An inspiring story

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(Picture (c) Jason Bye, reproduced from Supply Management magazine)

Nothing in particular to do with writing, but I found myself sufficiently impressed to relate this story I’ve just come across in Supply Management magazine. (Yes, I know – rock n roll or what? I don’t read it for fun, I hasten to add – most of the content isn’t quite this interesting – but blame the day job.)

Karen Hester joined Adnams – a Southwold, UK based brewery – as a part-time cleaner in 1988. In April this year she was appointed as the company’s Chief Operating Officer, the first female board member in the company’s history. A pretty remarkable rise by any standards, but the full story is well worth reading – see the full article here. There are several things worth celebrating here:

  • For someone to start at the very bottom of a company and rise to more or less the very top is still, sadly, the exception rather than the rule. But through sheer hard work and basically being herself, Karen succeeded in doing just that.
  • The above is, unfortunately, still doubly true for women. More and more are shattering that glass ceiling, but upper management remains mainly male-dominated throughout the business world. I work in publishing, an industry in which females are well represented at pretty much every level except the very top. Almost all the executive VPs in my company are men, and it has never had a female CEO.
  • And it’s probably triply true for an industry like brewing, which doesn’t exactly spring to mind as a trailblazer for gender equality.
  • So well done also to Adnams for recognising and nurturing the talent in its ranks. It makes me want to rush out and buy their products right now. Which would be no hardship, as their beer is phenomenally good.
  • Karen comes across as a pretty remarkable individual generally. In the British Army at age 16, starting her own business four years later … perhaps her subsequent success isn’t so much of a surprise after all.

So this isn’t really about writing … but you can take this as an inspiration for writing or anything else – that with talent, persistence and hard work, amazing things are possible. But that success doesn’t always come overnight – and probably rarely does, to be honest. It took her 27 years to get from the mop cupboard to the boardroom, but she got there in the end. So let’s raise a pint of Adnams to Karen Hester.  Cheers!

Are men idiots?

A rhetorical question, you might say! Today I came across this article in a UK newspaper, and it got me thinking. (I usually blog about books or writing, but there is a connection – bear with me.)

The article contends that in modern, Western popular culture – in this case, television specifically – it has become commonplace for men to be portrayed in less than flattering ways. Certainly this can be seen in some advertising, where the male of the species are often seen to be shallow, simple and/or sex-obsessed, and frequently outwitted with ease by sassy, self-confident women.

Perhaps it’s the case that, quite rightly shy of overt sexism or racism, and possibly over-compensating for the overt gender stereotyping of the past (see below), mainstream advertisers have started to regard men as the easiest target.

Roles

For myself, as a man, I can see the article’s point, and I do think that some advertising is guilty of this. TV programmes, probably less so. (I don’t, for example, especially agree with his view about Outnumbered – yes, the dad in that show can be a bit wet, but so can the mum.) But equally I’m well aware that I live in a society where men still have it pretty good. Most top politicians, business executives and high earners still tend to be male – that’s changing, but slower than it ought to be. And it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves – and let’s face it, most stereotypes have at least some basis in reality …

Anyway – how does this link to writing? Just the thought that it’s important to avoid lazy stereotypes when creating characters – because it’s very easy to do. Specifically, as we strive to draw strong, compelling and authentic female characters in our stories, we should beware of the temptation to short-change the males. Especially the older ones. This may be especially a risk in teen / YA fiction, in which the younger characters are centre-stage and the older ones tend to be in the background and therefore in danger of being merely one-dimensional and under-developed – and if they’re also men, the risk may be higher.

One adult male character, Rob Black, appears in both my novels Falling Girl and BASIC Boy (though in the latter he’s a teenager half the time too). He’s middle-aged and male – the kind of character who, in YA fiction, might not come across in a very positive way. I’ve tried to avoid that, and I hope I’ve succeeded. He’s certainly flawed, and many of this shortcomings are brought into sharp focus as the stories unfold, but so is a deep courage and determination. In the end it’s the kids who really save the day of course, but he helps and he’s clearly there to support them. He’s certainly not an idiot – not entirely anyway. Or at least I hope not.