. The rules of this particular game, enforced by the boys club, led to the near total collapse of the western economy. We need new rules not just a different gender to play the same game.  Maybe we even need a different game altogether.

There is a parallel here with the very worthwhile aim of keeping women safe. It focusses on how to dress, where it is safe to go and places to avoid, times to be on the streets and times to be tucked up in bed.I would hope that the vast majority of people would want women to be unharmed but my point is that we need to focus on creating safe societies, making structural changes,  not just keeping women safe by restricting freedoms. Far better to teach men not to rape than to teach women how to avoid being raped.

We all want to believe that we are living in a fair world, one in which everyone is able to succeed solely on their own merits but we are not.

When women like Sheryl Sandberg stand up and talk about how women can achieve the kind of success she has had she enjoyed she is not addressing all women. She is talking to the very few women who can chose where, and for how long, they work each day. Most women, indeed most men, do not have this luxury. Her experience, as shared in talks and now in her book, may help with tricks and tips to succeed and may smooth the path of a very, very small number of women who wish to follow in her footsteps. But hers is a particular, priveledged journey that very few women, or men, are able to take.

By encouraging the, “if she can do it then I can do it” attitude we fail to address the deficiencies of the system.  Accepting that because one person can do something must somehow demonstrate that the system is OK is wrong.

We are not living in a fair world. Helping a few more women, or men, to struggle to the top of mountain is not the answer. Doing something to change the landscape is.

Why women entrepreneurs (Part I) – Not enough Rooney’s to go around

26 04 2013

Why women entrepreneurs?
(transcript of Common Business School lecture at Liverpool Hope University)

Good afternoon.
I’m Karen Birch and since you probably have little idea who I am, partly for some of the reasons we’re about to explore, I’ll introduce myself before getting started.

I was born just down the road from here but have spent the last 20 years running entrepreneurial businesses in Scotland. They have ranged from biotechnology to advertising, e-commerce to software design. These days I spend my time supporting women-led businesses and developing co-operative and community enterprises. A large proportion of my time is spent as CEO of the 3rdimagazine, an on-line business publication. We have women and men from all over the UK writing articles on all sorts of business issues. The key factor is that we look at business issues from a woman’s perspective. You might wander, with good reason, what that means and it is an important question with regard to the rest of this discussion.

As a way of introducing the idea it might be helpful to consider how the3rdimagazine started. Essentially Phil Birch, co-founder of the magazine and author of the groundbreaking ethical enterprise system, Ethiconomics, was working with senior men and women executives and found that it was a different experience in terms of their thought processes, business practices and ambitions. In researching these differences it became clear that there wasn’t a business publication that addressed these issues. There were business magazines, which tended to be testosterone fuelled and focussed on salaries, fast cars, big houses and beautiful wives and women’s magazines, which focussed on handbags and spa days, so in true entrepreneurial fashion we decided to create the3rdimagazine to fill the gap.

So, why women entrepreneurs?
Clearly this is a topic that could fill a whole module not just an hour long lecture so I’ll keep things simple. This will no doubt mean that you have lots of “please miss, what about…” moments which I’ll be happy to address at the end.

Before we move on it is worth taking the time to consider what I mean when I use the word entrepreneur. Personally, I’m not a fan of the ‘mumpreneur’. Writing a book about bringing up baby, self-publishing and then spending the rest of your life tweeting about it does not, in my opinion, make you an entrepreneur. That’s not to say that it isn’t enterprising or that it shouldn’t be applauded. It is and it should. But for me the term entrepreneur implies a little more ambition for growth. J.K. Rowling was smart, or lucky, enough to create a character in her books that had huge film and merchandising potential. Is she an author or entrepreneur? Some definitions are based on turnover and I find this problematic too. My current business would not qualify me as an entrepreneur on consideration of turnover – the magazine was created as a co-operative to ensure collaboration and independence rather than to generate vast wealth. My previous ventures would have qualified in terms of business value. So am I now an entrepreneur or not? Perhaps better to say that I am entrepreneurial? And what of someone who has just sold a business for a fortune as it at the early stages of creating a new one? Do they have their status as entrepreneur suspended until this new business reaches a certain size?

You can see the difficulties so for the purposes of this discussion I will use the term entrepreneur very loosely to simply mean someone who has started a business. I’ll discuss why we need women entrepreneurs, how they are different from male counterparts and why this difference is important.

