Opinion

Sue Black: the greatest threat to women in the workplace since Jack the Ripper

9 min read

12 September 2011

Milo Yiannopoulos throws up his hands in despair at how ignorant, patronising and counterproductive some women’s advocates can be.

Last week, legendary ball-buster Carol Bartz was dismissed from her position as CEO of troubled Internet giant Yahoo!. 

Carol Bartz was ousted because she is a potty-mouthed bully who failed to meet the expectations placed on her, despite being given free rein at the company to indulge in her favourite pastimes of firings before breakfast and impaling men on skewers in the courtyards of Sunnyvale.

That she was a woman was plainly irrelevant to her dismissal (though we may note, in passing, how much more testosterone Bartz appears to have flowing through her veins than the rest of the Yahoo! board). Yet, with depressing predictability, an English academic and management consultant has seized on the unhappy event as further proof that female quotas should be imposed on company boards.

Had a quota been enforced on Yahoo!, Bartz might have been saved, according to Sue Black, who earnestly styles herself “Dr Black” online. (It takes a special sort of intellectual insecurity to include your qualifications in your Twitter handle, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of other touchy, insecure academics like ex-Lib Dem MP Evan Harris.)

“So, a woman at the top of her game has been unceremoniously kicked out of her job,” Black opines. “She’s not the first and surely won’t be the last… Does this have anything to do with the fact that Carol Bartz is a woman? If she were a man would this have ended the same way?”

She then asks: “Would a stronger female presence on the board and within senior management have made a difference in the way she has been treated?”

Well, to answer that question, we would have to do one of several things UCL senior research associate Sue Black has clearly failed to do. 

For example, we would have to interview some senior executives at Yahoo!. We’d have to at least attempt to speak to Bartz herself. We’d have to look for evidence of a culture of sexism at Yahoo! that supported our insinuations. (Even then, we’d be looking for evidence in favour of a preordained conclusion – something Black, as an academic, should be skilled at spotting and penalising in her students’ work.) In short, we’d have to actually do some research.

The question must be asked: did Dr Black do any of those things? Or did she just spot an opportunity to rush off another hopelessly antiquated rant? Because I’m willing to bet that if she had bothered to acquaint herself with even the most cursory facts of the case, she would have been able to answer her own question with a resounding “no”. 

I keep re-reading Black’s piece in the hope that I’m missing some larger theme or exquisitely subtle insinuation. Maybe I’m the idiot, I think. 

But no. It really is that boneheaded. 

It’s difficult to know how to engage with stupefyingly idiotic logic of the type on display here, beyond the initial pointing and laughing, but we might pause for a moment to examine the responses to this article from flabbergasted women, who reacted angrily when I shared Black’s blog post on Twitter last week.

Reflecting the general consensus, one woman said: “WOW. What a staggeringly naive, anachronistic and ill informed piece. It makes me truly, truly ashamed to be a woman.” 

Meanwhile, Josephine Salm, a public relations executive in London, wrote: “Whenever I read an article like that my heart sinks.” Yet another woman, who wrote to me privately and asked not to be named, muttered: “This is what has been holding back serious debate for so long.”

Men, too, were amused and offended in equal measure. Their compliments ranged from “You’re right, it’s f*cking nonsense” to “I stopped at ‘woman at the top of her game’.”

“Black the Ripper”, as she is coming to be known by other campaigners, who compare her damagingly crude analyses to the hatchet jobs performed by another well-known “women in the workplace” activist, struggles to marshall statistics to support her position in this piece, relying instead on data from that esteemed organ Marie Claire

Christ! If this is what passes for peer-reviewed research material at UCL, her two students’ doctoral theses must make for highly entertaining reading.

What would someone with cojones – and a brain – as big as Bartz’s make of it, I wonder? 

The truth is, probably a brief, expletive-laden dismissal. But I like to think she might also stop to remark on how tasteless and opportunistic it was of Black to seize upon her dismissal as a chance to bang this tired old drum. 

How depressing that in 2011 there are still women who feel so resentful and hard done by that they will exploit any event to further their ludicrous ideological positions, reminding one as they do so of the most tokenist, patronising, borderline criminally insane excesses of the Labour Party.

Black evidently enjoys the public recognition her campaigning work has given her, as you can see from her website, where there’s a picture of her with an admiring elderly lesbian fan. But with that reach comes responsibility. 

Men (your correspondent included) roll their eyes at the mere mention of “women in tech” or “women in the workplace” these days. But so do many women – the women out there making a success of their lives and careers, who pay lip service to such debates for diplomatic reasons but who really want those mediocre whinging crones to shut it and get on with their lives. 

Suggesting that people should be given positions of responsibility on grounds of gender, and not ability, is offensive and stupid. 

It flies in the face of common sense, it’s patronising to women, because there’s an inbuilt assumption that women aren’t as good as men and need special treatment, it fosters resentment and division in the workplace and it hurts the bottom line, because you end up with inadequates in crucial positions.

More than anything, it’s simply unnecessary. Over the last hundred years, women have proven themselves easily the equals of men in many top jobs. 

Even those unsuited to executive roles are given a crack of the whip. (I could just as easily have written an article asking whether someone like Carol Bartz would ever have been appointed chief executive of Yahoo! if she were just another – male – boardroom bully.)

Such women, who have done more through their actions than Sue Black will ever achieve through her plaintive accusations of unfairness, deserve a different class of advocacy from this divisive drivel.