Need a tough boss ready to fire dead wood? Then def­i­nitely hire a woman

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Week Civil War Hit SNP - Alexan­dra Shul­man’s

AN EX-col­league con­tacted me re­cently to ask if I would pro­vide a ref­er­ence to her po­ten­tial new male boss. There was, she said, a par­tic­u­lar is­sue the boss was con­cerned about – would she be tough enough to fire peo­ple?

Hav­ing worked with her for years, I knew that her Gwyneth Pal­trow looks and Cal­i­for­nia Girl breezi­ness dis­guised a driven op­er­a­tor, never afraid to face prob­lems head-on and never one to shy away from dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions. Her ref­er­ence was safe in my hands.

I was re­minded of this watch­ing Fiona Bruce’s Ques­tion Time de­but, where she han­dled the un­ruly panel and opin­ion­ated au­di­ence with a com­bi­na­tion of con­fronta­tion and hu­mour. When her ap­point­ment was an­nounced, some ques­tioned whether she too would be tough enough – not to fire staff, but to ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Did that pleas­ant man­ner and those Home Coun­ties good looks house a bru­tal enough me­di­a­tor? The same doubts don’t seem to ap­ply to men. No­body ques­tions whether a hand­some man is able to fire staff or keep con­trol.

Nowa­days, if I were in the po­si­tion of re­cruit­ing some­one to carry out the nasty work, I think I’d most likely hire a woman. The axe might be wielded by a wrist­ful of friend­ship bracelets, but a woman’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to prove she isn’t a soft touch will make her as ev­ery bit as – if not more ruth­less than – a man, who will si­mul­ta­ne­ously be try­ing not to be la­belled an abu­sive brute.

I cured my cold – with a good old gos­sip

LIKE many, I fell foul of some low-grade lurgy over Christ­mas. I woke up ex­hausted and col­lapsed into bed ev­ery af­ter­noon, feel­ing as if I could sleep for ever.

As a fully paid-up hypochon­driac, when it still hadn’t cleared up af­ter New Year I be­came con­vinced I had some se­ri­ous blood dis­or­der and was about to book in to see the doc­tor for some tests.

Just be­fore I made the ap­point­ment, I got a call from a great friend who had been away dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­day. Half an hour of A-grade gos­sip later, I re­alised that, for the first time in weeks, I had got my bounce back and felt com­pletely fine.

Our ex­change of ru­mour, con­jec­ture and spec­u­la­tion had in­stantly achieved the re­sult that weeks of chok­ing down ex­pen­sive vi­ta­mins, rub­bing in es­sen­tial oils and gulp­ing cold reme­dies had failed to pull off.

Gos­sip is good for you – of­fi­cial!

Should kids be forced into uni, like I was?

A QUAR­TER of stu­dents who have taken out loans for their uni­ver­sity de­grees may in all like­li­hood ‘fail to de­liver enough’, ei­ther to pay back the loan or achieve a level of salary to make it worth fi­nanc­ing their ed­u­ca­tion in the first place, ac­cord­ing to re­search. One of the many con­se­quences of the in­tro­duc­tion of tu­ition fees is that de­grees are now ex­am­ined for profitabil­ity in the same way as busi­nesses. What re­turn on in­vest­ment can you ex­pect? I was per­suaded to go to uni­ver­sity by my par­ents, against my will. They ar­gued that I would learn how to learn. How to or­gan­ise ar­gu­ment, muster facts, and ul­ti­mately be in pos­ses­sion of a sub­stan­tial bit of kit – a de­gree – when it came to job-hunt­ing. I ar­gued that I wasn’t ever go­ing to be in­ter­ested in academia, there was no sub­ject I was in­ter­ested in study­ing, and I wanted to get a job and earn some money. Forty years later, I now con­sider we were both right.

Yes, I have been armed with the con­fi­dence that comes with hav­ing a de­gree but my dis­ser­ta­tion on cross-cul­tural sui­cide had lit­tle rel­e­vance to my first job man­ning the switch­board at Over21 mag­a­zine, and the short­hand and typ­ing course I took be­fore go­ing to uni­ver­sity was far more use­ful in get­ting my­self em­ployed.

Look­ing at my con­tem­po­raries, many of the high­est earn­ers ei­ther didn’t go to uni­ver­sity or scraped through, study­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. In con­trast, sev­eral of the clever­est and most com­mit­ted prob­a­bly still earn barely enough to be pay­ing back loans, had we paid tu­ition fees back then.

With the pro­lif­er­a­tion of uni­ver­sity cour­ses and grad­u­ates, hav­ing a de­gree car­ries less clout than it did.

Not ev­ery young per­son will find three years of uni the best use of their time. The il­lu­mi­na­tion of the won­ders of Sopho­cles or de­bat­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Eliot’s The Waste Land is a pre­cious ex­pe­ri­ence but it won’t nec­es­sar­ily get you a higher paid job.

Uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion should be val­ued for its own sake and not be mea­sured in terms of prospec­tive salary fig­ures or judged on grad­u­ates’ eco­nomic per­for­mance like the lat­est re­sults of Homebase.

The smart route to a bril­liant new life

CLOTHES are of­ten thought of as friv­o­lous, but Smart Works, the char­ity that has scooped Meghan as its new pa­tron, proves that wrong.

I’ve watched its staff guide an un­con­fi­dent, long-term un­em­ployed woman out of her leg­gings and sweat­shirt into a smart in­ter­view out­fit and be ut­terly trans­formed.

Sud­denly, they see them­selves as the per­son they are hop­ing to be. Sixty per cent get the job.

Heavy­weight stars hog­ging the lime­light

IT AP­PEARS that if you want to be an awards con­tender, the key is to gain a huge amount of weight. Olivia Col­man put on 2st for her per­for­mance in The Favourite, while Golden Globes win­ner Chris­tian Bale gained a stonk­ing 34 lb for his spec­tac­u­lar de­pic­tion of Dick Cheney in the forth­com­ing Vice. Too­dle pip, Size Zero.

Are fe­male knees RE­ALLY that ugly?

THE late Sir Hardy Amies was one of the great Bri­tish cou­turi­ers of the last cen­tury but last week the 73-year-old fash­ion house that bears his name fell into ad­min­is­tra­tion for the sec­ond time.

Sir Hardy was a man of strong opin­ions on the minu­tiae of life. He con­sid­ered there was noth­ing so vul­gar as be­ing handed a restau­rant menu – he al­ways pre-or­dered the meal. He swore by the mer­its of a daily lunchtime vodka mar­tini – and noth­ing but noth­ing could con­vince him that a woman’s knees weren’t the ugli­est part of her body and should be hid­den at all costs.

BIG ROLES: Bale as Dick Cheney and Olivia Col­man in The Favourite

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