Agony Aunt: your problems solved

For our gender-themed edition, Jackie Elliott, chairman of Cathcart Consulting, takes over our Agony Uncle column to shed some light on your professional conundrums

Jackie Elliott: chairman of Cathcart Consulting
Jackie Elliott: chairman of Cathcart Consulting

A man’s world?

You call yourself chairman of the company; don’t you think we should resist male labels?

Ever since a former colleague described a forthcoming meeting as having to "interview the client chair" I have used the title chairman for anyone who is in that pos­ition. Ships are always female, actor is preferred for both sexes but being the company chair just sounds daft.

Jobs for the boys

I am thinking of joining a firm in the City specialising in financial work. It seems heavily male oriented and the only women are administrators. Is that usual for City PR and how should I behave?

Behave with caution. I worked for a City firm under the chairmanship of one of the best, brightest and kindest men in the business: it was huge fun, I learned a lot and there was not a shred of misogyny. Later, I spent time at another City firm where the chairman was an ogre and the all-male director team were his ogres-in-waiting: office affairs, bullying and prejudice were the norm. Have a good understanding of what the big boss is like and the overall culture of the place. Talk to other women who have worked there and some of the more sensible recruiters on the word of mouth about the place.  

Testosterone at the top

Why does the pyramid of women versus men in the business flip-flop so dramatically when it comes to the top jobs? We seem to do fine until the C-suite, which is mainly filled with blokes.

Rachel Bell, Alison Clarke and Sarah Scales might disagree but I take your point. Women can be naturally better practitioners of PR because of skills we often have that men tend to lack: intuition, the ability to give counsel objectively and well, an aptitude for listening and so on. Are men better with some of the harder skills: the numbers, the tough decisions and so on? I doubt it but that could be one reason, as well as the continuing struggle to balance a young family against the 24/7 demands of managing a successful PR firm. If it is your wish to have a family, just do it and don’t fret about when is a good time. Consider the ‘you can have it all, but not necessarily all at the same time’ school of thought. Do not compromise on childcare options. And as you arrive at the very top, make sure your company is as child- and family-friendly as possible.

Dress for success

I’ve landed a great opportunity with one of the international groups on its graduate trainee programme, but I’m broke and worried about the corporate dress code. Any tips?

Simple, clean, classic – and never wear dangly earrings. I have seen men hypnotised by the relentless swing of earrings in a presentation – instead of being transfixed by the wisdom emanating between them. Uniqlo’s shirts and jackets, M&S skirts and trousers, Gap and Hobbs will help. Develop a look, if you can: Katharine Hepburn had a wardrobe of shirts, skirts, trousers and jackets in black, beige and white – everything could be mixed with each other, looked smart and saved a lot of time. Oh, and please eschew cleavage, extremely short skirts and very high heels – unless you want to be rated for something other than your work.

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