Our attitudes are holding us back

Marlene Outrim

Marlene Outrim

I was so impressed by Pat Barker’s latest book, The Silence of the Girls, that I went to hear her in conversation with the famous historian and classicist Mary Beard at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.

The title could be considered a bit of a misnomer, because the story, based on the Iliad, is told by one woman, Briseis, about the plight of women during the Trojan War.

Typically, Ms Barker makes this historical fiction an easy but contemporary read, so I can readily recommend it.

What affected me were the ways in which the story highlights the inequality of women, no matter what their status and how, in proving a man’s masculinity, they become trophies of war, another notch.

Has such inequality really changed that much since then?

I would like to believe so, but Ms Barker's inclusion of such anachronisms as bawdy rugby drinking songs of men at leisure, suggest otherwise.

I was asked by Financial Adviser for my view on the government’s review, launched last month, on the unfair obstacles faced by female entrepreneurs when growing a business.

Robert Jenrick, secretary to the Treasury, said Britain was home to many innovative businesses but few were started by women. The review will be published next year.

While I welcome this, I think there is a much deeper problem than investigating obstacles and suggesting action. There is the ingrained and traditional view of women held by some men, of which they are not even aware.

True, there is some growing understanding, given more openness and teaching about diversity, unconscious bias and the like, but it seems we are still a long way off from being considered true equals by the majority of men. We have the #MeToo movement as an example.

Attitudes are shifting, but there still exist subtle ways of devaluing femininity, which is why some women feel they need to act masculine to be successful, or not show any emotion at all.

Will this review find ways of counteracting these beliefs or promoting changes in opinion?

I think not, as to my mind, far more work needs to be done at an earlier age, at home and at school, long before such ideas become entrenched.

Marlene Outrim is managing director of Uniq Family Wealth