Women can’t have it all, says new female Dragon

1 Aug

BBC2’s Dragons’ Den has drummed up some marvellous publicity with its new female dragon Hilary Devey, multi-millionaire owner of a freight distribution company.

While making her millions herself, she claims in a Telegraph interview that women just aren’t genetically cut out for top roles – but men are. She says she has sacrificed family life for her career, as women can’t have it both ways (especially not in the ‘man’s world in which she operates).

Viewing figures for the new Dragons Den series have apparently been higher than usual – though whether that’s down to the new Dragon I imagine will be analysed in due course. And I’ll be curious to see whether, in the course of the programme, she chooses to invest in other female entrepreneurs.

In the meantime, figures that don’t back up what Ms Devey contends is that British men have increased the amount of time they spend on domestic chores by 60% over the past 30 years – suggesting that men are beginning to share the burden of housework that has traditionally fallen to women. There’s still some way to go, though. While men may help with homework and cooking, they’re still not brilliant at doing the washing.

But, for now, perhaps women are still giving them the choice and picking up the slack.


7 Responses to “Women can’t have it all, says new female Dragon”

  1. Frankie Dolan 03/08/2011 at 1:50 pm #

    It is not easy being a woman entrepreneur with family. I know that, I am one. I have always been an entrepreneur by nature. I have two sisters and one brother. My father never treated the girls in the family any differently than my brother. So I never thought being a woman was an issue. He always encouraged me to be the best I can, in whatever I chose to do. So it came as a bit of a shock when I had my first child as I really wasn’t prepared for the disruption. I had in mind that I would give birth and go straight back to work, as the women in Africa do, with child on back, and pretty much that is what I did, although it was a lot harder than before. I had a clothes shop then and my daughter came to work with me every day, breast fed behind the shop counter – the customers didn’t even notice. She loved growing up in the shop as she was given lots of attention and always had me around.

    Actually being employed later in life was in some ways much harder as I had an unsympathetic employer who was quite inflexible. It was a real problem when my child was sick as I was left feeling really guilty if I couldn’t make it into work – usually just dosing her up with medicine and bundling her off to school when she should have been at home. This shouldn’t have been necessary as with the Internet I was physically able to work from home, just my boss (female, without children) didn’t want that.

    When you are self-employed you can arrange your work around your own life, which can actually work a lot better for women. But being a woman in business requires a different attitude and I think often a lot more creativity for it to work – and it is actually the constraints which I truly believe can make a woman in business far more effective than a man. I have come to realise that for me to be truly successful and grow in business I have to be very smart and use my mind to come up with the best strategy. My family constraints oblige me to find ways to grow the business without me doing everything – which is actually the best way to grow anyway. One day I will be able to afford some ‘home help’ to free up some of my time, but in the meantime I make use of mundane chores as they give me space to think about strategy.

    I understand Ms Devey’s comments as likely that is all she has known. She has developed a business in a man’s world with little understanding for women, likely at great personal sacrifice. But times are changing, and the Internet helps women a lot with communication, allowing them to meet people and find out information without having to travel as much, and also work in the middle of the night if that is the time that suits them best.

    Women do struggle with old viewpoints and discouraging opinions. When people say “you can’t have it all” it really isn’t like they enjoy doing the household chores and being the one that has to do most of the mundane jobs in the house – I don’t like spending my time that way, but frankly right now I don’t have a choice – but that doesn’t mean I have to give up on business. I have something wonderful to contribute to the world and society, and I don’t have to sacrifice my family life to do that, no-one has to suffer. My children are growing up with understanding and respect for my work and are actually learning from it themselves. But to get to this place in my mind, and find my confidence in spite of many people in society telling me it can’t be done, has been a struggle at times.

    Recently when talking to potential investors I have been informed that it is harder for women to find investment – and often women investors are the hardest of all, especially women in business who have sacrificed their family or haven’t had children for one reason or another. But I will find the right investor with time. There are women who do make it work with a wonderful family life too, and they are very effective, and supportive of other women trying to do the same.

    Women have always struggled to succeed in society. But times ARE changing, even if not all attitudes are changing as quickly as the times. The quicker society realises the contribution women have to make in business, as in every other aspect of life, and comes to understand that a woman’s work will not always be done in a male conventional manner, then sooner the world will benefit.

    • womaneer 04/08/2011 at 8:05 am #

      Thank for you sharing your inspiring story. I agree with you that times are changing – especially with remote working no longer a dream, but a reality. I note that you had a female boss without children who was totally inflexible: I’ve found that too (and even female bosses WITH children tend not to be that sympathetic either).

      There are so many brilliant, capable women out there, and inspired, forward-thinking companies CAN change their thinking and approach to support and nurture female talent. They just have to do things a bit differently. There is life beyond the ‘can’t have it all’ mentality of Hilary Devey et all – and you are living, breathing evidence of that.

  2. Keith Griffiths 08/08/2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Whether it is a woman or a man, I admire anyone that works hard and gives back in anyway they can.

  3. Sam Fountain 08/08/2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Frankie Dolan, you are true!

    I too have worked hard and believe that I ‘do have it all’. Well, just about. All I ask for is a little more ‘me time’ and perhaps a 2 more hours sleep a week! So I’m not too far off!

    I worked ‘full time’ (over 50 hours a week) until I had 3 months away from the office to have my first child. I then went back to work part time (30 hours over 3 days!) whilst my daughter went to nursery for 3 days a week. However, by the time my 2nd was due, I was employing over 5 staff, so I was able to take 5 months away from the office.

    As you say, we should be looking to employ more people, people with different experience to us. We can’t ALL be excellent at EVERYTHING. That’s what makes a good business a successful one – the variety of employees. Not bosses who think their way is the only way and best way! People who work ‘long hours’ because they have no reason to focus- because they don’t have anything to take them away from their PC/ meeting etc.

    I now work with (employ) 8 people and we are all free to work full time or part time. This isn’t to say that we turn up and go home when we please. We discuss the business strategy and objectives. We decide what time and what people we need to fulfill these. We then decide what hours the current staff whish to work and employ new talent to fill the gaps.

    I believe, in 10 years, good companies will be those where the majority of staff DO NOT work 9-5, 5 days a week. It is so much healthier and efficient to work less days and give your staff time away from the office to recharge and focus.

    It is a fact in our organisation that employers get more dedication, less sick days and better results from workers whose contracts are below 20 hours a week in the office.

    I was on the 2nd series of Dragons’ Den.

  4. Jamie 08/09/2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Paragraph 3: “I’ll be curious to see if she invests in other female entrepreneurs.” –

    I imagine Hilary will invest in the ideas she believes will be successful in the long term, whether they have been devised by women or not. This is exactly the kind of ridiculous woolly liberalism that can cause a lot of harm when applied in real life. A friend of mine works in the city for a large multinational, and he works incredibly hard for the job he does. He deserves a promotion, so how do you think he felt when he got shunned for a relatively inept, less experienced woman, purely because someone in HR decided that they have to fill a gender quota? It’s total lunacy.


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