Category Archives: Maths: Women: Money

A step by step guide to speaking maths

For fourteen years I have talked to many mathematicians, and – speaking as a professional interviewer – sometimes I have found that very difficult.

Recently, I blurted this out to a revered mathematician and – to my surprise – he understood what I meant. And this is what he told me.

1. Mathematicians are very IMPATIENT people.

2. A good mathematician is not necessarily a good teacher. However, a good teacher can learn – relatively quickly – to teach up to and including Key 3 maths.

3. When talking to each other, mathematicians have no communication problems, but they can have difficulty when talking to a student because what is then needed is a restrictive language with a smaller vocabulary, for each age and ability.

Imagine a staircase, said my friendly mathematician. At the top of the staircase two maths teachers, Pat and Alex, are happily chatting to each other about maths.

On the bottom step stands a five-year-old. On the second step stands a
six-year-old, and so on. The maths teachers cannot easily adjust their communication level about maths to either of them… or a ten-year-old or a fourteen-year-old.

Mathematicians like talking to each other at the top of the stairs, because it makes them feel more secure. But a good maths teacher needs to be able to communicate well about maths on every level of the staircase.

Copyright © Shirley Conran 2015

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If I Were Prime Minister

The Guardian recently asked me what I would do if I were Prime Minister for the day. In the morning I would probably redesign the out-dated British political system, because Democracy worked in Ancient Greece but it doesn’t work in modern Greece – or here.

In the afternoon, I would immediately bring back hanging, but only for selected politicians. An aim would be humiliation. The guilty would be hung for the day in that contraption in which Boris was suspended, and they would all wear bathing suits two sizes too small.

Hanging offenses would be:

1. Underestimating public intelligence and mathematical ability, especially when costing a proposal.

2. Answering questions with a pat, party proclamation that had nothing to do with the question (step forward, Yvette Cooper).

3. Using vague, woolly, feel-good phrases that amount to zilch. Examples of woolliness from the Lib Dem Manifesto that also might be useful for a Miss World speech were: “Prosperity for all… quality care for all… and protecting Nature.” (Source: BBC TV news 28 April 2015).

4. Appealing to unaffordable, impractical sentimentality (stand up, Nicola Sturgeon, whose policy is not-turning-my-back-on-all-African-immigrants-on-all-boats).

5. Suggesting any policy to be funded by hazy scapegoats such as “banks”, “rich people”, “rich foreign bankers”.

6. Using any words that openly encourage class hatred (Ed Miliband, you might lay off “the rich”, by which I suppose you mean only people with three kitchens such as yourself).

7. Being a political coward, such as those who continue to ban recreational drugs, rather than try to test-sell them like tobacco, ferociously taxed.

8. Suggesting any policy that doesn’t fit within the current Budget (yes, you, Mrs Green who wants to employ a million more public servants).

9. Using Financial SmokeScreenSpeak. There are only two possibilities, as I’ve said before: either a politician is too stupid to tell the difference between the National Debt (currently over £1.3 Trillion) and the Current Budget Overspend – or they don’t want us to understand the difference because they don’t want to be caught out when increasing both.

The National Debt is the total amount of money that Britain owes its lenders and that needs to be repaid; this sum increases every time the Government currently spends more than it receives, which is Current budget overspend.

Sadly, the Government we’ve got may well do what it tells us not to do: it will overspend with no clear, logical date-pegged plan for repayment, and it will try to conceal this with Financial SmokeScreenSpeak. They’d never get a mortgage.

Copyright © Shirley Conran 2015

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The national debt and the budget overspend

The national debt and the budget overspend

Shirley Conran

Political smokescreen-speak may well confuse two items that are vital to this election, the national debt and the budget overspend.

The national debt is the total amount of money that Britain owed to its lenders and which needs to be repaid.

Every time the Government spends more money than it receives in taxes, there is a budget overspend – the amount that needs to be borrowed to bridge the gap for that year’s spending.

Every time the Government overspends, the amount of money borrowed will add to the national debt.

Whatever Government we get, it will do what it tells us not to do: it will recklessly overspend, with no clear, explicit plan for repayment, and it will try to conceal this with political smokescreen-speak.

