Where have all the women gone? The 40 something brain drain and why we should be worried

29th June 2011

First of all I need to declare an interest. I am 40 and I am in a senior managerial position – in fact I am the editor of Mindful Money.  

I have two degrees, and I was the first woman in my family to go to university, the first to not get married in my 20s, and the first to work full time with a child under the age of two.

These are not amazing achievements. But what is amazing is that it's taken stronger women than me to allow my generation to have these choices. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother were among those fought so that women my age – those born in the 1970s had the same choices as our male counterparts.

It's not easy being a mum and working full time – you often feel that you are not dedicating enough time to either of your jobs, and end up making a hash of both.

Sometimes it's gets too much, and that's when I'll ring one of my lovely friends. One such friend was on the recieving end of a phone call recently when I'd had a challenging day at work.

"I just want to jack it all in and being a stay at home housewife," I told her.

"But you can't – look around you Sam," she replied." How many women, in their 40s, even late 30s, are working in the city now. It's like they've disappeared off the planet. You need to stay Sam, otherwise they'll be no one left."

That afternoon I did look around; I happened to have a couple of meetings in the city. And my friend was right – where were they? They certainly weren't on my train on the way home (the 6.40pm Stansted Express), they weren't in the coffee shops huddled over computer presentations, or buying newspapers in WH Smith.

Maybe you're reading this and thinking – what does it matter. So women are choosing to stay at home and look after the children, or working part-time and therefore not reaching the higher echelons of business.

Polly Vernon, writing for Grazia magazine reckons we should be worried. I've worked with Ms Vernon – she was a commissioning on the Evening Standard magazine when I was freelance, and if she's worried then we should all be.

In Grazia she points out that companies with women at the top, tend to do better, both in terms of revenue and share prices – although these are one and the same.

I think it is a shame that so few women run FTSE 100 companies but I know why they don't. It's because British business is still in the hands of men who are there simply because of who they know, who they drink with or who they went to school with. 

Because of this the British workplace remains a clock-watching, medieval place where what you do doesn't matter so much as what you say you do and how much you promote yourself.

Women don't tend to make such a song and dance about what they do, they just get on with it. While those women who do, get branded as bossy Alpha Females who no one wants to work with.

There are signs that things are changing. My company allow me to work flexible hours, I still put in the same effort – in fact I put in more probably because 

Samantha Downes is editor of Mindful Money

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