The report begins by noting that few of these women have succeeded in making it into the boardroom. The reason commonly given for this is that women opt out to have children and so lose motivation.
But it turns out that this is not entirely true. An incredible 43% of these women are childless. That's a depressing statistic. Given that the youngest of these women is 33, it means that the most educated of English women are failing miserably when it comes to reproducing and bringing a new generation of children into the world.
So if these 43% are not taking a detour to have children, why haven't they risen through the corporate ranks? According to the newspaper article, many of them eventually grow tired of the long hours and work pressures of the corporate world and so leave for more flexible positions, such as working as consultants:
'Anecdotally we’re seeing them moving into more flexible roles,’ says Dr Angela Carter, a research fellow at the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield. ‘They’re setting out on their own or moving into consultancy roles.
‘There has been a popular conception that flexible working appeals to women because they want children, but that’s not the whole story. Generation X women have been brought up with the expectation of “having it all” — and when they’ve found the corporate world is, in fact, often very restrictive and won’t allow this, they’ve gone looking for that freedom elsewhere.'
That ought to be kept in mind when complaints are made that women only make up 15% of company boards. If far fewer women are willing to make the sacrifices, then surely we should expect a preponderance of men on company boards.
Anyway, here is the Helen McNallen story:
Helen McNallen, 44, was formerly a high-powered trader for Goldman Sachs until her mid-30s...
‘When I left university it was the tail end of the “yuppie era”, with City traders swilling champagne and frequenting nightclubs,’ she says. ‘I was thrilled to be accepted into this testosterone-fuelled world. At the time, I became the only female trader in my department and felt that I had to work and play like one of the boys.
‘We worked crazy hours and then be out partying with colleagues or clients well into the early hours.
‘I was on a six-figure salary and had a house in the City and a renovated barn in Hampshire. But I was so exhausted I spent nearly all of the weekend in bed. I felt tremendously pressurised, and couldn’t think about having children.’
By her mid-30s, Helen was suffering from severe stress, which she refused to deal with properly for a long time on the grounds that it might make her appear weak.
‘I eventually realised I couldn’t cope any longer,’ she says. ‘The pressure of being a woman in a man’s world was just too much.’
She says she feels cheated by being sold the myth of the female businesswoman who can work like a man. And she adds: ‘I am both too old and too set in my ways to start a family, even if it was physically possible.'
I feel cheated too. Was this really the best use society had for Helen McNallen? She worked so hard that family was impossible, for a lifestyle she was too tired to enjoy and then she quit it all anyway just at the point that her childbearing years were ending. It just doesn't seem to be a rational life course for society to pitch to women. There is loss all round.