I wonder if Kate Middleton plays the piano?

12 03 2011

I live in a part of Crieff where parents find it necessary to send their children to public school, a practice that I neither understand or support but a topic which will wait another day!

I mention this purely to set the scene for my walk with the dog, where a significant minority of windows were filled with young children, still in their school uniforms, alongside an adult and both sitting in front of a piano.

Why is it that middle class parents will pay a fortune to tutors to teach their children a musical instrument?

Why has the importance of sitting Grade 6 piano settled itself so deeply in the middle-class psyche?

I have nothing against music. I can recognise most of the major classical pieces and some of those less well known. I can distinguish between Bach, haydn, Handel and Schubert with a reasonable degree of accuracy. I even like opera, well the tunes anyway. It’s only the screeching women and histrionics that make it impossible to listen to. I even taught myself to read music when I was pregnant with my son, who is himself now an accomplished drummer and composer of music.

But I digress.

Why music? Why the piano?

In my 50 years on the planet I have never been disadvantaged by not being able to play chopsticks. There are many occasions when I wished I had a better grasp of figures or could ask directions with a degree of fluency when in a foreign land but I have never been in a situation when my ability to play, or not play, the piano has been raised, let alone one where such as skill was seen as important or useful.

I don’t doubt that it might be nice to be able to tinkle the ivories and I am not suggesting that all learning should have immediate practical benefit but the question remains, why do middle class parents think that it is so important that their children learn the piano.

Why not Spanish?
Why not art?
Why not take them for a walk in the park and show them the wonders of nature?

I don’t have the answer but as you might guess if you have read my blog before, I do have an opinion!

I think it is aspirational. My view is that it harks back to the days when the upper classes had drawing rooms with grand pianos and afternoon soirees; when “play something for us Miss Bennett” was uttered by Mr Darcys throughout the country houses of England. The ability to entertain in such a genteel manner would be a useful skill for a middle class woman seeking to better herself by marriage into the aristocracy.

I wonder if Kate Middleton plays the piano?





Why I’m not a fan of International Womens Day

7 03 2011

This month, March 8th the be precise, marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. There are events all around the UK to mark the occasion.

I’m maybe going to risk the wrath of women’s groups everywhere but I’m not a fan.

It’s not that I don’t think that it isn’t important to recognise the value of women in our communities or to celebrate those great women in the past who, often at great personal cost, changed women’s situations for the better. I do.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said that if you want something said ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman. This is probably the only statement of hers that I can agree with. She’s right. Women are often better at getting things done. The exception seems to be around International Women’s Day.

If you have read my editorials before, or my blog, you will know that I am a big advocate for doing not saying and for concerted action. I regularly exhort people to get involved, to volunteer with a charity rather than just writing a cheque for the fund-raising spectaculars and walking away until the next red nose day. I fear that International Women’s Day may be becoming one of those headline events – a way to make a token gesture and then forget about the issues until next year.

You know the kind of think I mean – glossy venue, parachute in the female equivalent to James Caan and Nelson Mandela, hosted by someone off the TV. The organisers get to feel good about themselves for organising a meeting, the speaker feels important and the audience goes away thinking it’s not too bad to be a woman after all!

A huge amount of time, effort and money is spent on organising one off events. Certainly important issues are raised, lives are celebrated and sometimes money is raised for good causes but I can’t help feeling, then what?

What needs to happen is a year long, life long commitment to improving the lives and circumstances of women.

This is why we set up the3rdi magazine in the first place. A day in day out commitment to raising the profile of women and the amazing businesses they run and the social enterprises they found. This is why, at the start of 2011, we turned the3rdi magazine into a member owned co-operative so that every woman could not only own the vision but could own this business and share in the profits and set the agenda.

So we are not hosting a day conference, or a cocktail party, or a networking lunch. What we are doing is supporting real, substantial projects that will improve the outcomes for women in business and women in our communities.

Inspiring Women Leaders is an audacious and unique year-long programme focused on taking action to achieve inspirational systemic change. The programme is borne out of, and builds on, the current national and international debate on women’s leadership; global dialogue exploring the changing nature of business; and research showing economic benefits of diversity in leadership. The programme begins on 15th June 2011 with an event which will bring together 150 senior women leaders into a day focused on innovative action, co-creation and collaboration. It is being run through Inspiring Leaders Foundation, a new social enterprise and all profit generated will be put back into the programme throughout the year and beyond.

