Sexism in 2010 – have we moved on?

Have we moved on from this?

Every so often you read something that makes you stop in your tracks, and today I had one of those moments. Times journalist Caitlin Moran started a discussion about sexism on Twitter and encouraged her followers to share their stories. Rather than a few tales from the 1950s, she was bombarded with examples of discrimination and misogyny that were quite shocking. To see the full extent of what people were saying, I did a search for @caitlinmoran to see what everyone was tweeting to her – there were so many tweets I couldn’t keep up with reading them all! And many referred to treatment in the workplace. Here is a selection – brace yourselves!

  • I once was told (afterwards) I got a job only because I was wearing a short skirt at the interview.
  • Boss announced as he got up to go to a meeting ‘You girls can sit and talk about shoes and files your nails whilst I’m gone’
  • I was promoted to purchasing manager at work and the president said he made the decision because “women like to shop”.
  • Friend on partnership track at major city law firm “I am pregnant”. Response from partner “do you want job in marketing?”
  • Interviewing a skip owner for a PR story (I know, FFS) he addressed all his answers to my male colleague (not a writer)… he only turned to me to tell the story of the hamster they rescued from a skip. All I would be interested in, right?
  • My breasts were given a round of applause at a work’s golf day.
  • My female Doctor cousin was paying for petrol, was asked “are you sure this is your credit card?” as it had “Dr.” on it.
  • Was called by our company pensions admin people. I told them I wasn’t the best person to talk to about it (would refer to PA). Man on phone asked “oh, does your husband deal with all your financial affairs?” My job title = managing director
  • My last job, at a business lunch, this guy said ‘well, you’re only a little girl’ when I didn’t finish everything on my plate.
  • Regularly have people walk past the 2 guys WHO WORK FOR ME only to ask me where the paper for the photocopier is.
  • Person refusing to leave msg: “I don’t deal with insignificances &anyway you’re a woman, you’d probably get it all wrong”
  • At a magazine I know, one guy has a bell that he rings whenever a ‘fit bird’ walks in so all the others can check her out
  • At a job interview I was asked to come back for a 2nd interview but this time to “do something with my hair and makeup”!!!
  • A former colleague once threw a shoe at me followed by the remark “F*cking women” because I refused to make coffee for him
  • Once asked how “likely” it was that I would get pregnant, in an interview.
  • I’m a sound engineer,working in theatre.After one show,middle aged man came up to me at the sound desk and said “Do you do the sound then?” “Yes, obviously” “And you’re a girl?” “….” “How do you manage? All that technology”

Apologies there are so many – but I couldn’t imagine anyone getting bored reading those! Really is sobering to think that these opinions still exist isn’t it?

New government, new fight for women?

There have been a number of articles recently about the lack of women in the boardroom of UK firms – the Guardian said ‘companies have employed armies of equal opportunities officers, diversity managers and HR professionals’ to sort this problem out, yet the ‘number of women on the boards of FTSE 100 has hardly changed’. In fact figures reveal that in 2009 only 12% of FTSE 100 companies had one or more women on their board.

So why is this case? Is it because women often take time off at some stage of their career to bring up their children and when they do return they have missed their opportunity; or that in a male dominated world, women are often overlooked by men on the board who like to recruit in their own image? These may very well be reasons why some women have missed out but how are we going to turn this situation around? Read the rest of this entry »

Pay and recognition

Not only is today Internation Women’s Day, it’s also the fifth birthday of womenintechnology.co.uk, so we asked the women in our network what their ‘birthday wish’ for women in IT would be. The top answers were: a closing of the gender pay gap, more respect and more support in the workplace from both employers and fellow employees.

One respondent said “[I wish] that people would assume [women in IT] have interesting, innovative and strategic thinking without them having to work so hard to constantly establish credibility”. Another said she wished that women would “support each other rather than compete”.

The needs of working mums were also addressed with calls for women to be openly recognised as doing a great job even if in part-time work, as well as for more workplace benefits options surrounding things like childcare. Other wishes were for more role models for women in IT, more women in senior IT positions and for women to trust their own skills and abilities more.

As one respondent pointed out, it has been 40 years since the Equal Pay Act and although we’ve made progress we still haven’t closed the gender pay gap, so that’s definitely a big hope for the future. These results show that we still have a way to go until women are on a par with men in the IT world but what’s great is that these ‘wishes’ are realistic ones that are within our reach. Since womenintechnology was established five years ago women have made great advances in the sector. We’re looking forward to the next five years and what will happen next!

Daily Mail strikes again

The Daily Mail strikes again. And the title says it all: “Can love survive when a woman earns MORE than a man?” You can find the piece here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1249768/Can-love-survive-woman-earns-MORE-man.html

It starts by saying: “It’s a seismic social shift: nearly half of women are paid as much as or more than their man”. ‘Hooray!’ we think – finally all the fighting for equal rights is perhaps beginning to pay off. However according to the Daily Mail, “it could all end in tears” and “the truth is that we don’t know whether to feel triumphant or dismayed”. That’s certainly news to me!

