Stamping out ‘mediocre men’, making way for wonder women

Venture capitalist Eileen Burbridge is “one of the most powerful women in the UK’s burgeoning tech scene,” The Telegraph informs us via an interview this week. She is also an adviser to Her Majesty’s Treasury and co-founder and partner at Passion Capital -- a venture capital firm that has invested in the likes of Monzo, GoCardless and Lulu, a private social network for single women.

Having achieved this eminence on her own merits – she does not like quotas and never wanted to be a “token woman” – she is on a mission to remove gender bias in the workplace by removing “mediocre men”.

“It’s not that women are asking for the bar to be lowered,” she insists. “We’re just asking for mediocre men to be pulled out. Not enough deserving and talented people get through, so I’m all for mediocrity being stamped out.” (“Mediocre men must be stamped out,” August 7, 2018).

Ms Burbridge certainly seems to have it all, and as usual with such wonder women, everyone wonders how they do it. The answer – which is slightly less wonderful – is that behind every successful woman are half-a-dozen others doing her work – the unpaid, unsung work which is now regarded as of less importance than “real” work.

She has “supportive colleagues” but gets paid an awful lot, enabling her to pay for a day nanny and also a full-time nanny to look after her own children from an earlier marriage as well as her partner’s child from his earlier marriage – a “happy brood of five children.”

In order to “balance career and family life,” she and her partner “look after the children every other week, with their former ex-partners [sic] sharing the care-giving duties equally.” It is a moot point whether the children are really happy being shunted from pillar to post while coping with the idea of their real parents treating other children as if they were their real children, but Ms Burbridge will be able to afford therapy for them if the need arises.

An American immigrant of Chinese origins, she admits that she has “been very fortunate” and has profited somewhat “from being the only female student in the lecture hall, and the only woman in the boardroom.” However, she still sees herself as the champion of women who have “failed” to reach such giddy heights -- without asking whether this is because most women do not want to be venture capital supremos.

She helpfully suggests that women climbing the career ladder like herself take a month out in their 20s and 30s to freeze their eggs. “You don’t have to use or donate them, but it gives you options,” she advises. “I didn’t freeze any, and I wish I had.”

This is because at age 47 she wishes to have another child with her 32-year-old partner, although “after a second round of failed IVF, she is coming to terms with the idea that it might not be possible to have another biologically, and is looking at egg donation and adoption.” Clearly, younger women freezing their eggs could help in this project. Perhaps that is why she fails to mention some pertinent facts: the process of retrieving eggs can be extremely dangerous, and the success rate in creating embryos from thawed eggs is very low, although such processes help to make the UK fertility industry extremely profitable.  

Despite such inconvenient facts, interviewer Cara McGoogan regards this advice as “even more pertinent” given recent research suggesting that “there’s a shortage of eligible, educated men for high-flying women to marry,” and official figures showing a 22 per cent rise in single women going through IVF solo, “having not found Mr Right in time.”

And yet the more men who are “pulled out” of the workplace to make way for women, the fewer “eligible” men will be available. When she herself did not need any help getting there, it is puzzling that Ms Burbridge thinks we need to “make room” for talented women to reach the top, especially when removing mediocre men would simply result in more mediocre women at the top, fewer eligible men, and even more unhappy women at the bottom. 

Cara McGoogan is to be congratulated on finding a wealthy, powerful woman who is also a victim of sexism; who believes (despite the UK having its second woman Prime Minister) that politics “is so inherently sexist it’s unbelievable,” and who also ticks the sexual harassment box. Although “[c]ompared with politics, tech is a utopia,” she “copes with sexism and harassment” in the industry “by thinking carefully about which events she attends and how involved she is,” boycotting “a number of tech conferences  that have been known to host President Club-style models.”

Ironically, she wishes to impose her own sexist agenda on the workplace, but perhaps the most significant point about Ms Burbridge’s approach is that she fails to challenge a view of human worth that only values paid work. She challenges  the stereotyped “male” approach to achievement without acknowledging that this reflects the male instinct to provide; she simply wishes more women to emulate it even when they don’t want to.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).


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