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High profile businesswomen should act as role models during the recovery

Annie Peate

04 April 2012

Yesterday we witnessed a very public clash between The Guardian’s Tanya Gold and the editor of British Vogue and overall fashion heavyweight, Alexandra Shulman. The Gold vs. Shulman case can be summarised as follows. In an interview with Observer Magazine, Ms Shulman commented that once a woman has a child she will become aware of the significant damage being done to her career trajectory as a result of the time spent away from the labour market. Shulman also remarked that she was all too aware of the differences in terms of pay between men and women doing the same job. Disappointing observations, but so far so true.

However, what Ms Gold was so incensed by to the point that she decided to compose a written rebuttal was not what the Vogue editor actually said, but rather the resignation and careless wistful acceptance of the situation as fact. As if to say, ‘girls, we all know this is the ways things are, so let’s try and make the best of it’.

Needless to say I agree with Ms Gold’s sentiment. Her response to Alexandra Shulman is intelligent and thoughtful. Furthermore it’s generously sprinkled with a number of strategically deployed facts which once again highlight the fact that women are at serious risk of becoming the main victims of this recession, and indeed the policies of this government.

However, what I find most saddening of all is Shulman’s reluctance to capitalise on her influential position. As one of journalism’s most powerful female editors at the helm of a magazine which commands a readership of over one million, she fails to highlight the prevalence and unacceptability of gender inequality in the workplace and indeed in society more generally.

Last year, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May MP, announced a new initiative to train 5,000 ‘role models’ to mentor budding female entrepreneurs. But imagine how successful such schemes could be with recognisable and respected spokeswomen such as Shulman leading from the front?

What women need now are high profile examples of successful women from all fields, industries and sectors, not only reaching management and board positions, but beyond. They need aspirations, reasons to make the government sit up and take gender discrimination seriously – not to improve the competitiveness of the UK economy more generally, but because women deserve better.

The risk of backsliding is great, and we need the support of women like Shulman in fighting it.

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