Fair Comment is an innovative and cost-effective programme which generates dozens of ideas to ensure the future success of women and their businesses. A panel of experts, each of us giving our time freely, brainstorm ideas in order to address the issues brought to us. It is a little bit like Dragons Den meets Mastermind, with one big difference – the panel is always on the side of the presenter! The presenter, an representing themeselves, a business or a social enterprise, has an hour of the time and combined brainpower of the panel and leaves with lots of ideas to consider. In return the presenter makes a £100 donation to The Womens Fund.

This editorial is an unashamed call to arms. It is not good enough to turn up once a year for the big spectacular and think that you have done your bit. By all means have a great day on 8th, listen to and learn from some of the inspirational women that will be speaking at events across the UK but don’t let it all end at midnight.

Get involved and stay involved. There is a lot to celebrate, as the video shows, but still a lot to do to change attitudes and change lives – when I placed this video on the page the googleads served were to “find your beauty queen from Moldova!”

Joining the3rdi magazine limited co-operative would be a great place to start that journey!





Another man, another report, same old outcomes

28 02 2011

Research from Catalyst, McKinsey and others has shown that women on boards bring higher profits, higher quality earnings, better share price growth, better decisions and higher innovation.

The Davies report accepts this and recommends setting targets and asking companies to provide information on how they are meeting these targets.

How disappointing and predictable! These men just do not seem to get it – we do not want to do business the way that they do.

The Guardian editorial on Monday said: “Companies want women who behave like men. They cannot imagine a world organised differently from the one they see around them now. Equally, many talented women see no reason to tolerate the brutally individualistic environment of many City firms.”

There have been initiatives to encourage companies to “do the right thing” for decades and little has changed.

Business is all about profits and even though reasearch shows that women on boards bring higher profits AND better share price growth the composition of boardrooms hasn’t really changed.

I am not a fan of quotas as we could end up with 50% men in suits and 50% men in frocks. That is the number imbalance will have been addressed but the culture/attitude imbalance will not. If we continue to have women at the top who, generally speaking, are there because they conform to the male pattern of doing business, then nothing will have changed for the mojority of businesswomen.

The3rdi Magazine has been established as a co-operative business to create a community of women all actively working together to change things for the better, not just be manipulating figures but be promoting real change. We welcome your support and the more of us involved the more we can do! (http://www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk/join/)

As a first step we are working with an extraordinary group of women in Scotland on the Inspiring Women Leaders … Dare We? programme. This is a unique year-long programme for women in Scotland focussed on taking action to achieve inspirational systemic change. The programme is borne out of, and builds on, the current national and international debate on women’s leadership; global dialogue exploring the changing nature of business; and research showing economic benefits of diversity in leadership – bringing these together with current exploration of the challenges in achieving systemic transformation.

If you would like more information, please message me.

Whatever you do, get involved. This cannot continue to be someone elses problem. We cannot expect government to fix this. Over the decades big business has shown that it has no real intention of changing.

We need to work together for change

Karen Birch and Anne Casey





The Vision Thing

14 02 2011

There is a difference between being a manager, even a really excellent manager, and being a leader.

Explaining why that is come down to what George W Bush famously described as The Vision Thing.

Women are underrepresented at the top of businesses and are often described as being less visionary than men. I think that the two things may be linked.

When I left my first management job to join another company in a much more senior role the parting words from my old boss were, “being good at your job will never be enough.”

At the time I was puzzled and, quite frankly, annoyed. I took it as a slight. I had been a very good manager; hard-working, conscientious, on top of all the details, got on really well with my team and the rest of the organisation. And I was now moving to a better job. Being good at my job was clearly more than enough.

Over time I came to think that he was referring to politics and the games that are played within some organisations. I really could never be bothered with the Machiavelli like manoeuvrings of some of my colleagues and so, who knows, had I stayed in big corporate business then my reluctance to play may have held me back.

I now think that he probably meant the vision thing.

At that time I didn’t have a vision. I had clearly defined goals, – mostly around earning loads of money, buying an even bigger house and driving an even flashier car – I was only 24 and I did grow up! And I had clearly defined strategies which allowed me to reach my personal goals and achieve success for the businesses I worked for.

