Women have had a raw deal for thousands of years. Denied education, the right to vote – or, even as recently as the 70s, requiring the counter-signature of their husbands in order to open a bank account – women were burnt at the stake under vague suspicion of witchcraft. In the modern world, they are far more likely than men to be single parents.
Studies regularly show that women earn less for the same work (there’s a reason why the chorus of the song is “SHE works hard for her money”). “It’s a man’s world”, and in this world men are the bosses.
It shouldn’t be necessary, nearly 100 years after Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse during the running of the Epsom Derby to bring attention to the suffragette cause, for there to be awards identifying exceptional women in business.
My grandmother, Margaret de Wet (read more about her here), was exactly that type of woman, but it may have taken the tragically early death of her husband to thrust her into that role when she took over the large family farm.
I have similar admiration for my mother, Veronica Foulkes, who at the age of 22 had two young boys to raise on her own after leaving a disastrous marriage. All the success she’s enjoying as an owner-breeder in the Sport of Kings (note the masculine inference) after decades of seriously hard work is richly deserved.
I suppose it’s no coincidence that the woman who shares my life, Andrea, has built an amazing catering business from scratch. And, last night we attended the regional Business Women’s Association regional awards where my sister, Tracy, who created NoMU, won the Entrepreneur category.
There was a point during the evening when I needed the wine list (for the obvious reasons). I was horrified to find Warwick’s First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon priced at R190 (sorry, Crystal Towers Hotel I have to name you). The night before we’d had the same wine at a neighbourhood restaurant. Then, I thought the R135 price tag tended a bit towards price-gouging, but this was just outrageous. Based upon a retail price in the vicinity of R69 per bottle I’m assuming the trade price must be about R50. In my view a wine list price in the vicinity of R100 to R120 would have been fair, but R190?
It got me thinking about profit margins, and what businesses deliver to justify them. In the case of the bottle of First Lady, Crystal Towers took no risk and added no value beyond opening the bottle and providing an admittedly superior glass for drinking it. In contrast, Warwick, which famously had Norma Ratcliffe as woman winemaker and champion for many years, carries a huge amount of risk. It doesn’t seem fair.
The evening ended with an impromptu charity auction conducted by one of the night’s winners, Ariella Kuper. Auctioneers, of course, earn a set, published commission – their margin – which may explain some of the reason why auctions are so popular. Ariella worked the room with humour and no small amount of sass. She is also attractive, completing a package that must stand her in good stead when she’s pushing a roomful of men for an extra bid. In time, gender will become less and less of an issue, but the thorny matter of sex will still be around.
Men may hold the world’s financial power, and to a diminishing extent, the political power, but when it gets to the bedroom their women wear the pants. Perhaps women have been denied so much in the real world in retribution for withheld conjugal ‘rights’. OK, I’m sorry, I’m straying into territory better handled by a doctoral thesis.
The point of the story is that I’m enormously proud of the women in my family who have so convincingly beaten the odds. You guys rock!