Women’s roles in the West Coast rail fiasco

One of the tactics used by proponents of ‘improved’ gender diversity is to relentlessly cite examples of men heading major organisations, including businesses, which fail. ‘Fred the Shred’ of RBS comes to mind.  In a recent BBC Radio 4 interview I had with Martha Kearney, the other interviewee (a woman) commented that there hadn’t been a ‘Freda the Shred’. My groan was edited out of the interview, to my regret.

It’s a simple shaming tactic. Such examples are cited however miniscule a proportion of ‘men at the top’ they represent. At the same time these women ignore examples of women in senior positions failing or being corrupt. A recent example of such a woman who comes to mind was the female CEO of Trinity MIrror. During her tenure the value of the business fell by over 90%. Another example  was a major bank’s Head of Fraud. She was recently convicted for… er… fraud. Examples of incompetent or corrupt women are never seen as illustrating gender-related failings. It’s just another example of the double standards of which most people – men and women – are unaware.

There are of course examples of successful female CEOs – Marjorie Scardino of Pearson plc comes to mind – and they’re mentioned so frequently you have to keep reminding yourself how few women manage to ‘cut the mustard’ at the top of major businesses.

Let’s play the same game, shall we? Let’s look at a recent startling example of female incompetence, the recent West Coast rail fiasco. From Simon Heffer’s column in today’s Daily Mail, a section titled, ‘Take the blame, Justine’:

Who can be surprised that civil servants were at fault for the rail franchise scandal which could cost taxpayers up to £80 million? Whitehall used to be an elite. It is now a swamp of social engineering and political correctness. But I don’t like ministers who blame their officials – in our political system, ministers ought always to take the rap. I trust we shall be told exactly how the ministers responsible – the then Transport Secretary Justine Greening and ex-rail minister Therese Villiers – allowed this fiasco to happen.

As usual with Mr Heffer, good points, well made. Three civil servants have been suspended in connection with this costly fiasco. In one of today’s broadsheets I noted that one’s been named as Kate Mingay, who was in charge of commercial contracts at the Department of Transport. A former Goldman Sachs banker, she was thought to be earning £140,000 p.a. at the Department of Transport. Almost exactly the same as the prime minister, in fact. The article went on to say that Ms Mingay has instructed the law firm Mishcon de Reya ‘to help defend her professional reputation and win back her job’.

Hmm. Now I don’t know the extent of Ms Mingay’s personal responsibility for this fiasco, but from her job title I’d assume it could be substantial. In the private sector it would undoubtedly be so for someone with a job title of this sort, and such a substantial salary. There’s a pattern becoming clear over time, as more and more women take senior positions. Women want jobs which high salaries, but high salaries are associated with major responsibilities. There is, in a sense, a combination of risk and reward – or there should be.

I suggest that men in Ms Mingay’s position would accept responsibility for the fiasco, and resign… or expect to be fired, and not win back their jobs. It’s a simple question of honour. With Ms Mingay being a woman and a civil servant – she holds two trump cards – I should be amazed if she doesn’t retain her job. Or if she leaves, it would be with a substantial financial package. We keep seeing the same thing happening, in the public sector in particular. Female Heads of Social Services – also very highly paid – perform the same magic trick with monotonous regularity. Remind me again, why are our major organisations – in both the public and private sectors – positively discriminating for women in their senior reaches? It’s little less than collective insanity.

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