So, we all know women. You only have to look at the shelves of magazines in supermarket to see how women are viewed; models, gossips, victims, celebrities. I’m not making a feminist point here as it is as much about how women present themselves as how they are presented. I was at a conference a wee while ago hosted by RBS and called something like “Women into Business”. It was aimed at new and early start women-led businesses. All of the speakers, apart from the senior bank executives (we’ll come back to that later), were women and without exception the first thing that they said was to draw attention to the ‘fabulous’ shoes that they were wearing and how tricky it was to walk to the lectern in killer heels. Now, I’m a biologist, was a biologist, and there is well respected line of research that looks at the adaptive advantage of seemingly debilitating physical features such as the peacock’s tail. It may be that high heels fall into that category, after all Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels, but I think not.

And we know entrepreneurs.
So who do we think of? Richard Branson? Alan Sugar? Maybe the internet billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg. Most people would struggle to name a woman in their list. Even the recent Woman’s Hour poll of the top 100 most powerful women in the UK was woefully short of business women. The Queen was voted in at number one and the invisible Home Secretary that is Theresa May was in second. After that I pretty much lost the will to live.

So why is the lack of enterprising women in the public eye a problem?

Just this.
According to the study, “Girls’ Attitudes Explored… Role Models 2012”,

  • we have a generation of young women whose role models come from reality TV

In particular programmes such as TOWIE and Made in Chelsea where the female characters aspire to be nothing more than WAGS.

I go into primary schools and even girls as young as 11 say that they want to be pop stars, on the TV, work in a beauty salon or a tanning shop. And why are role models important? Here’s one reason why, according to the same survey,

  • One in six girls said that they were put off careers in engineering as they didn’t know that women worked in that industry.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. One of my first jobs when I left university was as a water treatment engineer. For those of you that don’t know what one of those is, probably 100% of you as I didn’t know either when I applied for the job, it involves climbing up to the top of high buildings to check chemical levels in cooling towers and visiting dirty basements to check chemical levels in boilers. I was the only woman working in the industry and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have taken the job if I’d known that. But if we are going to get more women doing these jobs we are going to have to have more women doing these jobs. By the time I left I’d recruited two other women and suddenly water treatment engineer was a job that men and women could do.

And returning to the celebrity issue,

  • The girls asked could only name a handful of successful businesswomen, most of them because they have an established celebrity profile

Women like Stella McCartney and the grumpy woman from Dragon’s Den, who were known by dint of their celebrity profile rather than because of their business acumen. The lack of role models is important as it affects the attitudes of those thinking about starting a business, with women being far less confident of their abilities than their male counterparts. 45% of men, compared to just 29%, of women, felt that they had the skills, knowledge and experience to start a business. Role models play a crucial part in encouraging the “I can do that” mentality.

Again, from my own experience, I talk to many women’s groups, particularly to those women thinking about going into business. If anyone comes up to me at the end of the talk and says, “ I couldn’t do what you’ve done”, I know that I have failed. As a role model in these situations it is important that the women there do feel that they can do exactly what I have done – and hopefully much more. My fear is that the current ‘hero entrepreneur’ model, with a lone speaker talking wisdom to an audience much as I’m doing here today, is not a good one. It tends to, end is used to by many businessmen, illicit feelings of awe rather than feelings that it is possible to achieve similar success.

So the first reason why we need women entrepreneurs is to encourage aspiration and to broaden the horizons of the next generation of women. It is OK to want to be a singer or a dancer but it is about expanding the choices available. And anyway, not every young girl can be a WAG. There simply aren’t enough Wayne Rooney’s to go around!

And here’s where you all come in. For the women in the room to have the confidence to know that you can start your own business. And for the men in the room; you have a responsibility not to perpetrate the falsehood that there are certain jobs that are ‘men’s jobs’.

And we don’t have to speculate about what would happen if we had more positive role models. It has been fashionable, in the wake of the global financial crisis, to look at the Icelandic experience for guidance. True to form there is some great work going on to reduce gender imbalance across all sectors of business, including projects that help women to start their own business. Here’s what they have to say;

  • The increasing positive media attention on successful businesswomen has had an influence on the entrepreneurship culture. These women become role models, and the existence of role models is an important driver for women to start a business.
    (Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, Project Manager of Brautargengi )

Do what you say you will do.

6 01 2010

When Phil and I set up the3rdi magazine we were keen that the business was built on ethical foundations.

We are committed to giving 10% of subscription and advertising revenue to charity. We feature champions in this area of business alongside entrepreneurs and millionaires.

We feature regular input from businesses who in large and small ways are trying to have a positive global impact.

This is very important. That the business looks at the big picture and makes a firm statement as to it’s ethical position.

But what of the day to day operation of a business?

According to wikipedia, business ethics is a form of applied ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and business organizations as a whole.

The key thing in the definition, I think, is that business ethics “applies to all aspects of business conduct.”

While I think that it is important that every business re-visits its vision and mission statements regularly this is not why have I been thinking particularly about business ethics right now.

