As I sat to write this article I was listening to the radio as it somewhat synchronously started a discussion on equal pay and diversity. Why are women paid less than men? Some 40 years after equal pay and opportunities legislation the gap between women’s and men’s pay remains a matter of emotive debate.
There are many more men in senior positions in corporate world and public office, the subjects of previous articles, whilst there are far more women in part-time work. The profile of the work force still strongly favours the male. There was some debate regarding whether this was a reflection of society that was reflected in the business world or the business world imposing it’s own preferences onto society.
Society was held to account because of the way in which we structure it’s conditioning. The way that we teach and interact from a very early age boys differently than girls – the old train set versus dolly argument. Also, the apparent lack of inclination to sufficiently raise issues to our Government so that they can reflect our wishes in it’s new legislation – if we wanted more women in influential positions then we would ask more vociferously for it. And finally, that the current imbalance in Parliament means that these issues do not stand a chance of effective representation – a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy; turkey’s don’t vote for Christmas and the male majority will not vote to threaten it’s position of dominance. Business cannot be held responsible for the issues of the society as businesses is interested in profits and not social order. They operate within free market conditions and it is the market that provides it’s resources.
Big business was cited as the cause rather than suffering from the effects by virtue of it by imposing it’s requirements potential candidates in a way that perpetuates the status quo; back-filling it’s requirements through the education system. This would be particularly prevail ant when in difficult economic conditions where jobs are at a premium and risk taking is discouraged. The argument here is reinforced; businesses are self-promoting and will deploy as much or as little equality provided that the profits are secured; social issues can be addressed in times of boom it would seem!
So then is it a question for society to answer? Whilst we perpetuate stereotypes can we break the mould? I can only speak from personal experience here but I believe that not only can we, but we must. I am passionate about changing the way the world does business and I believe that women are the key. More yang less yin and the creation of a more ethical business “balance”. If I am to be any way successful in my venture it is essential that I have some considerable support from the women’s entrepreneurial community and as many in high office as possible. I am confident that I am making progress and so the question of women’s confidence is a particularly appropriate one. If women are to address the imbalance issue and secure far more senior roles, in fact more roles in general, then their own confidence and authenticity will need to be unquestioned.
I have worked around, for and over about as many women as men. Yes, I was lucky to work for an Equal Opportunities employer and I did work in an open office environment but the representation of men: women was around 60:40. Not perfect but not bad. Unfortunately all the senior roles were all men with a few notable exceptions. The attributes of the successful ones, and I mean they that achieved higher positions within the organisation and not on a personal level, were pretty mixed.
A quiet and phlegmatic head of accounts, a ‘work-hard-play -hard‘ sales manager and a ‘country girl comes good‘ account manager. There were no single attribute that all three of these successful women possessed to my knowledge bar one; commitment.
They saw what they wanted and believed that they could get it. They were not overtly extrovert. They were not workaholics, although they did adopt the Protestant ‘work till you drop‘ work ethic. They were not exceptionally intelligent academically. They were not simply the product of corporate politics. They believed that they could do more, did it and received the benefits. They faced and conquered the same obstacles as men. Job for job, salary for salary.
Clearly I cannot comment for all businesses but I do know that in my direct experience, gender was not an issue; the quality and quantity of women applicants was. It seemed that women did not put themselves forward for senior roles as much as their male counterparts. There were no internal barriers to entry, no politics or procedures, there was precedent and there was opportunity and as far as I am aware there still is.
The issue, it would seem, would be to ensure that women have the personal confidence and an authentic voice. It is possible that this will come from the top, as role models and high profile women lead the way but I think that it must be addressed at all levels. Pull from the top and push from the bottom and middle. Women must find ways to provide mutually beneficial resources; mentors and mentee’s would be a great example of this whereby currently successful women mentor and coach those embarking on career paths. Women must create their own voice; maximising professional exposure through networks and pressure groups. Women must continue to develop themselves personally.
There are undoubtedly variations in the way that we currently assess male/female career issues and these variations come from three areas; the individual woman, the business world and the society. By developing the first we can change the second. By changing the second we can change the third.