How do you tackle patriarchal attitudes?

Many thanks to The Free Think Blog for picking up on this item of interest to at least 52% of the population, if not the Lib Dem Blogosphere.

Well, the pay gap between men and women far from slowly improving is has widened for the first time in 10 years. Yes, I agree with the feelings of Free Think:

'Such inequality is depressing, and reveals how deep-rooted discrimination is in the workplace, with simple anti-discrimination legislation failing to tackle tacit patriarchal attitudes'.

However, I think it is naive to think that changing a law could be enough to really change attitudes.

Cultural change, and we are talking about a cultural change here, always requires something else...in business, and in change management circles (which I inhabit from time to time) it is understood that an effective change in culture always comes from the top. If the directors are clear that certain behaviour is unacceptable or acceptable then it tends to filter down pdq.

An example: a good friend of mine, a COO , went to work for a new company. In this company it was perfectly accepted (apparently!!) to use the 'c' word in meetings. My friend was quite clear that he did not find it acceptable to use that sort of language in the workplace and it very, very quickly stopped.

To effect a cultural change requires leadership and can rarely be left to the grass roots; I don't like that that's the case but empirically it is so. I might add that I don't believe the kind of nebulous, hard to pin down and impossible to prove legally discrimination confines itself to the workplace.

And whilst we look to legislation and/or rules to solve the problem for us we will be looking in the wrong place.

Often times in countries that are made up of many different nationalities or ethnic groups we ensure they are allocated fair quotas in government and the legislature so that those in the establishment cannot ride roughshod over those with less power.

But in the most of the UK we expect it all to just happen by itself when it comes to gender balance and then we are surprised when the outcomes are not as we liberal fair minded people would wish.

5 comments:

Tinter said...
5 Sep 2007, 22:48:00

From studies I have read, the issue centres very much on childcare. I think there is real room for legislative efforts here, both in terms of increased leave and cheaper nursery availability. Improved ability to adopt part time work in some places of business would also be a big help.
A change of culture is important, but for those in poorer circumstances there is a real need for support to improve the choices presented to them.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
6 Sep 2007, 07:40:00

Certainly some of the issue is rests with childcare and the question I then ask is how do you get that new legislation in? Labour have made some significant headway here, but would that have happened without the great influx of female parliamentarians in 1997? You need women in positions of power to push the agenda onto to things that will change women's lives.

Secondly, by making childcare legislation the central solution you are missing a big shift in attitudes that we need which is to make childcare as much an issue for men as it is for women.

Allowing women in the workplace greater flexibility to deal with children can serve to make them less attractive to employers, especially small ones. The solution is to have a cultural shift that makes childcare an issue for both sexes and to that we need role models. Like I said cultural change comes from the top and what we need is for men and women at the very top to be changing the way they operate (difficult as they made their success in a patriarchal system); then that cultural change will make it acceptable for those at the bottom of that hierarchy to change their lives.

Having legislation in place doesn't actually stop the cultural norm in a company where people resent those who take time out to deal with children; I witnessed it yesterday at work attempting to organise a big workshop around various children's birthdays.

Thirdly, I would argue that the issue doesn't centre on childcare, it's just part of it. There are plenty of women without children earning less than their male equivalents.

I'm not saying that better childcare legislation won't help but it's not the panacea that you suggest it is.

Tristan said...
17 Sep 2007, 14:43:00

If you have two people between whom the only difference is their sex then they should have the same pay, that is clear.

However, if a woman takes time out of work to have a baby then she has lost experience compared to a man who has not taken time off, the pay received by the woman at a later date will be lower.

There is nothing wrong with this, the woman has made a trade off between experience gained working and having a child. If a man takes paternity leave then the same would apply. Or if someone took a long time off sick (that is harsher because the sickness is not their choice).

Now, paying women lower salaries because they might go and have a baby and are therefore a riskier investment is may be wrong since not all children want children (although from a rational economics point of view perhaps its not... but the idea feels wrong to me).

The problem with gender pay gaps is that often you are not comparing like with like. The most shocking example is that most reports compare full time male salaries with part time female salaries, which is obviously not valid (compare like with like and the gap is far far smaller).

Also, in some places, New York for instance, women are now getting paid more than men - something which may happen here in due course. I suspect its due to less children being had and changed attitudes (women more likely to be considered for top jobs and more likely to apply).

Lastly, it has not been very long since this (welcome) cultural shift towards equality between the sexes started, we have come a long way even if we have a long way to go. I'm not convinced that more legislation and interference will help.

Charlotte Gore said...
29 Oct 2007, 15:42:00

I wish I could remember the source of this - it was something that I heard on Radio 4.

They were talking about a woman who got herself a lawyer and ended up suing her employer and her trade union for sex discrimination.

Turns out that the union wouldn't fight for equal pay because it would have cost a number of jobs.

Complicated subject. :S

Jo Christie-Smith said...
30 Oct 2007, 09:03:00

Charlotte,

Exactly....it is the under the radar discrimination that is the most pernicious and equal pay is such a hot potato because it could impact adversley, horror of horror, men's pay, conditions and careers!!!

Tristan,

Just a little note...the figures for equal pay being used are comparing like with like and are pro rated. I don't believe there is some unjustified spin going on on behalf of women in the workplace.

Your economic analysis of 'choices' is rather simplistic and somewhat gender blind, assuming that humans are entirely rational beings and ignoring the balance of power within the home. Generally, and this is a generalisation but it is families and couples that choose to have children..not just women; just as men don't choose not to have them.

You have assumed that pay should be based on time served or experience rather than output, results and ability. Follow your analysis to its logical conclusion and you would be going back to pay scales determined by age.

Lastly, you are assuming that any experience gained in the home or at least away from the work place is inferior to that gained within the workplace. There are many, many jobs which are relatively simple compared to the task of looking after children and a managing a household and therefore a woman coming back into the workplace may have more beneficial experience and more to contribute than if she's stayed in the same job.

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