Wednesday, 27 July 2011

what's the point of hiring women?

THIS morning's fuss over news that the prime minister's chief strategist suggested scrapping maternity leave isn't, luckily, quite what it seems. Steve Hilton is famous for having nine faintly mad ideas for every good one, and most of the time his madder ones don't see the light of day: it's just that this time someone has apparently decided to embarrass him.
But it's his underlying argument - that parental rights hurt women, by discouraging employers from hiring them - that is more widely shared on the right and ultimately more dangerous. What really needs tackling is the mistaken idea that it's perfectly rational for employers to refuse to hire anyone biologically capable of having a baby (and that therefore women need to be stripped of all those pesky off-putting rights), since it is in fact completely self-defeating to blacklist half the talent pool under 45.
So here, just for anyone who hasn't quite grasped that argument, is a random selection of female talent that would have been lost to the world had the fact that they were of childbearing age put their early employers off.

1. Margaret Thatcher: she was 24 and didn't yet have children when she fought her first general election (for a safe Labour seat). She went on to have twins three years later: Thatcher was a few days short of her 34th birthday, and the twins were six, when she finally got elected in Finchley.
2. Marie Curie, the double Nobel Prize winning scientist, who was 26 when she first started work in an industrial laboratory. Four years later, she had the first of her two daughters (who incidentally grew up to become a Nobel Prize-winning scientist too).
3. Sally Gunnell, who was 26 when she was sent out to Barcelona as part of the Olympic squad. She won her first Olympic gold and went on to become world number one, before retiring from competitive sport and going on to have three children.
4. Samantha Cameron, who was 25 when hired as creative director by Smythson and went on to have four children while with the firm. Doesn't seem to have worked out that badly for Smythson, which was sold for £18 million in 2009.
5. Rachel Whetstone, 38 when hired by Google as head of communications and public policy: two years later it emerged she was expecting her first child with her partner, ahem, Steve Hilton. Google seems to have got by somehow. And she's now a vice president.


  1. Steve Hilton just wants headlines. Then he'll say something like "I was just joking. Don't people joke anymore?" He'll try to sound artless His wife may be bright but he is not.There are lots of him in advertising etc.

  2. All these women are "working" mothers who do lots but do it with masses of childcare and help in the house. Women who don't have a paid job are voiceless which is why I was excited five minutes ago on being led to your blog via Sarah Vine's twitter feed...and to my slight disappointment the first post I find is extolling women with nannies. Just a question - do you find it hard to regard parents who focus on raising their children as worthy of interest?