Throwing it all away? Throwing what away? The Daily Mail ran a piece recently about how often high-profile women at the top of their game find it tricky to stay in place, when they’ve ‘given everything’ to get there. The article cited as examples major players such as Theresa May, Jill Abramson, formerly executive editor of the New York Times, Yahoo former CEO Marissa Mayer, Harriet Green, former CEO of Thomas Cook, and Nathalie Nougayrede, erstwhile editor of the French daily newspaper Le Monde.

It was the headline, though, that really gave away how women ought to be running their lives: ‘Why do some women have it . . . then throw it all away?’

The implication is clear. Women should be able to have it all and keep it all, as well of course to want it all in the first place. The ‘it’ is that career summit which should be the goal of all right-thinking, ambitious, modern women, certainly those who’ve benefited from extended education; the ‘it’ equals those sunlit uplands of the workplace where a woman finally has the power, responsibility, professional fulfilment and peer recognition that she has slogged long and hard for, often at considerable cost in terms of family life.

The use of the word ‘all’ is what rams it home to the reader. It tells us that we need to find it truly astonishing that it doesn’t always go swimmingly for women in top jobs, women who ‘have it all’. As opposed, presumably, to women who don’t follow that career path to the dizzy heights. You know the ones I mean, women with very little to show really. At least in career terms, which is what counts, isn’t it? That forlorn, essentially unfulfilled and unemancipated bunch for whom children and family were the priority and for whom sacrifices were made way before there was even a glimmer of a path to the boardroom. Women with one or more jobs to juggle rather than careers. Women who are full-time mothers. Most women, in fact.



The article goes to some length to discern why there is this fall from grace off something called a ‘glass cliff’. Among the reasons picked over concerning the above-mentioned women are the tendency to micro-management, rudeness to staff, secrecy, misjudgment about who to trust, disinclination to trust, lack of respect for others, inability and/or unwillingness to listen and understand, arbitrariness of decision-making, failure to consult and involve others, failure to communicate. In the case of Le Monde’s former rédactrice en chef there were apparently ‘Putinesque tendencies’. Which might be enough to put anybody’s nose out of joint.

The assessment amongst career and leadership coaches who were asked to delve into this career ‘self-sabotaging’ by women posited such phenomena as ‘imposter syndrome’. This is where the sense of one’s own success being essentially down to luck and timing has consequences that get in the way of that leadership being ‘strong and stable’. Those consequences include self-doubt, stage fright, bunker mentality, control freakery and the need to show that one is constantly in possession of information and answers to problems. Which doesn’t look like a recipe for getting much sleep. The coaches duly confirm that sleep problems are indeed an issue (with not eating well either, as well as decreasing commitment to early-morning sessions in the gym) that end up clouding women leaders’ judgment and performance.

Taken with what we can assume are other factors, such as women at the top knowing they have to perform better than male counterparts to avoid the chop, and constant scrutiny in a way that men do not have to endure (see Mrs May’s £995 leather trousers), it’s small wonder that women as leaders find themselves in that jump-or-get-pushed situation. Seriously, who’d want it? That’s the question. Are women up for it? Another two questions are: Are women up TO it? And why do we expect that women SHOULD be up to it, given that many have priorities outside the workplace? Jenni Murray on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour was in fact agonising recently about why there are not more women Brexit negotiators all lined up for the task ahead. Is it really that hard to work out?

It’s not, if you are allowed to face up to the obvious, scientific explanation, which is what I am going to be writing about tomorrow.