Forbes came in to see me yesterday, bleating about our record when it comes to recruiting women. I told him that he needed to take it up with HR. They will have ensured that we are compliant with legislation and that describes the extent of our obligation as far as I’m concerned.
Whatever happened to the right job for the right person? We are a successful engineering company. Turnover is in the top 5% for our industry. Our reputation is unassailable. Doesn’t sound much like a case for change, does it? Of course, I know why Forbes thinks we’re behind the times. He has three daughters, a wife with a management job in the charity sector (or what passes for management in the charity sector anyway) and an ageing mother who still pulls on his strings most weekends. You can practically smell the oestrogen on him. But has he forgotten the disaster that was Marilyn Shaw?
Ms Shaw was recruited to the board on the recommendation of a colleague from a rival firm. I was in Barbados for a month. I thought I could entrust the company to Lawler while I was away and the business side of things ran perfectly smoothly. Ms Shaw was taken on to manage the contracts in the north west region. On paper she was well qualified, they always are; degree in structural engineering, two years in senior management for Balfour Beatty. Initially I was fairly indifferent to her presence. She wore the ‘uniform’, heels and a plain suit but tight enough around her backside to bring out the jockeying for alpha male.
It didn’t take her long to try and push her credentials. In meetings she was the one to question costings and time efficiencies which had previously been my role. I guess she didn’t want to appear weak so she went for the ball busting approach. What really got me was the way she’d gently take the piss out of the men and they seemed to lap it up. Ridiculous.
So when Forbes came to see me about Marilyn’s predicament I hid my instinctive response. He asked if I knew about her father’s dementia and that she had two young children. I did but I pretended otherwise. The upshot was she wanted to cut her hours. Forbes was fidgeting, anticipating a negative response. But I saw my chance. Marilyn was in the middle of project managing a huge contract for us which needed a raft of meetings and site visits to see the work to completion.
I paused to give Forbes the impression of my careful consideration of Ms Shaw’s situation and the needs of the company. Leaning back in my chair I made my decision.
“I’m not unsympathetic but work has to come first.” I explained. “This is an engineering company, not a women’s refuge. If Marilyn can bring in the Davies contract without compromising our standards then okay, she can cut her hours. I will even oversee it if that will help.”
It was a matter of weeks before Ms Shaw began to cancel site visits and try to shuffle meetings in such a way as to annoy our clients. The final straw was when she turned up late for a meeting with Mr Davies Senior because her father’s hospital appointment had taken longer than anticipated. Mr Davies had left of course and Marilyn got into such a state about it that she ended up offering her resignation. I think she expected me to refuse to accept it. I didn’t. It’s one thing allowing the glass ceiling to break so long as you have a glass cliff for women to fall off.