Thursday, 27 September 2012

Of buried textiles and boardrooms

I’ve never seen archaeology presenter Neil Oliver look so fascinated. He was presented, in episode 3 of the BBC’s ‘Vikings’ the other night, with a Viking woollen mitten around 1,000 years old: his eyes lit up with appreciation. Viking women were highly proficient in textile production of all kinds, but only recently have the heights of their achievements come to light. After reading Judith Jesch’s fascinating article about Viking women’s lives, I went surfing to find out more about the Oseberg ship burial of a high status Viking woman.

They say time flies when you’re enjoying yourself, and steeped in Anne Stine Ingstad’s article about the incredible preservation of the Oseberg ship textiles, its 30 pages slipped by before I knew it! It’s clear that Viking women were not only able to marry beauty with utility in their textile crafts but were also held in high regard for their skills, wherever they were based. Anne Stine Ingstad’s article reminds us of the precision, the organisation (of what today we’d the ‘supply chain’) and the decisiveness needed to create such high quality woven articles.

Precision, organisation, decisiveness are not new terms in the female lexicon. Yet at the moment there seems to be a plethora of women’s networking organisations and conferences emerging - and gaining members and delegates – as if these words were new to our realm of experience. I have to admit that I find programmes like Hilary Devey’s ‘Women at the top’ just a tiny bit embarrassing. The notion that women are ‘being held back’ just doesn’t seem to fit with the business women I know today, whatever their line of country.

It’s well accepted that gender diversity in the workplace makes for better business. I can therefore understand the ethos behind campaigns like Women 1st, which is aiming to increase the ratio of women board members in the hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism sector (from roughly 6% today), thus ensuring better representation for the 60% female workforce. I also totally agree there are still bastions where greater female representation would create a genuinely better working environment and future.

The new UK organisation of Women on Boards, launched in London earlier this week, is seeking greater female representation on company boards, aiming to achieve a mix that includes at least 40% women. There’s also the slightly lower targeting 30% Club, supported by some pretty major companies. The number of women on boards does need to be improved though in my view by merit rather than by quota.

I’m certainly not ‘anti-men’ either. It’s just that women bring a different perspective to business management that can beneficially run alongside the male mindset. Women are mental ‘weavers’, capable of bringing together many threads and make them work as a whole. At the same time we’re able to look ahead at the bigger picture, tracking down the resources needed to achieve continuing good results. We simply want to be recognised, as were Viking women a thousand years ago, for the different but equally valuable contribution we offer. Here’s wishing you a week of opportunities to weave your own positive future.

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