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A Mirror on the Glass Ceiling

April 5, 2011

Guest post by Louise Patten

A challenge was always my weakness.

‘If we allow women in, the distinctive character of the college will be undermined!’ —  1984: Oriel College, Oxford.

So what if ninety per cent of students were male?  My father had gone to Oxford, and so would I.  A university degree later, I followed him again, this time to London’s financial centre and an investment bank where celibacy was the only option.

‘We don’t allow married women to stay in the fast track.’  ––  My boss, when I told him I was engaged.

I moved to a firm with a more enlightened attitude, but even so, I had this exchange with my line manager a few years later.

‘John and I are going to be parents!’

‘Oh Christ. You’ll give up work. ’

Another challenge, and I couldn’t resist it.  Three months’ statutory maternity leave, and then I was stumbling on up the career mountain until one day, much to my surprise, I found I was looking at the glass ceiling from above.

Happily, our daughter seems unscarred by the two-working-parent experience, but she’s observant of adult folly. I was strapping on the crampons for another career hike when she said,

‘Isn’t it time you did something you loved, Mummy? After all, you only went into business because of Charles.’

Charles. I rocked back on my metaphorical heels. Charles, the only son, the focus of all my parents’ ambition, killed by cancer when he was ten.  With my brother gone, my father left too, and I’d tried to bring him back by being what Charles might have been.

In the mirror my daughter held up, I reflected on my life in business. I’d seen power-struggles, passion, distorted ambition and virtually every other aspect of the fight between good and evil. My child was right. You couldn’t love a world like that, but then the plot-lines were incredible.

So I forgot about climbing and started to write.

Louise Patten is the author of Good as Gold and Bad Money, published by McArthur & Co in April 2011.

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