Women's minister Maria Miller is producing a guide for parents to bring up their daughters to be 'ambitious for themselves' and strive for a place in board rooms. But how hard should we be pushing girls to buy into the corporate dream?
Miller is acting on advice from the Women's Business Council, which is concerned about the lack of female entrepreneurs. According to a number of businesswomen, it is the lack of ambition in the current crop of women that is to blame for their absence in the board room. The suggested solution to this problem is the production of a government guide for parents, encouraging them to broaden their daughters' aspirations and help them make 'informed choices' earlier on in their educational career.
It is believed that the subsequent empowerment of women would allow them to 'fulfil their potential', by which it is meant 'succeed in the world of business'. This could potentially result in a million more female entrepreneurs and a boost in the economy. I am usually an enthusiastic supporter of any policy or scheme that aims to empower women and open up opportunities for them, but I am sceptical of the opinion that success in business is the measure of realised potential.
I appreciate that as things stand, competing in business and making considerable financial gain are paradigms of power, worth and success in society. If women are to enjoy the kind of power and worth that men currently do, they must be able to make it in business. However, we should be wary of over-glorifying the capitalist culture, along with the individualism and materialism that quite happily go hand in hand with it, as being in any way inherently worthwhile or indispensable.
Acknowledging the value and status of women in our culture does not simply mean allowing women entry into the pre-established world of man, with its deeply entrenched competitive, egocentric and materialistic practices. Empowering women and acknowledging women's worth is as much about exploring and celebrating those ideals and practices, such as compassion, selflessness and collaboration, that tradition disparagingly consigned to the 'world of women'. It is about opening up a world of alternative attitudes and systems that might inspire innovation or social change.
So by all means let women and girls know that, should they value money, ambition and board rooms, there is no reason why the world of business should be less accessible to them because of their sex. But not to the extent that alternative values and endeavours are discouraged or disregarded, and innovation or reform are stifled.
The apparent motivation of Miller and the WBC is a concern that certain values and behaviours are still too gendered, thereby disadvantaging women in a male-dominated society. Given concurrent anxieties about the identity-crisis and hyper-masculinisation faced by British boys, perhaps a more satisfactory strategy would be the production of an accompanying guide for the raising of boys that encourages more compassionate, altruistic and cooperative values and aims.