Here are some other gems of information:

“Many [women] are working simply because their families need their income, and increasing numbers are finding themselves accidental breadwinners because men’s jobs have been hit far harder than women’s in the economic downturn – a phenomenon dubbed the ‘mancession’.”

“If the past 40 years have been all about women entering the workforce and boosting the economy, the next 40 will be spent dealing with the social, personal and family consequences. And that may be the hardest part of all.”

With the struggle of breaking the glass ceiling that women still face, it’s disappointing that articles like this are still written. All it does it turn women’s success into a negative, when it’s an achievement we should be celebrating. What’s more the article states that only 19% of women earn more than their partners with another 25% earning the same – that means that around half of the women in the UK still don’t earn as much as their partner.

As the article states, “social attitudes are still trailing far behind”. But they won’t improve when we’re still reading pieces like this.

The gender pay gap

You may have seen this post on Computer Weekly’s WITsend blog, but in case you missed it, here it is:

Every year we say “a new year, a new start!” And in this case: “a new decade, a new start”. Let’s hope that’s the case when it comes to the dreaded gender pay gap. But results from a survey by silicon.com indicate that instead of the situation improving, the difference between the pay of men and women in IT is getting bigger.

Just take a look at this graph – the results are quite striking:

Far more women than men are in low paid jobs with the majority (35%) earning less than £25,000 a year, compared to just 14% of men. And interestingly whereas the number of women in this pay bracket has risen since 2008, the number of men has decreased. When it comes to salaries in excess of £40,000 the number of men far exceed the number of women – with the amount of men earning top bucks outnumbering women by more than 2:1.

When it came to bonuses, although more women than men took home extra cash in 2009, men received higher amounts. 65% of women who received bonuses got less than £5000 compared to 47% of men and 10% of the males had bonuses of over £20,001, whereas the number of women receiving that reward was: zero.

It always comes back to the same question: why? The main answer seems to be that many women put their career progression on hold due to family commitments, leaving the top jobs open for the men. The huge difference between maternity and paternity leave allowances doesn’t help this situation either (although that looks like it may change). But it’s not just the women that are missing out here – businesses need the input of women, especially at senior level.

Remote working, schemes to help women back into work after maternity leave, mentoring – these are all practices businesses should be looking at so that we can change the look of the graph above and have more women at the top of IT. As I said before, it’s a new decade – let’s hope it signals a new start!

Parliamentary quotas

It seems that we may be moving a step closer to quotas for women in politics. A cross-party conference has announced that if there’s not a significant increase in the number of female MPs at the next election, mandatory legal quotas should be brought in. The conference also suggested the introduction of non-mandatory ethnic minority shortlists and said that parliament is currently: “too white, middle-class, heterosexual, male and able-bodied”. Only 20% of MPs in the UK are female compared to much higher figures of 47% in Sweden and 38% in Denmark and democracy is under threat unless the government becomes more representative, according to the report from the Daily Mail.

Positive discrimination is always a tricky subject. It is not ideal to implement it, but sometimes it is necessary to give minorities, such as women, the chance to be seen and heard. Former MP Ann Widdecombe is one of the critics saying: “What matters is the merit they bring. We really cannot have targets for particular categories. It’s frankly insulting because it suggests women and ethnic minorities cannot get there on their own merit.”

Of course merit is important – even if quotas are introduced, I don’t doubt for one second that any women becoming MPs will get there unless they are suitably qualified and experienced. But the fact remains that, at the moment, politics is an arena where it’s crucial to have a gender balance but that gender balance is currently a long way off. And quotas could be a great way to bring about that balance. The question is: what does a ‘significant increase’ in female MPs at the next election mean exactly? And would quotas ever be brought introduced in the UK or is this just talk?

Mothers Betrayed?

I have to confess to being more than a little disappointed at the views expressed by Nichola Pease  in the press recently suggesting that women were ‘wrecking their careers’ by taking their full 12 months maternity leave.  Ms Pease , who a mother of three is deputy chairman of JO Hambro was giving evidence to a treasury select committee investigating sexism in the City.  “Legislation  is turning into a nightmare – I think we have got too long maternity leave – a year is too long!”  She also felt that the practice in Norway, where businesses are required by law to give 40% of their board positions to women, are flawed.

What really disappoints me is the implied view that the legislation we have in place is there in some way to pander to the fact that women have children.  What about the business case for harnessing and retaining the skills that so many women have in the workplace?  And what about the hard evidence?  US research has shown that Fortune 500 companies with the highest proportion of female directors are more profitable and efficient than those with the lowest. And according to research by McKinsey, the strategy consultancy, European organisations with the highest proportion of women in influential leadership roles, showed better than average financial performance.

Perhaps Ms Pease ought to take a look! 

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