This weekend, there was a furore over remarks made by John Allan, the chairman of Tesco - apparently the UK's biggest retailer. At an event aimed at encouraging more women and ethnic minorities into the UK's boardrooms, he apparently said
“For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future. If you are a white male, tough – you are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”
The headlines which were drawn from this were 'Tesco Chairman says white men are an endangered species in the boardroom'. Accompanying reports construed the remarks as complaints. From a white man who is one of twelve Tesco board members - nine of whom are white men. Mr Allan's reposte to the criticism was that in the context of his speech - to an audience he was trying to encourage to aim for board level - he was actually supporting women and ethnic minorities.
What puzzles me, though, is how in 2017, we are only just finding white men in board rooms to be an endangered species. It is almost a century since women got the vote. It is over forty years since feminism really began to ramp up the pressure. And yet at the UK's biggest retailer, there are still only three women board members - despite what must be a huge female clientele.
Why are we not angrier? Why are white men only now endangered? Why are they, well, not extinct but still appallingly dominant? And as for ethnic minority representation...
It is over twenty years since I started a job at the House of Commons. I worked for one of just sixty female MPs. It was a rampantly male environment, despite the departure of Thatcher only four years before I arrived. It is nearly twenty years since I worked for a very well known investment bank. Which still has not had a female leader, to my knowledge. We currently have only our second female Prime Minister. Not exactly vocal about women's place in the world though, is she?
I have written before of the need to stay united. The Women's March must not be a moment. It must be the start of something new. We should be furious about wages and job prospects as well as about our right to abortion, contraception, personal safety. Until women have more political and financial power, campaigns for other rights will revolve around trying to convince white men to do what we want, behave how we want.
Our ancestors, near and far, would be horrified at the lack of progress.
Mr Allan was, it seems to me, trying to make a poor joke about how men should be worried for their positions in the coming years. Actually, the issue is how this this 'joke' is still even relevant when it comes to numbers and representation. Thanks to his own high profile, he has (unwittingly) called attention to the disgrace of the last hundred years. How did it come to 2017 and men are only just endangered in the boardroom...