Debra Allcock Tyler: Why aren't more women in top jobs? Maybe they simply don't want them...

Horrendous levels of stress, ridiculous hours and tough decisions put many women off applying for top roles, writes our columnist

Allcock Tyler
Allcock Tyler

I've been thinking about why there aren't more women in top jobs.

The evidence shows that more men than women take on higher-paid, higher-status jobs, and the usual explanation for this is either that men discriminate against women or women have been socialised to believe they're not capable of doing those jobs.

I believe women make great leaders and I support equality of opportunity. And if society is to progress, we need more female leaders. But I wonder if the reason some women aren't in senior leadership roles is not because they think they're not capable of them, or they're being discriminated against, but because they're making rational decisions not to apply for them.

I bet some senior leaders would, over a pint and off the record, agree that large parts of the job aren't actually that great. The top jobs are not necessarily the best jobs, especially in the voluntary sector. They can involve horrendous levels of stress, dull work, distance from beneficiaries, ridiculous hours, having to make horrible decisions affecting others and being blamed for whatever goes wrong, regardless of who was actually to blame. And they are often the most fragile jobs, loaded with a higher risk of a humiliating public exit and a correspondingly diminished chance of future employment. On the one hand, they could be considered the worst jobs but, on the other, the pay is better and there are more perks. For some people, that matters. But many women I know couldn't care less about salary and status. Perhaps some outstandingly talented women realise that there are other ways to be successful.

My neighbour Nicki would probably say that I am more successful than her. I think that's because many of our society's measures of success are based on a macho paradigm. Success is the size of your salary or turnover, your job title, your status or the number of people you manage. But I believe I could argue credibly that Nicki is more successful than I am. She doesn't have my job title or my salary, but because of her part-time work she has the freedom to indulge in her amazing creative skills - she makes fabulous jewellery, is a qualified horticulturist, volunteers with young people and has time to spend with her daughters.

I know some outstanding women who would make brilliant charity chief executives but who tell me they're not interested. It is not because they couldn't cope with the pressure, but because there are other things more important to them than a big job title and pay packet.

I'm not complaining. I love my organisation, the people I work with and the charities we serve. I'm lucky. But I wonder if perhaps it's time for a new narrative about success - one that allows for the female perspective and doesn't make women feel like failures because, even though we're capable of it, we don't want to run multi-million pound organisations employing thousands of people. Maybe the money isn't worth it.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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