Over the past few weeks I have been looking around, using my networks and social-networks, to find companies able and willing to help with various aspects of our business growth. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as providing great ways to keep in contact with friends and with what’s going on in the world, are great places to promote a business, so I’m told.

And on the face of it that is true. The world of social media is crammed full of companies and individuals promising that they can do anything…and do most of that for nothing.

However my experience is, in the words of the Bard of Avon, “ all that glisters is not gold “ and that those that promise most deliver least.

I have been amazed at the number of broken promises. Quotations that don’t arrive and those that do are late and even those are little more than standard sentences cut from a bland list of options and pasted together to look like a personalised quotation.

And the lack of urgency is mind boggling. We are supposed to be in a recession yet the phrase…”I’ll get that to you by the end of the week” is starting to haunt me. Unless it is a Thursday, in which case the end of the week is fine, what is wrong with “I’ll have that to you by the end of the day” or “I’ll have that to you by tomorrow”.

And when the quotation finally arrives…….nothing! No follow up call. Nothing.

Now, I know that this could be parcelled up as poor business practice rather than poor business ethics but my point is that these things are the same. Poor business practice is poor business conduct.

Good business ethics are not something that should be written in the mission statement and then forgotten about. It is something that should be an integral part of the day to day operation of the business.

In a nutshell if you promise to deliver then you had better deliver. If you post on every social network that you are “the best” then you had better be prepared to be the best, or at least to TRY to be the best.

Good business ethics is simply doing what you say you will do.

Soundbites and Headlines

14 12 2009

I don’t read newspapers.

For the editor of a business magazine I suspect that is an extraordinary admission, so let me explain.

The world is a complex place. Issues are not often straightforward. There is frequently more than one side to any story, but more and more, in my view, the newpapers reduce everything to headlines, snippets and catchphrases .

They may well feel that they have to do this to keep pace with the TV news and the web, which together seem determined to reduce everything to soundbite and celebrity.  But, whatever the reason, it does mean that the newspapers no longer provide detailed, rounded comment and reporting on current affairs.

So I read the New Statesman. I don’t expect their coverage to be totally balanced. The journal is left leaning, but it does give full, rounded, detailed coverage and explanation to complex matters such as climate change and world politics.

At least it did.

A couple of months ago I was concerned at their cover story  “The 50 people who matter today”.  A paragraph on each of 50 indivuduals seemed to be at odds with the depth of comment usually found in the magazine. It added nothing to the understanding of the people or the issues for which they had received this recognition.

Then a couple of weeks ago the cover story was ” 20 green heroes and villains”.

Is it such a clear choice?.  Are companies and individuals always one or the other? The National Grid was claimed as a hero solely as when energy expert David Milborrow wrote a report showing that Britain’s energy system is already capable of taking a large amount of wind power, they backed his work.  Is this really enough to be granted hero status?

But that is not really the issue. The issue is with yet more sound-bite debate. And from a journal that I had come to rely upon to fill the gaps left as newspaper reports become all headline and no substance.  Can the climate debate be summarised as collection of heores and villains?

I don’t think so but if more journals go the way of the New Statesman where are we going to get our detailed, useful information from? And if the information isn’t available, how can we have informed debate?

My son will probably never have a JOB

17 11 2009

My son is 17, wears trousers that hang low enough to expose virtually all of his boxer shorts, plays xbox and studies far less than I would like.   I try not to worry about him;  he is an articulate,  charming and intelligent boy-but I do worry for him. He doesn’t know what is coming.  With the pace of change in the world, none of us do.

This afternoon I had to wait at Glasgow Central Station. There was a boy standing, apparently waiting for a train to arrive. He wasn’t causing any problem. There was no hoodie. There wasn’t a gang. He made me think.  He looked to be about the same age as my son. He was clean, pale-faced and thin. He didn’t look ill or ill-treated but his clothes were torn and dirty. I started to wonder what he was doing here. What he did. Why he was standing in the station in the early part of the afternoon. I looked down to pick up my bag and when I turned round he was gone.

Then I looked across to the newspaper seller – a wasted man, thin, dirty and with the look of an addict. With him was a boy of about 17 years old.  He was laughing and cursing and hopping around from foot to foot.

And then there were the teenagers serving in Burger King….and I realised that I have no idea about JOBS.

I am middle-class. I could make a very good case for being working class based on the struggles of my grandparents in the early trade union movements of the industrial northwest of England in the early 20th century. The truth is that  their struggle and their efforts allowed their children, my parents, to become middle class…..and, therefore, so am I.

So, I read The Guardian and worry about my son but I have NO IDEA. I think in terms of careers and so, very probably, do you. I don’t think in terms of him getting A JOB, any job, 9-5 in order to pay the rent. They are working class choices.

