Feminism

Is @FT institutionally sexist?

Let me start off by admitting, I’m probably most broadsheet newspapers’ worst type of customer. I almost never pay cover price – the only time I pick up a newspaper in physical form is when I’m given a freebie on a plane, or in a hotel. The rest of the time I piggy-back on my husband’s iPad subscriptions (when I can wrest control of the iPad out of the hands of my 6 and 8 year old playing Toca hairdressers that is!). I never read the sports section, or the letters page, or do any of the tricky crossword puzzles. I did go through a phase in my bridge-playing years of reading the bridge section at the back of The Times, but I’m not even sure I could remember the rules for bidding now.

But, if I did choose to pay for a broadsheet, it would probably be the FT. I can remember as a wide-eyed 24 yr old commuting into central London on the Northern Line being fascinated by all the pin-striped suit wearing gentlemen who would effortlessly fold the FT in half length-ways, and then into quarto format top-to-bottom, giving them an elegant salmon-pink A4-sized sliver of a newspaper to read. When I finally perfected the art myself and discovered that around 80% of the time the column breaks sat neatly within the fold lines (meaning that you rarely have the challenge of cutting words in half) I then spent a not insignificant amount of time trying to figure out if this was by chance or whether the presses were deliberately configured to allow for the sliver-fold. Now, of course, producing the print-run from digital presses presumably makes this a great deal easier (though the inclusion of more images probably adds complexity).

So I love the fact that on my regular Leeds to Heathrow BA commute my choice of free newspaper is between the FT and the Daily Mail. Especially because even if you are last on board there are always copies of the FT left (why anyone would read the Daily Mail by choice is completely beyond me, but that’s another story). I especially enjoy Lucy Kellaway and the LEX column. I also get the opportunity on my travels to peruse a free copy of the Independent over breakfast, courtesy of my hotel.

And this week I was completely amazed by the difference in coverage of the announcement of the retirement of Sir Win Bischoff, Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group. So amazed, in fact, that I actually went online to check the coverage in all the other broadsheets too, just to see whether I could put my mind at rest on this key question – is the FT institutionally sexist?

Let me explain: Tuesday morning, over tea and toast, I read the Independent’s coverage of the story – “Lloyds may appoint woman as next chairman as Bischoff seeks exit”. Wow! I thought, on reading how Sir Win’s active support of the 30% club has led to three women being appointed under his stewardship to Lloyd’s 10-person board. How exciting! What a potential shake-up for both the Finance industry and the advancement of women onto boards in the UK (still languishing at the Executive – rather than non-Exec – level at around 5% in the FTSE 100 c.f “Women on Boards” April 2013).

So it was with actual enthusiasm that I sought to consult the gold-standard of news on the Finance industry, the FT, on my flight home that evening. How would the men in pin-striped suits respond to the idea of a woman at the helm of Lloyds?

And the answer is – not at all. Because as far as the FT is concerned, they won’t even hear about the possibility. The FT’s article on Sir Win’s resignation cited five candidates for the post, all of them male, and with nary a mention of Ann Godbehere or Anita Frew at all. Not even as rank outsiders. It’s as though as far as the FT is concerned those troubled with lacking a Y-chromosome don’t even warrant consideration for the top job at Lloyds. Considering that the former CEO of the British Banking Association is a woman, Angela Knight (who I had the very good fortune to meet in 2009, at an event where we were both speaking on how women manage portfolio careers), this seems extraordinarily short-sighted.

Troubled, I went off to check the other broadsheets too. The Times cites four men as potential candidates – and makes the point that as the biggest shareholder the Government will have the biggest say (but without connecting this decision-making power up to Vince Cable’s threat last year of “put more women on boards at FTSE 100 level or we will make you” (I am paraphrasing, not quoting)). The Telegraph, the only broadsheet whose reporting of the story is actually written by a woman (hurrah for Rachel Cooper), made no speculation at all about likely successors – preferring instead to simply present the actualite rather than the prognosis (though they did also have a retrospective comment piece on Sir Win’s chairmanship).

So what are we to make of this? Is the Independent living up to its brand values and taking a radically left-of-field approach to the story? Or is it engaging in wild and wacky speculation about a possible female appointment that will never happen? Are the FT and the Times sensibly disregarding the possibility of a female candidate at Chairman level in a major financial institution as being unlikely in the extreme? Or are they simply so ham-strung by institutional sexism that the very idea has never occurred to them?

I can’t give up my affection for the FT (despite the fact that the ink still transfers to your fingers horribly, so I often end up with a smudged face by the end of my flight) – it has, by a long way, the most detailed and technical coverage of commercial business issues in the UK. But I am feeling more and more respect for Lucy Kellaway, who seems to be fighting her corner in a very Y-chromosome world.

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