Maria Miller is proposing that parents of girls receive “info packs” to help broaden their daughters’ career aspirations. In the face of falling numbers of women in executive positions, what could be more beneficial for both equality and economic growth?

According to Miller, “making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy”:

A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications. Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions

Way-hey! Get influencing, mums and dads! Because that’s a major thing that’s holding this country back, quite possibly the whole reason why we’re in this sorry mess today – women and their stupid, girlie choices.

It’s not that I don’t think parents can play a significant role in destroying a child’s aspirations. They can and this really matters. All the same, it’s worth asking why they do it. Is it because they’re in need of enlightenment through info packs? Certainly, ignorance and prejudice can motivate a parent to create needless barriers in the mind of his or her offspring. Often, though, parents just want what’s best for their child. They don’t want their son or daughter to suffer the disappointment of finding that opportunities they believed in don’t exist. What’s the point of saying you, too, princess, shall go to the boardroom when it’s all so terribly unlikely? And what’s the value in pretending that even if your little princess should get there, the rewards will be the same for her as they are for her male counterparts? They aren’t, not just in financial terms, but in terms of respect, esteem and expectations of personal sacrifice.

According to a group of senior businesswomen “women are not blameless” for their lack of presence in high-end positions.

If the economic answer to developing better performing businesses is skilled and capable women working alongside equally talented men, then it is time that these women stand up and be counted; that they take some responsibility for the issue of the under-representation of women at the top of corporate Britain.

Everyone has been looking to chairmen, chief executives, politicians and head hunters to ensure that more talented women reach the top levels. Until now, there has been no push on what we, the women, can do to support and address this serious issue.

Hmm. Is it just me or is there a rather simplistic understanding of “responsibility” and “blame” going on here? If women don’t “stand up and be counted”, is it because they can’t be arsed? Or – particularly if we’re assuming that these women are so skilled, capable and talented – could they be making a perfectly rational decision in response to the world as it is today?

Sexism in the workplace is insidious. The various ways in which the goalposts are shifted in favour of men might have been demonstrated in sociological experiments, but these are often invisible in real life. And even when sexism is direct and obvious, victims are unlikely to protest. Complaining – “playing the woman card” –  isn’t seen as very “professional” and every employee knows what side her bread’s buttered. Furthermore, even if we are talking not about sexism, but about the choices women make, it’s simply not true that if women make the same career choices as men, they get the same benefits. For a woman, faced with lower pay, more negative interpretations of her management style and inescapable speculation over her fertility, it might not actually be worth the bother to try and “aim for the top”. If she’s that desperate for the glittering prizes, it might still be more effective for her to think “fuck this” and marry the boss. The chances of success are possibly higher.

This isn’t, however, the thing that really pisses me off about these arguments. What really gets to me is that they’re meant to be about equality but they’re not at all. This isn’t naïve feminism, it’s not feminism at all. What these drives to get women into the boardroom ultimately do is feed the myth of the “wealth creator”, the “striver” versus the “skiver”. The Women’s Business Council, who have been advising Miller,  “was set up in 2012 to advise government on what more can be done to maximise women’s contribution to economic growth, focusing on areas with the greatest potential economic impact”. Because obviously, those who contribute most and have the greatest impact will be the “skilled and capable” boardroom leaders. There’s no chance that such people will be merely increasing inequality and serving themselves ever-larger slices of a diminishing pie. This really smacks of trickle-down economic bullshit. And yes, I’m not a sodding economist, but the WBC’s claim that “if women were setting up and running businesses at the same rate as men there could be 1 million more women entrepreneurs” seems a bit, well, simplistic. Wouldn’t the women entrpreneurs have an impact on the men entrepreneurs (mentrepreneurs??)? Is the number of self-appointed entrepreneurs really a marker of growth? And whom does it benefit? Why should the rest of us care? Feminism is about fairness and it is about supporting women. It is not a tool through which you sell your free market, striver-vs-skiver, wealth creator crap. Or at least, that’s not any feminism I ever want to know.

Still, I admit to being curious to see what the info pack contains. I’m hoping there’s at least one bright pink, glittery “How To Be Queen of the Boardroom” sticker book to hand down to your eager daughter. Seeing as no one in government seems to be that bothered about challenging sexism on its own terms, crass essentialism has to be the way forward. Indeed, further recommendations might include “pinking and shrinking” executive suites and offering shoes and chocolates as an alternative to share options. Don’t thank me, Women’s Business Council. As one of the non-talented masses, I’d rather just keep my head down and fail to make the world turn.