While we are busy being inspired entrepreneurs or dynamic coaches or miracle mentors let’s not forget that there are still JOBS to be done and think how we can inspire some of these kids, to allow them to have progression and a career path and life choices beyond taking any job just to pay the rent.

Twitter Ye Not

11 11 2009

I don’t twitter
I have never twittered.
I have never been onto the website – honestly-I haven’t

So why am I compelled to write about it?
It’s because I just don’t get it?

It seems to me, admittedly just from what I have heard/read in the media, that because of the limitations in the number of words you can post, twitter is essentially a place to tell people where you are:
I’m in the bath
I’m on the train
I’m in the garden
I’m on the internet

My life is pretty interesting, I’m told, at any rate it interests me, but are the internet masses really interested in my whereabouts or those of anybody else?

I do Facebook, poorly I suspect, because I feel that I should. At least here the is enough space to write about what I am doing;
I am enjoying a relaxing bath at the end of a busy day
I am taking the train down to my parent’s house for the weekend
I am in the garden rooting out ground elder from around the hostas.

That last one is a lie. I hate gardening but it does serve to illustrate how easy it is to tell small lies in order to sound a bit more interesting that you really are!

So Facebook appears marginally more useful and entertaining than twitter. I am unconvinced. One of my facebook friends posted information to the effect that she was having fun programming the autokey on her computer. Maybe I just have odd facebook friends….or at least friends that should get out more!

And here is another odd thing – the concept of “friend”.

Before becoming an overt dating site, Friends Reunited encouraged people who knew each other at some point, or at least who shared a history, they lived in the same street, went to the same school, to make a connection. But facebook friends? I don’t have many facebook friends and the majority of those are people who I’ve never met, though it is true that we do often have interests or enthusiasms or prejudices in common.

The old saying has it that “a stranger is a friend that you haven’t yet met”. What then a friend that you are never likely to meet?

I do Flickr. I have a genuine, though thoroughly amateur interest in, photography. On flickr it is also possible to connect with people from all over the world, the majority of whom you will never meet. The difference here is that the common interest has already been established, taking photographs, and there is a clear platform for friendship. Tellingly, flickr terms the connections you make “contacts” not friends, and while this is less, well, friendly, it feels more appropriate. Even on flickr I don’t have a huge number of contacts. I could have. Flickr does not require someone that you tag as a contact to confirm or accept the approach. So anyone can have hundreds of contacts…..but why would you? Some people do.

And here I think we might be getting somewhere. Lots of people have lots of contacts, lots of on-line friends – are these really just “pretend friends” like children conjure up to help them through their early years?

I have listened to several radio presenters over the past few months urging people to follow them on twitter. I will leave aside the morality of a state funded broadcaster shamelessly promoting the services of a commercial organisation. And the reason they gave for asking for listeners to twitter was “to have more followers (fans/friends) than Stephen Fry.

So there we have it. If you have more followers than Stephen Fry you must be more popular than Stephen Fry. Who wouldn’t want to be more popular than the lovely Uncle Stephen but will having thousands of listeners following you on twitter REALLY make you more popular? Will it really make you more real friends? Will it really make you a better person? Or is it all down to insecurity and ego?
Ah, but I am writing a blog. If I don’t think it is important or interesting for people to know where I am (I am on a train) or what I’m doing ( I am on a train heading down to see my parents), why on earth should I suppose that anyone is the least bit interested in what I think?

Well, maybe you are, you’ve got this far.
Or maybe you are not and have stumbled onto word number 746 entirely by accident. In my defence I have always found that writing things down is a good way to get my own thoughts into some kind of order. Now, thanks to the internet, or at least because of the internet, I can share my ramblings with the planet, though I do know that 98% of blogs aren’t read by anyone but the blogger!

I suppose that the best bloggers fall into the same category as the great diarists like Johnson and Pepys. Great diarists are still around. If you don’t believe me have a look at The New Statesman.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression, though I probably already have, that I am a complete Luddite. After all I am the managing editor for the and the associated social networking site at and in the recent past I founded and ran a multi-million pound internet retail business.

The point I am trying to make is that there has to be a point! At the magazine we are aiming to cover all aspects of work from a woman’s viewpoint. With the social networking site we encourage comment on the articles in the magazine. There is a point to what we do on the web. But twitter seems to me like an end in itself. Would the world be a worse place without it? Would your life be enhanced by knowing that Stephen Fry was at the dentist?


Postscript 2010

BUT….and it is a very BIG but…..all of the above are hugely important and valuable business tools so, while I am personally sceptical about their value to me as an individual I am now convinced of their value to my business, and so should you be if you are running a business.

So watch this space…or follow me on twitter x