Women are the winners at work

You’d have thought Guardian writers and readers would be pleased to learn that women had actually won the battle of the sexes at work according to an article in the Times (19/12/10).

The problem is the author of the article, Carol Hakim, a senior research fellow in sociology  at the London School of Economics is not necessarily seen as politically correct.

She was after all the author of the Erotic Report in which she suggested that women who lacked brains could always make up for it by using their Erotic Capital.This should come as no surprise as all the evidence is that more attractive people earn more anyway.

Now she is saying that women have won because they can make a choice whether to pursue their careers or settle down and have a family and passing tougher quality laws will not make any difference.

She says that many women in top jobs have only “nominal families” with whom they spend little time. Half of all women in senior positions are child-free and a lot more have only one child cared for by other people. A long article in the Times magazine (1/1/11) by Camilla Cavendish on extreme working with the title; “we don’t know how she does it – but they do” seems to bear this out.

“She” being one of the extreme workers, a partner with a well-known management consultancy, with a family of three putting in 100 hours a week across different time zones; “they” being the support team comprising parents, the handyman, a PA, and a nanny. And, in case you were wondering, her husband is a very senior civil servant.

In her new report – Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine – Hakim says: “Equal Opportunities policies have succeeded in giving women equal access in the labour market (but) people are confusing equal opportunities with equal outcomes and there is little popular support for the kind of social engineering being demanded by feminists and legislators”.

She believes that new government policies to promote equality are pointless and based on “feminist myths” and that maternity leave shouldn’t be extended as it makes female staff less attractive to employers. You can see why she is so unpopular with Harmanites and if you want to read a rant about this you should look up Tanya Gold’s article in the Guardian (8/1/11).

She’s also not happy with the idea of quotas for women on boards but neither is anyone else and the government aren’t going to pursue that anyway. There is still the issue of pay differentials but most of us would rather see an end to bankers’ bonuses and over-inflated pay at the top of the public sector.

Female CEOs are making a big impact in getting companies through the recession as employees seem to trust them more and think they are more understanding. But there is a price to pay for some women who try to have it all as there is evidence that women in senior roles are more prone to stress-related ill-health such as heart disease.

Updated 14 January 2011: The question of workplace rights and in particular maternity leave is centre stage at the moment.  Yesterday a long piece in the Times by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an American academic and motherhood campaigner, explained why she thought women were paying too high a price career-wise for extended maternity breaks. She would have shorter breaks to allow the mother to get back to work provided she had a support team described in the Cavendish article.

Today in the Times Jill Kirby, director of the Centre for Policy Studies which published Hakim’s report,  joined the fray with: “More maternity rights are bad for mothers”. Referring to both Hewlett’s piece and the report by Carol Hakim she points out that for too long it’s been assumed that with enough workplace rights motherhood need not affect women’s lives but that the latest evidence proves that is not true – what Hakim referred to as the “feminist myth”.

Hakim’s research shows that those countries with the shortest statutory maternity leave, such as America, have more women in top jobs than other OECD countries. And in Sweden, where mothers get 14 months of maternity leave, women are more often found in low paid public sector work.

In the UK 12 months maternity leave regardless of how long you have worked for a company and even if you are part-time is bound to make employers think twice of appointing a “womb in waiting”.  Employers can’t even ask questions about family plans lest they are accused of discrimination and government plans to change maternity leave to parental leave are unlikely to make any difference if 30 years’ experience of that in Sweden is anything to go by.

The last labour government’s legacy on equal opportunities, and the idea of protected characteristics and indirect discrimination, spear-headed by Harriet Harperson is to say the least not business-friendly. Women who want careers and a family have tough decisions to make but at least they have that choice now they have more than matched men in higher education and achieved equal pay in most economic sectors.

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