Fashion-led feminism or the female business case?

f_t_shirt As ill at ease as they looked wearing these T shirts I suspect that Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg probably had a better idea of the meaning of the F word than most.

A TV programme last week, A Fair Deal For Women, showed a classroom of boys and girls being asked two questions in the classroom.

Firstly if they were feminists and secondly if they supported equal rights. Almost all answered no to the first question but yes to the second.

And yet both questions were the same, couched in different terms.

The definition of feminism

My personal definition of feminism is gender equality in terms of education, training, job opportunities, pay and parental rights/responsibilities. This is based on common sense thinking influenced more by the school of life rather than eminent Suffragists or academics.

My sphere of special interest and influence here is the UK motor industry but it doesn’t stop me marvelling at the work that Malala is doing on a global stage. Not does it stop me wondering how a £45 T shirt promoting feminism might allow The Mail to claim sweat shop factory associations that go against the very fabric (pun intended) of such an intentionally informative communications campaign.

Equality confusion

But there are other areas of misunderstanding here. That this is a feminine issue. That there is no place for equality in some work environments. That men and women should be treated alike as customers and employees…

Equal rights as previously stated? 100% yes, to benefit men and women alike. Thank goodness that most of the enlightened influencers in the motor industry are male.

Categorically ‘no’ to those ostriches who think men and women are the same when it comes to shopping or looking for employment…

Inevitably when you mention gender there is a price to be paid, often in terms of abuse using the anonymity of social media. Someone, somewhere will surely feel the need to express their male superiority in some way or (because it isn’t always just men that object here) women expecting other women to be treated the same as men and not needing special treatment.

Clearly neither camp has my experience of being a regular female motorist (by which I mean neither petrol-headed nor mechanically adept) when it comes to shopping across the board in the motor industry. And if it were the case that all garages and car dealers were qualified to do their jobs (mechanics and car sales staff aren’t licensed to do their job but that’s another issue) there would still be huge gaps between those businesses that provide a female friendly environment as in their cleanliness, comfort and time-saving services.

If businesses in the motor industry want to court the best young recruits they’ll know that these include females who are outperforming their male counterparts in most academic subjects at GCSE level. So they need to address their working conditions with women in mind, with a view to competing with more female friendly industries and employers. And those females that make it to the top need to be seen as role models and actively court females in their wake to follow in their footsteps.

My research among female apprentices tells me that you have to be a special type of individual to get on in the motor industry. Just imagine being the first female mechanic in an unwelcoming macho workshop or the first female selling cars in a showroom, or the first ‘token’ female into an overly complacent all male Boardroom.
Much easier running your own business perhaps (as I do!) because you can do things the female way, not be expected to behave (or become) masculine-like simply to conform. Although many women do.

Enlightened men support women

I am delighted to say that a great number of FOXY supporters are male. Not just because they believe in the principle of equality but because they know from experience that a gender balanced workforce makes for better, joined up decisions and a happier working environment. Not only is gender likely to become an area of considerable competitive advantage when it comes to best practice employers but we are starting to see companies address staff benefits that will appeal to Mums more than Dads. They want to encourage the best females to come forward to take their rightful place in tomorrow’s motor industry.

On the other hand our male support may have something to do with the fact that the number of female motorists will soon outnumber males, that we influence c80% of car/aftersales buying decisions and that we are more demanding customers – than most men have been to date.

The Female Business Case

Some readers will continue to see gender matters as fashion-led feminism because they don’t understand the implications for their business. The enlightened CEOs and influencers know better and see this as ‘The Female Business Case’. My experience is that more and more women are making a female choice in masculine industries like the motor one, whether as customers or employees. Those companies that go the extra mile for her business will win her custom and trust. I think that’s worth the effort and wait…

Vive la difference, as ever.


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