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Out of office

By Fran Brosan, Chairman

It’s the point in the year when this little message appears in multiple inboxes as you discover contacts have absented themselves in search of much needed rest and recuperation. What they get up to whilst away is sometimes emblazoned on their response (I will be out of the office travelling to Thailand and Vietnam during August – do we really need to know that?) some more discreetly simply referring you on to some non-holidayer in the office.

I am going to come clean and say that yesterday I was out of the office attending a lecture at the Holt Festival by Germaine Greer. Articulate, well read, contentious, funny – she was all those things.

“I didn’t think it would have anything to do with my day job – but in fact it did.”

She was speaking on The Disappearing Woman – taking the premise that despite the fact that sexual equality was enshrined in law in 1975, women are still noticeable by their absence – in the church, in the judiciary, in parliament and in the workplace. On the way she touched on Russia, on Islam (positively) and on Margaret Thatcher (an interesting role model!). She vented her coruscating wit on male academics, the Church of England and the infertility business. She swore a lot which I found endearing. At the age of 74 this woman still packs a punch.

Her take on the workplace was especially interesting to me – with her view that corporate structures are as masculine in their approaches as hierarchies amongst the larger apes. There’s the Silverback (the CEO) who sits around surveying his domain. There’s the one who’s being groomed to take over, the one that wants to be the one who’s going to take over, the joker, and the Goffer. Meanwhile it’s the women who actually do the work. It’s all there in the ape world apparently.

Large corporates (Ms Greer argued) are also very masculine in their uncollaborative nature. What the top guy says goes and this is not the way in which women more naturally work. Women tend to want to be far more collaborative, working with and talking to their colleagues – recognising that a co-operative approach might well produce a better result. They tend to want to be themselves but often have to behave in a ‘corporate/masculine’ fashion in order to fit in with corporate structures. Back to Margaret Thatcher then who told her cabinet what to do but, apparently, was never accepted as one of the boys.

Maybe because Omobono is well balanced at the top (we have a female Chairman and a female MD) the company feels collaborative. Or maybe it’s because our senior men are not Silverbacks waiting for food and sex to be delivered to them(!). Whatever the reason, the whole company has a culture of judging other people’s opinions on merit. We have a catch phrase here which is ‘I slightly disagree’. We don’t fight and we have no place for egos.

But as we grow (which we are) we are coming under more and more pressure to put structures in which will support the company’s growth curve. We’re taking part in the government’s Growth Accelerator initiative as we speak – working with some experienced mentors to help us put in systems and processes. The danger is that it will also put in silos that stop us collaborating and bring in more masculine structures. We’ll try to resist it. Anyway, whoever heard of a female Silverback?

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