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It’s been quite a week for gender equality issues what with the Golden Globes and the ongoing fall-out from Carrie Gracie’s resignation. 2018 promises to be interesting. Daughter one has been reading out reports about Hollywood actors indignantly. She can’t understand why anyone put up with that level of abuse and she’s becoming a bit jaded. “Wearing black dresses isn’t going to change the men,” she said. I told her that the dresses are symbolic of a fierce coming together of people who are absolutely determined that their daughters or grand daughters don’t have to go through the same thing.
I highlighted the gender pay issue. Women are not prepared to stand for excuses about why they might be paid less for doing the same job, I said.
Despite its weakness, the gender pay legislation is shining the cold light of day on gender politics at work and it’s a complex picture. There is the fact that some women doing similar jobs to men are not being paid the same, but that is only one part of it.
An issue that comes up time and again is that there aren’t enough women in senior roles and that that skews gender pay statistics. Why is that? Part of it is that women have babies and go on leave and end up taking the lion’s share of the caring role. Shared Parental Leave was designed – and subsequently diluted – to encourage dads to take more parental leave so that the default was not that women are the primary carer and men rarely see their kids.
Part of it is that managers are reluctant to have conversations with women about their careers post-baby and make assumptions about what they want and that they will want that for ever.
Part of it is that women are not being promoted up the ranks – because they don’t apply for more senior jobs unless they feel they have all the qualifications and because they believe they have to be better than the men to progress. What came first – the chicken or the egg?
Part of it is blatant discrimination – and not just pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Workingmums.co.uk put out a call in September to workers to ask if their career had suffered due to working flexibly. We had scores of replies overnight. Many were full-time workers who wanted just a small degree of flexibility. Most of them who encountered problems ended their email in the same way. “And so I left and I am now working flexibly but earning xxx thousand less.”
Women Today, Women Tomorrow, a recent study of the former students of Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge, found that the biggest challenges they faced in their careers was a lack of support in the workplace. That included bullying, direct discrimination, the feeling that they had to work harder than men to be recognised and a macho culture.
Then there is the fact that women tend to go into professions which don’t earn as much, tend to gravitate to the jobs that don’t result in promotion to senior roles, tend to study the subjects that don’t get them the high paid roles, not to mention the myriad ways in which we undermine girls’ self confidence. Why?
There is work being done by good employers to address all of these issues – to have regular career development sessions for all workers and not to assume that flexible workers will never want to move, to target schools and get girls to think carefully about the subjects they choose, to promote Shared Parental Leave and flexible working for all, to mentor and sponsor women to progress…
Too often, though, a lot of initiatives that mean well seem to be merely tick box diversity and don’t address the underlying issues.
Earlier this week I read a tweet by Sophie Walker from the Women’s Equality Party about BAFTA’s diversity scheme for women directors.
She wrote: “Great. But women don’t need special schemes with catchy names in order to get ahead in film. We need men to fund, distribute and champion our work. Hell, maybe even watch it and nominate it for awards. As equals. Not a ‘diversity’ exercise.“
That comment could apply to many diversity initiatives which can treat women as charity cases and as if they are the problem rather than the environment they find themselves in, an environment which can often feel hostile and that in many cases seems built on the idea that workers don’t have children and that small human beings – the future workforce – don’t need nurturing.
Those who are making the most progress in getting women into more senior positions recognise that it is work culture that needs to change and that that begins with educating and encouraging managers to manage better and to understand that their job is to get the best out of every member of their team. It’s something that employers urgently need to tackle, particularly in light of statistics out this week showing more than 14,000 more women graduates than men received firsts.
I would like to say to daughter one that I am optimistic about equal pay, although realistic about the challenge, because I have spoken to literally hundreds of women and men who get this and who absolutely passionately want to create a more level playing field for her generation, a generation which faces huge barriers to equality on almost every level.
Carrie Gracie’s resignation letter stated: “It is painful to leave my China post abruptly and to say goodbye to the team in the BBC’s Beijing bureau. But most of them are brilliant young women. I don’t want their generation to have to fight this battle in the future because my generation failed to win it now.”
The genie is out of the bottle on this one and employers would be wise not to underestimate what the stakes are and how fiercely we will fight for the next generation.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.