By Marian Schembari (New York City)
Both London and New York are, without question, bustling cultural centers with amazing diversity and a lack of cheap parking. And, because both are considered the world’s predominant financial centers, home to the largest corporations and professional service firms in the world, an epic battle continues to rage on as to which is really the best, the most welcoming, and the easiest to live and work for professional women.
The Glass Hammer decided to take on this debate, turning to statistics and ex-pat community boards to determine the pros and cons of life and work in each of these cities for professional women.
- Work/life balance: New York is go, go, go. The American mindset of working too hard, pathetic excuses for vacation time and the “crackberry” make us frantic and stressed. London is hectic, but it doesn’t seem to be moving all the time. New York’s professional women in corporations and professional services are, according to Law Crossing.com, “more likely to feel constantly ‘on call,’ as opposed to the Londoner, who will likely enjoy her three-day holiday weekend without attaching [her] Blackberry to their ski boot or scuba gear.” Londoners are likely to feel significantly less stressed than New Yorkers, due to more vacation time and their slower pace.
- Maternity Leave: London wins this hands down with its generous national maternity leave policies. New York, in comparison, is way behind. According to Catalyst research, women can take an average of 6 weeks off with 55% salary, but usually new mothers use that in combination with short-term disability and sick leave. A 2008 benefits survey found that only 15% of US companies offer leave beyond what is covered by short-term disability. British women, on the other hand, are given a minimum of 2 weeks off but are qualified for additional maternity leave up to 26 weeks.
- Role Models: U.S. pulls far ahead of the U.K. — 42.8% to 34% — with more women role models in senior positions, such as managers and CEOs, in the corporate world. This creates an environment in which women looking to climb the corporate ladder have more opportunity to see top women to emulate. There are also more mentoring opportunities from women who’ve been there/done that.
- Transportation: New York definitely has London beat in terms of public transport. The subway system is old, dirty, and complicated, but it doesn’t stop at midnight like the London Underground. Plus, NYC taxis are affordable and accessible while London cabs either break the bank or are seriously unsafe and illegal. Extra points to London just for the Oyster card though; New York’s Metrocards are ridiculous and unreliable.
- Shoes: One community member of uk-yankee.com said, “London’s cobblestone streets are killer in high heels.” For women everywhere who don’t want to wear sneakers on their walk to work? Move to New York – its streets are significantly more fashion friendly.
- Weather: Yes, cliché, but New York earns serious points for weather. We’ve been having a disgustingly rainy couple of weeks but at least we know summer is right around the corner. Nothing makes a work day better than a walk outside. Unfortunately for Londoners, lunches are spent over a desk or under an umbrella. Sorry.
- Dating: As one ex-pat put it, “As far as dating prospects for the single, professional woman, if you’re straight, those British accents are killer. If you’re lesbian, you still get the attractive accent with the benefit of being able to legally marry.” So London pulls ahead again with sexy accents and LGBT-friendly laws.
- Cost of Living: Although New York is still relatively expensive as compared to other cities in the States, female executives living on this side of the Pond shell out significantly less money for the essentials. According to a 2007 article in the UK paper The Guardian, “Though New York remains the most expensive city in America, it has one overwhelming advantage over London in its lower cost of living. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks London as the seventh priciest city in the world, New York as 27th.” So if you are in New York, you get to keep more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket.
- Liquid Lunches: Something about getting a couple pints during lunch creates a bond between coworkers in London that just doesn’t exist in New York. It’s like the American equivalent to golfing with the boss. However, in London, the ladies aren’t left out of fun little field trips.
- Food: Surprisingly, the food in London goes above and beyond. However, a lack of street vendors (for those world-famous New York hot dogs and potato knishes) and the lack of decent bagel is a crime.
It’s a bit of a cop out not to choose between New York and London, but the positives for both are exactly fifty-fifty. While British policies may be more female friendly, professional women have significantly more power across the Atlantic. I feel like I should root for the Motherland, so here’s my advice: If you’re a professional woman who doesn’t mind the rain and plans on having lots of babies, go to London. Head to New York if you strive to be CEO or love your liver, your Manolos, or your bagels.