Much like asking turkeys to vote for a prolonged Christmas, how absurd is it that we should expect you guys to just reject the blatant unfairness of a system that benefits you, asks Frances Mensah Williams
March 8th is when International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world and while it’s always a good time to cheer with the sisterhood about our economic, social and political achievements and highlight what’s not so good in our world, I thought I would use the occasion to address our male readers this time.
The media has been full of the usual stories that circulate at this time of year in the lead up to IWD. You know the ones: the ever-present pay gap between men and women doing the same job, the preponderance of women in low paid part-time jobs far below their level of capability, the lack of women on the boards of companies, and so on. So then, March comes and goes and the attention of our fickle media moves onto other matters – until next March starts to roll around and we start the process again.
But it strikes me that this inequality situation continues to exist not because women aren’t doing anything about addressing it, but because not everyone thinks it’s their problem. So the question I’d really like to pose is: guys, honestly, do you really have an issue with the inequality that women face in the workplace?
The obvious answer should probably be ‘Not really’. After all, who readily gives away their in-built advantages? Whether those advantages come through race, ethnicity or class, those people who are benefiting from the status quo tend either not to realise it, or justify it as the result of others’ inadequacies rather than an unfair advantage, or point to a few exceptions to disprove the notion, or quite happily and blatantly exploit the system.
Much like asking turkeys to vote for a prolonged Christmas, how absurd is it that we should expect you guys to just reject the blatant unfairness of a system that benefits you?
When It’s Your Daughter
In a recent opinion piece, New York Times columnist Charles Blow voiced his outrage at the idea that his daughter, a great student and championship fencer with ambitions to study medicine, will be a victim of this systemic disadvantage.
“When I think of my amazing young lady going off into a world where there is still a gender-pay gap, it makes me furious,” he says.
He has cause for concern. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the gender pay gap in the medical arena has not only persisted but actually widened. Even after allowing for adjustments for speciality, practice type and hours worked, this inequality, the authors conclude, “may be due not only to preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities.”
Well, guys, my guess is that it bothers Charles Blow because it’s his daughter that’s going to feel the pain and discrimination of being a woman in the field of medicine. But, does it have to become personal before it becomes your problem? Maybe so.
Maybe it also needs to bother you financially before it becomes your problem? The fact is that businesses that don’t value women are losing business. Not only because the purchasing power of females is more significant today than ever before, but because we all like to do business with people that look like us or that we feel can relate to us. When the women in your company aren’t feeling the love, how’s that going to translate to doing good business with 50% of the market?
Guys, maybe all this inequality business might bother you if you had fewer women interested in working for your business? In a recent survey of 2,000 working women, one in ten of those canvassed said there were no women in senior positions in their organisation. The fact is that when women don’t see other women in senior roles in companies, they are put off applying.
Would it bother you if it turns out you’re wasting money on recruitment, training and developing people who don’t stay long enough to give you a return on your investment? The fact is that an increasing number of professional and highly qualified women are starting up their own businesses. Why? The reasons vary but recent research from the UK CIPD points to a key reason as “unhappiness with the gender pay gap and glass ceiling in corporate life.” What’s this loss of talent doing to your business and your bottom line?
Does it bother you to know that ‘the Paula Principle’ – a term coined by workforce researcher Dr Tom Schuller to describe the status of females working well below their level of competence – is alive and well in today’s workplace and that you’re not getting full value from the talent on your payroll? Dr Schuller warns that “radical” action is needed because while the gender pay gap may appear to be closing for younger women, it is happening more slowly than the rate at which the gender competence gap is widening.
A study by law firm Slater & Gordon found that one-quarter of those surveyed felt under pressure after the birth of their child to leave their position or reduce their role. The fact is that it is your hard-working wives, mothers, sisters and daughters that are getting less than they deserve – particularly when 1 in 3 working mothers in the UK are the main breadwinners. And that should bother you.
So maybe International Women’s Day shouldn’t just be about women celebrating their achievements or bemoaning their lack of progress in key areas. Maybe International Women’s Day should be about asking you guys to step up and do the right thing. To realise that when women are treated as ‘less than’, it doesn’t make men bigger, but rather lessens us all.
Maybe when more guys like you refuse to accept the status quo; the unfair salary offer to the new girl, the holding back of promotion for that woman in the office who won’t make a fuss anyway, the rolled eyes at that Marketing Director who’s leaving early because her kid is sick. Maybe, just maybe, that’s when we’ll all have a lot more to celebrate the next time March 8th rolls around.
A major cultural shift is required to tackle the problem of female inequality, says Tom Schuller. Indeed, when he considers his daughter’s future, Charles Blow realises that he – and other guys – have a role to play.
“I don’t see this as a women’s issue, but a societal issue and a moral one,” Blow says. “This is not an issue for men to observe from a distance, because we are integral parts of it. First, there is little distance to be had: We all have mothers, and many of us have sisters, wives or daughters. Second, lower pay for women is only apparent in its relation to higher pay for men. So men are woven through the fabric of this issue.”
As the philosopher Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” For gender equality to turn into more than a battle cry, good guys need to do something. Your help is needed if the professional world is to become diverse and women more fairly treated. It might not bother you today but the fact is that one day you’ll realise that it is also your problem.
So, guys, over to you…
Frances Mensah Williams is the CEO of Interims for Development Ltd and Managing Editor of ReConnect Africa.com. She is the author of ‘I Want to Work in… Africa – How to Move your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent’ (www.IWanttoWorkinAfrica.com) and ‘Everyday Heroes – Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals’. Available online from www.everyday-heroes.co.uk and on order through booksellers.