Is there still inequality in the workplace?

Do you think women in Britain have equal job opportunities with men, or not?

Men: Yes 51%, No 43% – net +8%
Women: Yes 25%, No 63% – net -38%

Net scores by political preference:

Conservative: 0%
Lib Dem: -22%
Labour: -25%

Source: YouGov, fieldwork 30 Septemeber – 1 October

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8 Comments

  • Colin Green 6th Oct '10 - 12:54pm

    That’s an interesting survey of opinion. How well does it match an objective measure of inequality?

  • Interesting, but the whole report needs to be read for context. I think the most amazing part was the almost 50%+ across the board who thought that their daughters would have more financial security. I’ve got 2 daughters on the way and I wish I had the belief of those people!

  • Dinti Batstone 6th Oct '10 - 2:58pm

    Very interesting, but not surprising.

    Thanks to the battles fought by women of previous generations, women of my generation (I was born in 1971) haven’t had a problem getting onto the career ladder. The problem for us has been what happens to our careers if/ when we have children. Most jobs are stll structured around the presumption that there is “someone else” at home taking care of family life. The only concession to feminism is that nowadays that ‘someone else’ doesn’t have to be a wife…it can be a male partner (but rarely is) or another woman paid to do the caring (but what happens when she gets ill?).

    The paradigm around which state support for family life is constructed is outdated. One reason why there are so few stay-at-home dads is because men are blatantly discriminated against in family life. Fathers get 2 weeks paternity leave, mothers up to a year. So it’s women’s lives which change dramatically when a baby arrives, and once they get into the cycle of being the primary carer it is their careers which suffer. It’s generally mums who take time off when a child gets sick, and it’s therefore women employees who get labelled by employers as unreliable.

    Another structural problem is the black hole between the end of maternity leave and nursery provision at age 3 – and even then parents only get 3 hours a day of subsidised care. (Our LibDem aspiration of 20 hours a week of free childcare from the end of post-natal leave until children start school is sadly unlikely to be affordable any time soon…).

    Even when kids finally start school the 3pm pick up and 125 weekdays a year of school holidays are hard to reconcile with normal working hours and annual leave. Half-terms and school holidays mean paying through the nose for temporary extra childcare or else having to take unpaid leave from work and once again being perceived as unreliable.

    Moreover, our school system relies heavily on unpaid voluntary work. PTA fairs & cake sales, volunteers for one-on-one reading help (because in a class of 30 five-year olds they need all the help they can get)… All these things which make a school the kind of local school we want our children to go to are built on the hard work of an army of volunteers, most of whom are mums.

    Against this background, working women with children are under huge pressure:
    – On the one hand, they’re trying to compete in workplaces shaped by generations of men with stay-at-home wives.
    – On the other hand they’re trying to keep up with an image of motherhood that has changed little since the 1950s.

    There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve seen many women keep all the balls in the air with their first child, but by the time their second child gets to toddlerhood they’re exhausted and thoroughly disillusioned with the ‘superwoman’ life. And they are the lucky ones. They’ve been able to afford 60 hours a week of quality childcare and still have a decent pay packet at the end of the month. For many more women with young children, real take home pay net of childcare expenses is below minimum wage. Not surprisingly, many question the point of working. To miss out on seeing your children grow up when you’re earning a fat salary and have promotion prospects is one thing; to miss out when you’re earning peanuts and have no career prospects is quite another…

    There’s a final sting in the tail: what happens if women rebel against the ‘double shift’? A report from the Fawcett Society last year found that women who take time out from work to raise their children will pay the price for the rest of their lives. For every year she is out of the workforce a mother typically faces a 4% reduction in lifetime earnings – not just the salary she would have earned in that year, but the knock-on effect on future promotion prospects and earnings. So taking a 5-year career break to look after pre-school children means a 20% reduction in lifetime earnings.

    What is the solution? We need to change the way we work. We need to understand that while most women with young children want to work (otherwise why bother with degrees and professional qualifications?) they want to do so in a way that fits around family life… as indeed do many men!

    Men and women together can change the nature of the workplace and family life. In some enlighted organisations they are already doing so through increased flexible working by both men and women, and employers are seeing the benefits of higher retention rates and better-motivated, happier and more productive employees.

    Only when men are truly free and equal in child-rearing will women be truly free and equal in the workplace. A new generation of men seems up for this change – I’m watching with interest.

  • Colin Green 6th Oct '10 - 3:15pm

    Dinti,

    You summarise the problem nicely. Your comment “taking a 5-year career break to look after pre-school children means a 20% reduction in lifetime earnings” seems to suggest that you’re counting mother’s and father’ earnings separately (which ever is the stay at home parent). Is it not nearer the mark to suggest that the family’s lifetime income is reduced by 10%? Perhaps I’m a bit old fashioned in having a joint account and genuinely joint finances.

    You’re dead right though about the difficulties in two people working and being able to look after their children when they’re ill or just simply on school holidays. I’m lucky that my wife is a teacher and so happens to be free during school holidays. I do wonder how normal people cope. The world of work is quite alien to the world of bringing up families but I’m not sure what can be done to reconcile the two.

    I’m not sure that career effect of people having time out to raise families is necessarily gender discrimination as the treatment of stay at home fathers is the same or possibly slightly worse. it does seem that more women than men choose to do this. Inequality is when the company treats people differently because of gender not because they choose a career gap, even if women are more likely to make this choice.

  • Couldn’t agree more with Dinti, I was one who decided that I was spending more money on trying to work, than looking after and spending time with the children for a few months. I am happy with my decision of time / income, but realise that I am very lucky to have been able to make it. I fully believe that we need to work towards more flexible working for everyone. Its doesn’t really need to be necessarily for families alone either, however realise this would need to be affordable. I do think that there is a sea-change, but I have experienced being one of a few part-timers who were ‘picked-off’ for redundancy when the recession kicked in and I doubt that I was in the only company that did, so discrimination is still rife. I’ll watch with you!

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Oct '10 - 6:54pm

    “Is there still inequality in the workplace?
    Conservative: 0%
    Lib Dem: -22%
    Labour: -25%”

    A welcome reminder that Lib Dem and Labour supporters still think alike on some issues.

    What a shame then that the Lib Dem/Tory government has just watered down Labour’s Equality Bill, in a move which was “tantamount to endorsing the shocking gender pay gap” according to the chief executive of the Fawcett Society.

  • you only have to look at the papers today to know there are still enormous issues. “Elaine Mormon took fight for title of ‘free miner’ to Commons after application was rejected on gender grounds”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/06/woman-free-miner

  • Dinti Batstone 7th Oct '10 - 9:34am

    Good link Mrs B, thanks for sharing!

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