Women and the politics of getting things done

London 2012

Nicky Roche, formerly a big cheese at the Government Olympic Executive gave the after dinner speech at a networking event I went to the other week.  And jolly interesting she was on the nuts and bolts of putting together an event of such mind-boggling complexity as the 2012 Games.

It was clear listening to her that women played a huge role in delivering the Games, although that was far from clear if you were on the outside of the big  bubble.

“Women were in the second tier,  it was the men who were on the news” she said.  “Women were leading teams and doing it well but were not at the top table.”  And when they had opportunities to shine, like when they were in meetings with the Prime Minister, it was the men who took the spotlight.  “There was a lot of alpha male behaviour.  The men loved it.  I didn’t care.  I was doing a good job.  I knew I was doing a good job. I didn’t mind about the plaudits”.

In questions at the end she was asked how women could tackle limelight-hogging behaviour  by male colleagues.  She was surprisingly ambivalent about whether they should try.  “Men and women have different attitudes to being at the top” she said.  “Sometimes women just value different things”.  She commented that she knows women who have come close to the very top, especially in the Civil Service, but have realised that, for them, it’s not worth the sacrifices involved.

Ironically she then went on to tell some hair-raising stories about working for Margaret Thatcher – it was the day after the funeral and the Baroness was much on people’s minds.  Now there was a lady who had no problem with being at the top.

My younger self would have been appalled at this – I think my current self still is, a bit.  Of course women should be at the top table and if they’re doing the jobs then they should get the recognition (though I can think of more satisfying rewards than a pat on the head from the PM).  Partly I suspect that she’s right.  I too know bright, talented, experienced hard-working women, who are working below their capacity because leaping through the hoops of a permanently on-call senior job that takes them away from their families and other interests just isn’t worth the candle.  Maybe we just aren’t as driven to get to the top as men.  Maybe when push comes to shove we are less prepared to sacrifice family life than them.  Maybe they just don’t feel that they have the choice to hold back.  I know what Margaret Thatcher would say – but then I never really counted her as much of a role model.


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