Quite honestly the idea that you needed a vision hadn’t occurred to me and even if it had I would probably have dismissed the notion out of hand.

The reason for recounting my own early experience is that I suspect that I am not alone amongst women. Women, generally, do not put much value in the vision thing. We suspect anything that may be seen to favour style over substance. As Margaret Thatcher elequently put it, ” If you want anything said ask a man. If you want anything done ask a woman.”

This feeling is rooted in the fact, as in my own experience, that we feel that we absolutely have to master the detail, to be 100% sure of our position before taking the lead. There is a parallel behaviour in recruitment where it is acknowledged that women need to feel they can fulfill every aspect of the role when applying for a new post whereas men will apply if they feel they fulfill just some of the requirements.

By focussing on the detail and being more sensitive to gaps in our experience we become reluctant to put our head above the parapet or to form a clear vision for ourselves and our organisations. We feel that we have to choose between competence and vision, and usually choose the former. In practice we, our companies and our communities need both.

I have always been competent, growing teams and businesses for over 25 years. I’m a late adopter of the vision thing.

A vision can be, indeed it has to be, something of substance. It isn’t, as I used to think, about mission statements and vacuous  slogans such as such as the Metropolitan Police “Working for a safer London”. Goodness knows who thought that was a good idea and how much paint has been wasted putting that on patrol cars!

I have a vision for the3rdi magazine. Working in partnership with a team of truly amazing women and men we will create a community intent on changing the way the world does business.

Having a vision is one thing, communicating it is another. It means putting yourself, and your hard won reputation for competence, on the line. It requires confidence and belief in your ability to deliver.

Here too, might be another piece in the jigsaw. We may be seen as less visionary as we lack the confidence to put our hands up and be counted.  The issue of womens confidence and self-esteem is a huge one but in the discussion of the vision thing we do need to see that self-belief and the willingness to share what we believe is vital.

And we don’t have to wait until something is perfect. Imperfect action is OK sometimes. My vision for the3rdi changes. This is fine.  Being able to deliver a vision means sensing and responding to new opportunities as they arrive.

Women seeking more senior roles must be seen as visionary. We must be seen as having a vision for ourselves and for the organisations we lead, or would like to lead.

I never, ever thought that I would be grateful to Dubya but we really do need to address THE VISION THING





What is a co-operative and why you should join this one

1 02 2011

A co-operative is a proper business. It is worth stating again. A co-operative is a proper business established to make profits, like any other business.

In launching the3rdi magazine as a co-operative I have been surprised at the ignorance and misunderstanding that surrounds the co-operative business model. So while I generally dislike defining things in terms of what they are not, it is worth dispelling a few myths.

– co-operative are not charities

– co-operatives are not social enterprises

– are not just supermakets or undertakers

From the outside a co-operative looks like any other business. it is what’s on the inside that makes the difference!

Co-operatives are OWNED by their members and exist to serve their members.

The members are the owners, each having an equal say in how the business operates.

As well as getting the products and services they need members help shape the decisions that the co-operative takes.

Co-operatives aim to trade profitably – they make profits!

Co-operatives share the profits amongst their members rather than rewarding outside investors.

Co-operatives are not beholden to anybody, whether that is governments, investors or another business.

Co-operatives collaborate with each other and have a committment to the community they serve.

Across the UK co-operatives are owned by 11 MILLION PEOPLE – and this number is growing!

There are 4,800 independant co-operatives working in all parts of the economy – from healthcare to wind farms, from football clubs to web design companies.

So I hope that it is now clear why we chose this model for the3rdi magazine limited.

* the3rdi magazine limited is a co-operative, member owned business

* it exists to serve the community of women

* we collaborate with women across all sectors of the business community

* we are beholden to no-one; content being drawn from the community

* we are indeperndent, inspiring and informative

* membership is the lifeblood: you OWN the business. We rely on your support to develop the programmes to support women leaders, promote issues of women’s confidence and self-esteem and develop positive networking wiothin the community

* we believe that everyone who is involved in the co-operative should have a real say in how the business develops and the co-operative business model ensures that everyone has an equal say

* we believe that the business has to trade profitably in order to survive in the long term and that these profits should not go to anonymous investors but should be shared amongst the members.