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Girls’ poor performance in maths and science is down to sexism

Girls’ poor performance in maths and science is down to sexism

The Sunday Times article on girls and maths
The Sunday Times reported that girls are performing poorly in maths and science and that the gender gap with boys is one of the biggest in the world.

“The gap between UK girls’ and boys’ performance in the Pisa science tests is 13 percentage points, compared with an average gap across all 67 countries of just one point, the OECD report said. The gap in Colombia is 18 points and the UK is one of four countries with gaps of between 10 and 15 points.

“This weekend critics warned that British girls were being denied the chance to take up highly paid careers in industry because of sexist attitudes and poor teaching in schools, and said they hoped that the OECD report would serve as a wake-up call.”

Shirley commented: “Girls’ poor performance in maths and science in UK schools is  because of sexism. Maths and science are a feminist issue. It is a myth that boys are better at them then girls.”

The OECD tables were published on 5 March 2015.


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What Do Prince Harry, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tinie Tempah Have in Common?

Prince Harry He For She Campaign

Prince Harry, feminist, says, “Real men treat women with dignity and give them the respect they deserve.”

Why do I feel that this time it’s going to be different? That the Fourth Wave of Feminism will actually achieve equality?

Because the men are different.

Compared to the unafraid, more serious, individualist men of today, the macho but fearful, grey flannel Suits of the 70s were waxworks.

Today’s men can see the logic of the situation: it makes sense not to waste 50% of the country’s brains. It makes sense to dump the medieval attitude of men towards women that has so clearly not been dumped by Islamic extremists. It is only fair to treat women as equals, rather than unpaid servants.

In the 70s, the male backlash against feminism was instant and brutally effective. Feminists were branded hairy-legged, saggy-breasted, aggressive lesbians.

Worse – they were “unfeminine”. Nobody has yet worked out what “unfeminine” means because to be a woman is, by definition, to be feminine.

But – after years of being taught how to be feminine by women’s magazines – Seventies’ women were terrified of being unfeminine.

This time round, the women’s magazines head the Feminism Uprising and the leader is feisty Lorraine Candy. Wanting Equal Pay doesn’t stop you wearing heels and shopping for lacy underwear at Agent Provocateur: you can be a feminine feminist.

Lorraine Candy, Editor-in-Chief, Elle Magazine. Photo by Victoria Adamson

Lorraine Candy. Photo by Victoria Adamson


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How Julia Broke Big

How Julia Broke Big

Julia Hobsbawm

Julia Hobsbawm










My friend Julia failed academically at school and didn’t go to university. So how did she become a professor?

“Networking is social navigation – it’s as much about what to look for as who to know,” says Julia Hobsbawm, who wrote and presented the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Networking Nation’.

Think of networking music producer and talent-spotter Simon Cowell, who built up his business through classic networking. Think of, which started small with a good idea and now gets more than 60 million page-views a month – which is more than the entire population of Ireland or Greece, as every politician knows. So start small, think big.

“Building up your own network is like building your fitness,” says Julia. “You don’t diet and lose weight overnight, or run a marathon in a week. You slowly change your behaviour as you find out what works and what doesn’t. You need patience and stamina to keep going.”

By 2012 Julia had been made Honorary Visiting Professor in Networking at Cass Business School in London. In 2014 the Foreign & Commonwealth Office invited her to join its Diplomatic Excellence Panel.

“It’s not enough to join Facebook or Twitter then leave it at that,” Julia warns, “Face-to-face matters hugely, even in a Facebook age. You get a direct connection when you meet someone, look into someone’s eyes and hear their voice. People who meet others are happier than those who simply stay online.”

So leave the keyboard sometimes. Get out there and party.

Follow Julia Hobsbawm on Twitter: @juliahobsbawm
Find out more at

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Six Money Survival Tips

Six Money Survival Tips

1. a) From now on, take ALL responsibility for your financial future. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, especially someone you love. This is simple, but it takes time.

1. b) Don’t rely on ANYONE ELSE in financial matters. Not your mum, dad, boyfriend, girlfriend, accountant. NO-ONE.

2. Allocate a specific time, say two hours on the first Saturday morning each month. Your money and your peace of mind will depend on this adult habit.

