M&S chair says women have “more equality than you ever can deal with”

// 31 May 2009

In this guest post, Charlotte Cooper considers M&S chair Stuart Rose’s views on women (oh, excuse me, “girls”) in the workplace

“Apart from the fact that you’ve got more equality than you ever can deal with, the fact of the matter is that you’ve got real democracy and there are really no glass ceilings, despite the fact that some of you moan about it all the time. Women can get to the top of any single job that they want to in the UK. You’ve got a woman fighter pilot who went in to join the Red Arrows yesterday. I mean, what else do you want to do, for God’s sake? Women astronauts. Women miners. Women dentists. Women doctors. Women managing directors. What is it you haven’t got?”

Women have never had it so good, or so says Sir Stuart Rose, chair of Marks and Spencer and apparent expert on women in society and the workplace.

Rose’s frankly ridiculous rant in The Observer this weekend has taken the sheen off what should be a charming sunny Sunday. Jee girls, I guess we just never realised that we “have more equality than [we] can ever deal with” now.

It’s our fault, we’re so effing clueless we can’t even get the jobs big daddy patriarchs are dangling in front of our glazed eyes. Or not. Why have these stories failed to look any further into the issue than the end of their noses?

There may be more women at the top today, but the barriers that keep many women locked out big business are still in place and range wildly from women being forced to make a choice between children and career, institutionalised sexism and double standards on pay. These problems don’t go away just because you disagree with their existence.

Although Elizabeth Day, who interviews Rose for The Observer proposes “he might just be doing it to wind me up” as “he has promoted women to senior positions within M&S”, I have my reservations.

While Stuart Rose thinks it’s permissible to call his female staff “girls” when they are women, prattle on about how attractive the models in their brochures are to flex his cad muscles, not even being trailed by women “like a swarm of bees” every time he leaves the office, who emit “constant low-level giggling” will make it OK.

Stuart’s argument that he knows plenty of girls who can have it all means it must be true of everyone frankly has me vomiting on my keyboard.

Comments From You

Nidi // Posted 31 May 2009 at 3:04 pm

Ah – Charlotte, I too read this article first thing this morning and had the same vomiting experience.

The man is utterly, utterly clueless…

CMK // Posted 31 May 2009 at 3:40 pm

Whenever I have seen Stuart Rose speak in the past he has come across as relatively sensible.

The above quotes are moronic. Was he drunk? To be daft enough to think these things is bad enough, but to actually say them…to a journalist? Wacko.

Christabel Dunbar // Posted 31 May 2009 at 4:16 pm

What to do with all this impossibly abundant equality?!

Alice // Posted 31 May 2009 at 5:10 pm

That anyone can believe women enjoy perfect equality with men in the workplace is ridiculous…you can’t seem to get away from debates about whether mothers should work and whether small businesses are right to discriminate against women of ‘childbearing age’.

Also…I WISH that men could stop referring to their female colleagues as ‘girls’. It happens in my workplace and makes me feel as though I’ve stepped back into the 1950s.

dan // Posted 31 May 2009 at 6:17 pm

It was a bit rantish, but he did have points in there, such as that many women can have careers and be successful parents, its about time we heard the head of a company say that the two can be combined, and a cursory glance suggests that it is indeed the case amongst some of the women he has promoted for m&s. surely this makes a welcome change from the tired old mantra trotted out by other bosses that they don’t promote women because they choose to go off and have babies

karen // Posted 31 May 2009 at 9:41 pm

Ok then Dame Stuart (sorry, is the wrong title an insult?: so is Girls when you mean women, plonker!), what about those fabulously equal new M and S bra ads all over the place with just a torso and pair of tits on them, usual thing, no limbs or head, got the male motorists in a spin (nearly literally on the A316 the other day) and I wrote in to complain and got a bland fob-off back (if anyone wants to see it, let me know).

polly styrene // Posted 31 May 2009 at 10:04 pm

So what are M&S going to about their latest “boob”? Offer all female employees cut price directorships?

Anne Onne // Posted 1 June 2009 at 2:14 am

You know what it is we haven’t got, sir? We haven’t got a world where sexual assault against us is taken seriously. We haven’t got equal pay for equal work (and don’t bother denying this: if the government and those responsible for trying to achieve equality admit to this, as well as the companies/employers, there is a problem. We haven’t got a world where a woman doesn’t have to work twice as hard as a man in order to be taken seriously for the same job a white man is seen as on the fast track to. We haven’t got to the point where women aren’t expected to look after the kids, and where this isn’t seen as a selfish burden on the economy rather than supporting the next generation. We haven’t got a world where all women are given the chance to plan when they have their family, when they have their career, and where their partner is supportive and allowed to be supportive. We haven’t got a world where women can have what men have: we’re always told we can’t ‘have it all’ when most white men have ‘it all’. We don’t have a world where women make up anywhere near 50% of powerful jobs or well-paying jobs but a world where they do the unrecognised or underpaid jobs that nobody cares about. The very fact that a woman Red Arrow or CEO or whatever is pointed out as something special, as an achievement by definition means that we do not have equality. If we had equality, would each time a woman breaks into an area dominated by men be a special occasion for us to pat ourselves on the back about how ‘equal’ society is? It may be a step forward, but it is just that: a step. Not to be confused with actual equality. If things were equal, women getting a ‘top’ job wouldn’t be the exception, it would be an everyday occurrence.

So, with all due respect, sir, you can keep all the equality we DON’T have. Until it is no harder for a woman to advance her career than it is for her brother, nobody with any compassion would believe that everything’s all fine and equal because some woman somewhere attained some position whilst the vast majority are still nowhere near equal.

But of course it’s so much easier to think that everything’s already perfect.

@ Dan: We can also vote, and own our own property, and drive, and consent to sex or not consent (some of the time, at least). Yes, women have worked hard to gain the right to work and be taken seriously over the years, and women can reach top jobs, but they are far from equal there or anywhere else. Just a cursory look at the richest men and women in business shows that even when women do reach the top, they earn a less than their male counterparts. I just can’t look past all the ‘ah, you girls imagining inequality when it’s not there’ just because some women who work extremely hard get ahead as much as men some of the time.

Aimee // Posted 1 June 2009 at 7:09 am

So he’s promoted women. Well done. Congratulations. Does that automatically admonish him of ALL OF THE OTHER shit aspects of patriarchy?

Jo // Posted 1 June 2009 at 12:07 pm

I’m off to the Marble Arch store to burn my M&S bra…

She-ra // Posted 1 June 2009 at 12:17 pm

We’ve got A woman fighter pilot- what more could we want indeed. Condscending twit!

Joanne // Posted 1 June 2009 at 12:35 pm

Rich powerful white man tells women how it is. Really, haven’t heard that one before.

Liz // Posted 1 June 2009 at 12:46 pm

Silly me, I guess I must have imagined all the fighting I’ve had to do in my career as a web/software developer to get the same pay and opportunities as my male colleagues, even the ones who aren’t nearly as skilled, talented or hard working as me.

But a horribly small number of women have, against all the odds no doubt, made it to top jobs so therefore we all have equality. How wonderful.

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