So now you know!

The3rdi Magazine Limited is an independant co-operative business that I am proud to have founded and that welcomes you as a member.

 

 





Have you failed yet?

23 01 2011

New Year over, January almost over so what about those resolutions?

Every year at the start of the year we write lists of things that we want to change about ourselves; our weight, our drinking habits our wardrobe. We are supposed to make fresh starts, indeed the January issue of the3rdi magazine pays homage to this seasonal rebirth.

The question is, why should we? Why should we improve ourselves? Wouldn’t it better to accept our own personal fallibility and try instead to change the world for the better?

Why not break out of the cycle of manic festive consumption followed by famine – good old boom and bust writ small and personal! Why not decide that, as individuals, we are OK as we are? We don’t need to be thinner, fitter, more thrusting or have a tidier wardrobe and decide to do something useful this year.

It’s something that we can, and should, do every day. It’s the same as last year and it will be the same next year until we affect the change that we need.

It is clear that the current system isn’t working; women are under-represented in the boardroom and in public office and issues such as work-life balance have slipped off the agenda. The bail-out of the banking system has continued to dictate public finances, with the perpetrators of the failures not only remaining in post, but seemingly unrepentant and still drawing huge bonuses.

Earlier this month the Daily Mail published an article in which it said, and I quote, “The idea of most women wanting to be financially independent is a myth”

Laura Penny published a column in the New Statesman discussing the article and the report on which it was based. The comments are as revealing as the article. Take a look.

Now I agree that the situation for women is better now than it was, say, a hundred years ago. Conditions have improved for us all in the west over that period, young children are no longer sent up chimneys, for example.

I also agree that there are other pressing inequalities in the UK. The difference in outcomes for those born in poverty compared to those born to privilege are greater than those experienced by being born male or female. But just because other inequalities exist does not mean that we should ignore gender inequality.

It would be wrong to ignore the steps that have been taken but it would be calamitous if we were to think that we had reached our destination.

Now we could sit back and wait for someone else to do something  … or we can take control ourselves.

We could keep struggling to lose that extra pound, discard a few more unworn jumpers or tidy our workspace and so keep choosing to repeat the cycle of feast, famine and personal failure … or we can choose to come together to change the world.

Over the past year I have become more and more persuaded of the need to change the way the world does business. Not the tokenism of introducing quotas to address the imbalance in the boardroom, but real systemic change.

The3rdi Magazine is building a powerful community of women, powerful on our own terms and we are the driving force behind the change we want to see.

Together we:

  • Foster better business practice by encouraging the authentic voice of women leadership.
  • Build and support improved self-esteem within the community of women and in the wider world.
  • Create powerful peer networking and mentoring opportunities within the community.

As a commitment to my absolute belief in the benefits of collaborative working, the3rdi magazine has been established as a member owned co-operative.

It’s no longer good enough to read what others have to say, to pay lip service to the need for change. The3rdi Magazine makes it possible for everybody to be part of that change.

Together, we women, working together, helping and supporting each other to drive our vision forward, we can be at the forefront of changing the way the world does business.

Karen

If you want to be part of the change you can find out more in this month’s editorial and find out about MEMBERSHIP HERE





Confessions of a teenaged 50 year old

16 01 2011

I was snowed in on Tuesday night and had to stay overnight in the middle of nowhere, well, the middle of rural Perthshire.

I hadn’t been planning to stay overnight so as well as not having a change of clothes, toothbrush, laptop and camera – all essentials for me when I stay away from home – I didn’t have anything to read. So I did something that I have never done before, something I was sure that I would never do, I read Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.

It is not a good book. It is repetitious and full of poor excuses for his lack of emotional intelligence. But I read the book in just two sittings during which I was totally absorbed, immediately transformed back to my own adolescence and forced to confront my secret life as a football fan.

Actually, I’m wrong about that and Nick Hornby is right. In the same way that he is an Arsenal fan, I am a Liverpool fan. In many ways the actual football is incidental. I didn’t indulge my obsession as a teenager in the same way he did. As a young girl growing up outside Liverpool I was not allowed to go to games at Anfield alone and, since my Dad wasn’t interested in football, I didn’t develop the compulsion to attend every home match.

