December 12, 2013 11:02 pm

Following in Gertrude’s footsteps

I frequently tell women to get out and build stronger networks to support their careers
©James Ferguson

It was Madeleine Albright who said that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. I cannot help but agree, very strongly, with the former US secretary of state, so this week I thought I would celebrate two women who have done much to help other women, selflessly and creatively.

The first is Miss Gertrude Mather-Jackson, who died in 1920 at the age of 62. The obituary carried in The Times tells us that she was a student at Girton College, and “passed the Mathematical Tripos in 1880, when the examinations of the University of Cambridge could only be taken informally by women”. In other words, she could not be awarded a Cambridge degree, by reason of her sex. Even so, she went on to sit on Girton’s council. During the first world war she helped to place land girls as part of the war effort.

Arguably though, Mather-Jackson’s greatest legacy was founding the University Women’s Club, which is with us still. In 1886 she called a meeting to discuss the need for a club for “university women”. Premises in Mayfair were duly secured and now the UWC’s building in Audley Square has bedrooms and facilities to rival any of its all-male peers.

I spoke there recently at a Women in Journalism event and afterwards was invited to join. “Why not?” I thought. I frequently tell women of all ages that they need to get out and build stronger networks to support their careers, but I don’t ever do as much as I would like to help them do that. So, I thought, why not join the UWC and set up some events for emerging female businesswomen to give them the helping hand I wish I had had at their stage of life?

Miss Mather-Jackson was buried in Llantilio Crossenny churchyard and I have vowed to visit her grave at the end of 2014 and report on my progress. I plan, for instance, to unite her love of the land with her love of getting women together, and start a series of workshops at UWC to teach women to shoot.

Mather-Jackson understood how important it was to support women, and I believe she would have approved of my other subject today, Jocelyn Hillman. Six years ago, Hillman set up Working Chance, a recruitment agency that specialises in placing female ex-offenders. I heard of it for the first time only in October, when the economist Vicky Pryce – who was jailed after taking her former husband Chris Huhne’s speeding points – agreed to become a patron of the charity.

Jocelyn Hillman turns out to be an FT Weekend reader and so knew that I was losing Longsuffering Lily. She got in touch hoping to suggest that Working Chance supply a replacement, but sadly she was too late. LL left this week, after two years of uncomplaining help, and I wish her well in her new editorial role at Rockpack, a video curation website. (A few days after LL resigned I was introduced at a function to a lady whose name badge said “Rockpack”. Do you run the company? I asked. Yes, she replied. This was the very woman who took my assistant! Some people might think that’s almost as bad as pinching a friend’s nanny!)

LL did have to nanny me, it is true, and her replacement, who starts in January, will probably have to as well. Of course I hope she stays for a while, but whenever she moves on I shall be talking to Working Chance.

Many of the women they are working with to place in voluntary and paid employment have strong administrative skills. It costs them on average £3,000 to put a woman into work; housing a woman in prison for a year, by contrast, costs the taxpayer £45,000. According to Hillman, Working Chance placements have repeat offending rates of less than 3 per cent, compared with rates in excess of 50 per cent at some other organisations. Many of her placements have done well and maybe one day some of them might even join the University Women’s Club. I am sure that Gertrude Mather-Jackson would have approved.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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