3. Always check – by email if possible – that what someone says they will do is actually done ON TIME. Monitor anything that is to be done by someone else. Monitoring is polite nagging and you will quickly find out that it is ESSENTIAL.

Nagging is the repetition of a question that someone doesn’t want to answer.

a) Together, fix a day for the job to be completed.

b) Send an email before the due date as a reminder.

c) Send an email the day after the due date, to ask if they’ve done it.

d) If the answer is anything but YES, repeat this procedure until the job is done.

4. Keep a scribbled note of any financial meetings. Don’t rely on the person who is supposed to be taking notes.

5. Years ago, I asked a Texan oil zillionaire what was the most useful financial tip he had ever been given. This is what he told me and I’m grateful.

Date notes. Date everything you write – top right-hand corner – and always include the year.

6. Always check your bank balance. Banks make errors.

I wrote this for the financial literacy course for 1st year university students in Newcastle.

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Sexism and Maths

Sexism and Maths

Carol Vorderman and her daughter Katie

Carol Vorderman and her daughter Katie

Carol Vorderman (seen above with her daughter Katie) is the popular face of maths in Britain. Carol recently wrote about the myth that men are better at maths than women (not true) and the myth that maths is an unsuitable subject for girls (not true).

“It is undoubtedly a myth that men are better at maths than women. There is no factual basis for that assumption.”

“During the Renaissance and throughout the 19th century it was claimed by popular opinion (male) that women’s brains were too soft to sustain rigorous theory… That the female skull was too small to hold a powerful brain, and that exercising a woman’s brain would shrink her ovaries.” The threat was that she might not be able to have children.

“There persists in Britain a belief that girls shouldn’t do maths…and this can have a massive effect on girls’ performance.”

“The one thing I tell parents all the time is: please do not tell your children (male or female) that maths is ‘hard’, or ‘boring’, or ‘girls don’t do it’, as you will set them up badly for life to believe that is the truth, when it isn’t.”

“If you aren’t taught maths well by the age of 11, you will rarely catch up without outside help.”

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The nightmares of war

The nightmares of war

I was seven years old when World War II started. Our home was bombed, friends were killed, but nothing horrific happened in front of me. However, my stomach shrank fearfully whenever I saw a photo or film of a German helmet – until I was 50 years old.

What are the survivors of the Israeli attack on sleeping children in Gaza going to fear for the next 50 years? Going to sleep? Waking up? Getting through the day?

Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev told the BBC that Israel would apologise if it discovered that it was responsible.

Some might think that’s adding a real insult to real injuries. An “apology” is not going to wipe away the nightmare memories of those sad and terrified children.

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Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

Personal Ability
- A long phone conversation lasts 30 seconds.
- One mood can fit his entire life.
- He expects astonished approval for the smallest act of consideration, such as tidying the fridge.
- He doesn’t need a mechanical jar opener.
- Car mechanics tell him the truth.
- When consulting a road map and driving from North to South, he can say, “Turn left,” with accuracy.

- He will never be pregnant.
- When meeting people, they never stare at his chest.
- He never has a bad hair day.
- The same hairstyle lasts for years, perhaps decades.
- He can disguise a double chin with a beard. A moustache is optional.
- All his underwear costs under £10, comes in one pack, and he doesn’t need to try it on in the store.
- His new shoes were not designed by the Spanish Inquisition.
- Sneakers, moccasins, black formal…who needs more shoes?
- One wallet lasts a lifetime.
- With maybe seven pockets in his jacket and pants, no handbag needed.
- His wardrobe fits into a wardrobe.

- Weddings plan themselves.
- Family holidays plan themselves.
- A holiday requires only one suitcase.
- A weekend wardrobe fits in a carry-on bag.
- He can play with toys all his life. It is accessing his inner child. Adorable.
- He cannot be expected to remember his wedding anniversary or his wife’s birthday, unless he has a PA.
- He never worries about the nutritional value of the supper he’s just cooked; he just expects applause.
- If he says sorrowfully, “I know I’m a bad father,” he expects this to be treated as an honourable excuse.

- The world is his urinal.

- At work, he never feels guilty.
- Same work, more pay.

Note: My brother sent me this. I’ve tweaked it a bit.

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