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A Good Time To Be A Girl by Helena Morrissey

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Non Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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‘Five years have passed since women were told to ‘Lean In’. Over that time, the world has transformed beyond all expectations. But why should anyone ‘lean in’ to a patriarchal system that is out of date? Why not change it entirely for the good of us all?’

Such is the premise of this new book, A Good Time to be a Girl, written by founder of the very successful 30% Club campaign and mother of nine, Helena Morrissey.

Just published by William Collins Books (Harper Collins imprint), Helena Morrissey has written quite an inspiring piece of work, that encourages a new way of thinking, for both women and men, in achieving balance and success in both the office and at home.

This got me thinking folks!! Read on to see why…

I am a mother of two young ladies, both currently in education. I was, once upon a time, a woman in a suit, working in Account Management in, what was at the time, a very male dominated workplace, telecoms. I never aspired to senior management, as quite frankly the thought of it frightened me. I would be considered quite outspoken and at times, it has been mentioned, that I can be quite aggressive in an argument, not traits I am particularly proud of. I worked with women who wanted more, who could be quite domineering and at times quite formidable. Did these women NEED to be quite so tough? Unfortunately, at the time, I think they did.

In A Good Time To Be A Girl, Helena Morrissey challenges the whole concept of women in the workplace in a manner I have not seen before. Women have been reaching for the glass ceiling for many years now, but it has always been with a ‘lean in’ to the existing work ethics and practices. Women in many senior positions are described as tough, quite masculine in demeanour and attitude and in many cases, as hard as nails. Emotion is kept under lock and key, as it would just not be acceptable at the boardroom table. Helena Morrissey asks the question why? Why do women have to be comparable to men? Why do women have to change? Why do women have to lean in?

Diversity is a word that appears on many pages throughout this book. Diversity in the workplace. Diversity in the boardroom. Women CAN be women, according to Morrissey. With very strong feelings on her theory, Morrissey did what many never do, she put her beliefs into practice and she established The 30% Club.

It’s vision is very clear ~ ‘The 30% Club believes that gender balance on boards not only encourages better leadership and governance, but diversity further contributes to better all-round board performance, and ultimately increased corporate performance for both companies and their shareholders.’

We all regularly hear about gender quotas, which, in my humble opinion, does not always necessarily get the right people for the role. The 30% Club challenges this also, with one of it’s defined values stating ‘The 30% Club does not believe mandatory quotas are the right approach. Instead, we support a voluntary approach in order to realise meaningful, sustainable change.’ I love this statement. Helena Morrissey believes that women should be hired on merit, yes, but also for the diversity in opinion that a woman can bring to a table. Imagine the shift this would bring to a boardroom that has only ever known a male presence?

Helena Morrissey asks that we all share a role in this new way of thinking. Morrissey introduces us to the most frequently asked questions by girls during her visits to schools, universities and talks where she meets regularly with ‘early-career’ women. In summary the results are very discouraging. ‘The skew is “Please tell me how not to fail” rather than “Please tell me how to succeed”’, basically reflecting the fear young girls have today about entering the workplace. Can you imagine if this could be reversed? Can you imagine if all young girls were enthusiastic about challenging the current system, but doing it as girls/young women and not trying to ‘lean in’? With a fresh approach that is welcomed into the boardroom rather than permitted because of quotas, how fabulous would that be?

As I was reading this book, I found myself chatting to my own 14 year old about many of the ideas mentioned and I was so excited that she got it…..immediately! It made perfect sense to her that diversity was key. She is very creative, as is her younger sister, so I have no idea which direction they will take, but I hope that whatever they decide on, they will see that they really can remain as themselves, as women, and work alongside men as equals. I do not carry very strong beliefs on gender equality and I am not an active advocate for any specific concern. I am, however, a great believer in allowing people to be true to themselves and being allowed to explore and challenge the system as they see fit. As Morrissey states ‘We each have a part to play…..This is not ‘either/or’ – either women leaning in or businesses fixing the system, but about working together in a joined-up way. It’s about creating an ecosystem, an interactive, thriving community.’

Helena Morrissey, now Dame Helena Morrissey, is a mother of nine, a very successful woman in business and the woman behind the, now international, 30% Club and she is only approaching 52 years of age!! Has she achieved The Holy Grail of the work/life balance? I’m sure she will probably say not, but what she has achieved is a life that works for her. Her attitude, her sheer determination and belief in all she does is quite frankly astonishing.

‘We cannot instruct people to alter their thought processes and attitudes. Each of us needs to do that for ourselves. The role business leaders should play is to encourage managers and employees to reach their own conclusion that diversity is good news, both personally and for the company. To create a shared goal.’

I came away from this book with a real sense of belief that the future for my girls will be a good one. If the business world listens and learns, if society is more accepting and willing to even consider change, if people like Helena Morrissey continue to encourage diversity in the boardroom and beyond, why can’t we have a system that ‘thinks broader in it’s definition of success’?

Compelling, very insightful and full of positivity and hope, A Good Time To Be A Girl is a very optimistic and inspirational read. This is not a memoir about Helena Morrissey, neither is it a definitive guide to success. What it is, is a fresh approach to how women can aspire to being perceived in the workplace, how diversity is key and how NOW is the time to ‘change the system’

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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