From nannies to networking

While many British women credit the influx of foreign institutions, particularly American banks, with setting a new standard for professional women, the demand for indigenous solutions is growing. Currently everything from fledgling women's networks to assertiveness training seminars to the first-ever women-in-management course (designed by Manpower Ltd., one of the world's largest temporary help agencies) is being used by British women to bootstrap their way from the secretarial to the executive ranks.

Some of the more visible areas include:

* Legislation: In response to European Community (EC) criticisms regarding British women's legal rights, Parliament recently passed amendments to the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts allowing women to claim equal pay for work of equal value. However, women's groups, trade unions, and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) remain dissatisfied with the amended laws, saying significant loopholes remain. ''In the race for women's rights in the workplace, this bill simply adds more hurdles,'' says EOC press officer Barbara Ford.

* Politics: For many British feminists the most imperative demand is simply to gain a more direct say in government. While one-third more women ran for office in the last election, the number of female members of Parliament has remained the same. At present only 23 of 650 MPs are women - statistically the lowest proportion in Western Europe. ''We can't get more women in office if they don't stand (for election),'' says Gillian Gee, an organizer of the ''300 Group, '' a multiparty organization formed three years ago to increase the number of female MPs.

* Reentry programs: With growing numbers of older women returning to the work force, the demand for company-sponsored reentry programs is increasing. One of the largest banks in Britain, National Westminster, has adopted what many consider to be England's first program actually guaranteeing working executive mothers a job at their same level after five years out for childrearing. Officials say two other banks are considering similar programs.

* Child care: In the country of the traditional nanny, day care (or childminding, as it is called here) has become one of the most hotly debated topics. Statistics indicate that Britain has the highest percentage of working mothers of any EC country and that the average number of years that working women now spend at home for childrearing is only five. In addition, a recent study by London University's Institute of Education shows that much of private-sector day care is unsatisfactory.

''The great rallying cry here is that nannies, like men's personal secretaries, should be tax deductible,'' says Sue Arnold, a columnist for The Observer magazine and the mother of several children. ''Many working women are trying to start up creches (day-care centers) at their offices, but many companies' attitude is, 'Make your own arrangements.' ''

* Networking: Virtually unknown a few years ago, women's organizations and self-help groups are sprouting up across the country. City Women's Network, one of the oldest and largest such organizations, was originally founded by a small group of expatriate American women. Today its membership is in the hundreds and almost evenly divided between American and British women.

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