Say it loud: What it means to be a woman in the 21st Century

Never depend on a man…. and other words of advice from some leading women of our times

by Ruby Wax, Antonia Fraser, Noreena Hertz, Hannah Pool, Kathy Lette and Caitlin Moran
Published: 20 June 2011

Professor Noreena Hertz, 43, economist

What have women achieved?
There has been a whole slew of legislative advances for women in my lifetime, from the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment and education, to the breakthrough Employment Protection Act, making it unfair to dismiss a woman in pregnancy.
Unfortunately, in academia, women still make up only 17 per cent of professors – and in my area, economics and business, that number falls to single digits.
Women are chronically under-represented. If I think of most of the things I participate in, when I walk into the room I am often the only woman or there’s one other. I’ve got used to it because I have always worked in this area and that is how it has always been.
But that doesn’t make me despair any less. I think women are under-represented at all levels of power. Men still outnumber women at four to one in politics and women make up only 10 per cent on the boards of FTSE companies. One of the good things that has happened in countries such as Norway, Spain, Iceland and France, where positive discrimination measures have been taken in workplaces, is that the kinds of women who it was claimed never existed have miraculously been found to fill positions of power.

What’s left to do?
There are still so many impediments standing in women’s way. I think it is astonishing that all these years after equal-pay legislation was introduced women earn less than men in so many fields, from company directors to teachers to hairdressers.
I don’t see being a woman and therefore being ‘different’ to others in your profession as a negative. I think it can help you to stand out and be remembered, but that can mean there is more pressure to prepare hard and say smart things. Young women often have to do better than young men early in their careers to shine and be treated the same. But I would also say that for both sexes, few people who succeed are wallflowers.
I’ve also noticed that women still typically find it hard to negotiate sufficiently in their home life to get the time off from the household that is needed to advance their careers. Women still do most of the household chores. They have to learn to let go. I don’t think we can focus on the trivia of home-cooked food at the expense of realising other dreams and goals. I leave the house untidy if I have something more important to do. I encourage the young girls I mentor to be assertive in their relationships. Why should they be solely responsible for washing and cleaning and childcare? I don’t think women should feel guilty. There’s nothing embarrassing about it if you serve your mother-in-law a McVitie’s cake.

My advice to a young woman…
Don’t feel guilty about striving for power and demanding to be paid what you are worth – men don’t. I tell my researchers and students to negotiate hard and set their sights high.”