My passion started when I was about 8 years old and I have no idea why.  I remember liking Bobby Moore and flirted with the idea of supporting Everton as I was in love with Nicholas Banner. I was only 10 and both flirtations were doomed to failure. Though Nicky did go on to play for Everton I was doomed from an early age to support Liverpool.

I say doomed advisedly. It is a curse. It brings out the very worst in me.  I hate no one and no thing, except Manchester United. When I say that I support Liverpool I do. I support Liverpool and everyone who play against Manchester United. I know it’s pathetic, it shames me…but there you are.

Most of my childhood memories are lost to me but the ones tied to Liverpool games are fixed forever. I could bore you with many, many examples, as Nick Hornby does, but they would be repetition of the same pattern, so I’ll give you just one.

It was 1971, I was eleven. The school trip was for the top juniors  and took the form of a weekend in London. I didn’t want to go. Saturday was May 8th, Cup Final Day. Liverpool playing Arsenal at Wembley. I wanted to watch it on TV. I was forced to go on the school trip and remember only the Saturday afternoon from about 5pm onwards. Up to that time we must have been to Downing Street. In those days you could wander right down to the front door and I have a photograph of me next to a bobby. We must have been to Trafalgar Square as I have a photograph of me covered in pigeons but I can’t recall either event. But just before 5 we entered the Planetarium. The headmaster, who knew I was a fanatic, told me that the game had ended 0-0 and that Steve Heighway had just scored for Liverpool at the start of extra time.

I was excited and felt sick at the same time. We were going to win the cup.  Liverpool were not yet the all conquering team that they were to become. This would be the first trophy I would see them win.

I have no idea what happened at the planetarium other than it went dark. By the time the presentation had finished Liverpool had lost 2-1, to goals by George Graham (though it was later given to Kelly) and Charlie George. I couldn’t believe it. I cried all of the way out, all of the way back to the hotel and was excused tea so that I could go and cry in my bedroom.

I was allowed to stay up and watch the highlights on Match of the Day and I cried again. The sight of Charlie George laying on his back waiting for the Arsenal players to come and congratulate him haunts me still.  In my minds eye I can see him shape to shoot, the ball hit the net and him fall to the floor with his arms above his head, long, straggly hair stuck to his forehead,  head raised slightly waiting for his teammates to reach him, as if it is happening right now. He wasn’t even smiling. He just looked smug.

And here’s the thing, it still makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach.

My support for Liverpool is something that defines me.

Take the Miracle of Istanbul. Liverpool go 3-0 down in the European Cup Final. As each goal went in I got texts from friends from all over the world, most of whom I hadn’t heard from form months/years before, some gloating but most sympathising. Then Gerrard scored early in the second half, 3-1. Smicer brought it back to 3-2 and then Alonso scored from a penalty rebound 3-3 and then victory after a penalty shoot-out! Absolute euphoria. I even took photographs of the TV celebrations, which I still have on my phone, and the texts flooded in. I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I write.

The point is that at that moment in time people from all over the world were watching Liverpool and thinking of me! I hadn’t thought of it like that before but now, thanks to Nick Hornby, I do now.

I’m not so swayed by results these days. We lost away to Blackpool last night and my rage lasted a mere hour. Did you notice that. “WE” lost last night. The first “WE” was “Clemence, Lawler, Lindsay, Smith, Lloyd, Hughes, Keegan, Hall, Heighway, Toshack and Callaghan. (and no, I didn’t have to look up the names. I embroidered their names on my scarf; chain stitch in red and white wool circa 1972).  The current squad are a bunch of overpaid journeymen, employed by an American consortium ruled by profit not passion…but I can still recite the team and it is still “WE”… I am still them.

The fact is that my mood can still be swayed by 11 men in red shirts, shorts and socks. Football, as Nick Hornby puts it, is a retardant stopping me from properly growing up. When faced with a home defeat I am no longer the successful businesswoman. I am, once more, the sulky 14 year old.  If King Kenny pulls off an unlikely derby victory on Sunday I will be the excitable teen, texting all my pals and returning the taunts of those amongst them who support United (yes, I do have some, my hatred is abstract not personal).

It’s like Jean Brodie says, ” Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life”.