Last week, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour published its annual Power List. This year, to mark Woman’s Hour’s 70th birthday, seven women were singled out as having had the biggest impact on women's lives over the past 70 years. Corporate partner Alys Carlton outlines her thoughts below.
'The list was topped by Margaret Thatcher; also in the top seven were Helen Brook (the founder of Brook Advisory Centres in 1964 offering contraceptive advice to unmarried women), Barbara Castle (Labour MP for Blackburn (1945-1979) and brought in the Equal Pay Act in 1970), Germaine Greer (Australian writer, recognised as one of the major voices of the feminist movement), Jayaben Desai (prominent leader of the strikers in the Grunwick dispute in London in 1976), Bridget Jones (the protagonist of Bridget Jones's Diary, written by Helen Fielding) and Beyonce (global superstar).
Inevitably, the list has caused much debate, probably deliberately so.
Emma Barnett, chair of judges, said of Lady Thatcher: 'Love or loathe her, it is hard to think of another woman who has had more of an impact on British women than Baroness Margaret Thatcher within the last seven decades.'
What struck me about this comment was the passive undertone. Yes, Thatcher did have an impact – I grew up in the 1980s as one of those girls who 'thought it was normal for a woman to run the country'. But, how much did she actually go out of her way to do things which specifically impact women’s lives, other than simply 'be' a woman?
Interestingly, one of Woman’s Hour’s presenters, Jenni Murray, mused on this very point in an article for The Guardian in 2013 entitled 'What did Margaret Thatcher do for women?' Nothing, was her conclusion, commenting that '[t]here would be no sharing of her wisdom to ease the path of any ambitious sister who might want to follow in her footsteps'.
Murray’s use of the word 'sister' is key for me. Brook, Castle, Green and Desai all strived to improve the lot of women. Beyonce and Bridget’s inclusion might be more controversial, but I know they’d have my back (plus one is an artist pushing creative boundaries on the world stage, and the other (although fictional) has made mainstream the 'complexities' of women’s lives today).
I often hear (and not only from men) that there is no longer any need for feminism. I guess because they look at someone like our Managing Partner, Elin Pinnell (or indeed Margaret Thatcher) and think that the battle has been won. This is the fiction.
It has been more than four decades since Barbara ushered in the Equal Pay Act, but the enduring difference between male and female wages effectively means that this year, relative to men, women stopped earning on 10th November and have been working the rest of the year for free.
So the battle continues.
Not in a strident way, but with consideration and in the spirit of equality. At Capital, we have a Lean In Group, where a group of women from across the business meet monthly to discuss how we can get the most out of our careers. We have a number of women in senior positions across the firm, thereby providing a range of role models for the next generation of female colleagues. And you will even find men around the firm acknowledging the feminist agenda and the part they can play in progressing this by reference to “#heforshe” (thanks, Emma Watson).
The Daily Mail may wonder, 'how can Beyonce and Bridget Jones EVER be considered to have the calibre of Maggie?', but I know who I’d want on my team, and it’s not the first female Prime Minister, however powerful she may have been.