#bookclub: A Good Time to Be a Girl by Helena Morrissey

Vestpod Book Club Helena Morrissey

We had a great evening on Monday discussing Helena Morrissey’s A Good Time to Be a Girl.

Five years have passed since women were exhorted to ‘Lean In’. Over that time, the world has transformed beyond all expectations. But why should anyone ‘lean in’ to a patriarchal system that is out of date? Why not change it entirely for the good of us all?

In this excellent new book, Helena Morrissey sets out how we might achieve the next big breakthrough towards a truly inclusive modern society.

It’s an inspiring read, very well documented with some amazing and relatable advice for young women.


The Setup

Helena started working in the City in the late 1980s, “when there was real hostility towards women in the workplace.” When she returned to work after having her first child, she did not get her promotion. It was a huge disappointment for her and she thought this was linked to her performance. She asked her boss and he replied: “There’s nothing wrong with your performance, but there is some doubt over your commitment to the company after having a baby.”

She then moved to Newton Asset Management, a smaller, more entrepreneurial and more meritocratic firm. Within seven years of joining the firm, she was made CEO.

In 2010 she also founded the 30% club - a UK business initiative involving women and men working together to achieve better gender balanced company boards.

She is now head of Personal Investing at L&G and her mission is to engage the nation to save and invest more. She also has 9 children. She said 3 things made a difference in her career: self awareness | meritocracy | a supportive partner.


10 Pieces of Advice to Young Women

1. Leap before you look: don’t hold ourselves back, over-analyse and worry about what might go wrong. Just go for it.

2. Think big, start small but start now: That's the motto that drove the 30% Club. “We didn’t have all the answers, we didn’t have a map – we had to write one ourselves. Don’t let fear of what might go wrong stop you from trying.”

3. Play to your strengths - don’t submerge the differences that define you. Feeling happy and fulfilled is an absolute - not a relative.

4. Act as confidently as you can - people have confidence in confident people. Watch the TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on Power Poses. And remember the motto “fake it until you make it.”

5. On setbacks: see you career as a labyrinth not a ladder.

6. Ask for help and find allies and people (friends, partners, mentors) you can talk to.

7. Help others where you can: pay it forward!

8. If you want to be a CEO, go for it! Do it your way and stay true to yourself.

9. Remember there is no single ‘right’ path. A good exercise Helena does with her mentees is to ask them “What version of your future self would make you feel happy?”

10. It's a good time to be a girl - but it’s not all sorted just yet...


What we actually discussed during the book club

On diversity of opinion:

  • in order to think better we need partners and colleagues who aren’t “echo chambers” (see leaked Google memo by Vice).

  • It actually takes a village to create gender equality and it’s important to talk about it at every level.

On gender diversity:

  • Importance of diversity in the workplace: “diversity is not about being identical it’s about being different - and inclusion is about welcoming these differences”

  • Gender patterns do exist, according to research, and we acknowledge these. The female brain is hardwired for empathy and male brain for understanding and building systems.

  • Role models: we need to lead as women and redefine power, i.e. “feminine brand of power” and not try to fit “awkwardly with the masculine concept”. More women increase collective intelligence.

On creating the conditions for your own success:

  • In the light of the gender pay gap, we felt it was important to stay true to yourself and not pretend be someone else.

  • Develop career goals and ask ourselves fast-forward 5 years: what version of our future self would make us feel happy and fulfilled?

  • Achieving goals involves taking some risks but don’t let fear hold you back: “it’s difficult to make much progress if we stay inside our comfort zone”

Future of work and corporations: how will we work in the future. We hope companies will look like communities with strong values and flexible workers. Helena talks about different ways of leading requiring different skills: power structures are replaced by diffuse shared democratic influence and favour women’s ways of working and behaving.