Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Gender equality - who holds the cards?

To be honest, I'm beginning to think that no-one does. I wonder if they aren't on the floor under the table.

There is a great deal of evidence that women still don't earn the same as men in the UK. I reckon this is a fairly accurate view. For example, I am almost certain that I earn significantly less than the two men on my team who do the same job. There is an official course of action I could follow, but I presume that a very defensible explanation would be given that would not relate to gender at all. Sadly, I also know that the only other female member of the team (who has now left) earned roughly the same as I did at the time, so I am left mildly miffed by the issue, but not sufficiently convinced of the strength of my case to want to get embroiled in the whole grievance process.

Harriet Harman is trying to do something about this in the UK, but I don't think she has many people convinced - certainly not Janice Turner, at any rate!

Sadly, in the process of fighting for equality and an end to discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and all those related issues (and I maintain that they are related), I reckon some women do the 'cause' more harm than good.

When women demand special dispensation on the grounds of gender, does this constitute equality? I'm not sure that there are valid grounds for claiming that L&D for women should differ from that for men, but the claim is being made nonetheless (it may be necessary to subscribe to the publication for the link to work).

On a different tack, let's look at an extreme (but real) case.

Recently, a woman arrived at work wearing a very short skirt and no knickers. When one of the men in the office subtly indicated that it would be preferable if she wore underwear, she complained. Too afraid of venturing into the sexual harassment minefield, the company upheld her complaint. A few days later, she arrived at work wearing (ahem) 'cheeky' hot pants. No-one dared say a word. Surely this is similar to bullying in that it is abusing circumstances that give one an advantage?

Many men I know are left bewildered and disempowered by situations like this. They mutter that they can't simply take a day off work citing a vague malady known as "men's problems". They aren't allowed to comment on the appearance of their female colleagues, although no such embargo exists on women commenting on one another's appearance... or on that of the men. Sexist jokes are a no-no if women are being pilloried, but not if men are on the receiving end.

If they stand aside for a female colleague, they're sexist, if they don't, they're rude. Where is the dividing line between good manners and sexism? And how broad is the good manners band that fits so perilously between sexism and rudeness?

Let's imagine this scenario: Ms No-Knickers (who really exists, although not in my organisation) discovers she earns less than a male colleague. She goes to her line manager (who is male) to insist on an increase. If he says no, she takes action on the grounds of gender discrimination. If he says yes, her male colleagues will regale one another of the reasons that (coincidentally male) colleague was on a higher pay grade. They will become even more convinced that women hold all the cards these days and that all a woman has to do to succeed is flash the boss. So, while the short term gain for the equality cause is undermined by long term damage in the form of an increasingly mutinous male workforce.

My own view is that I have no desire to see men disadvantaged in any way. I would feel throughly patronised if I were to be offered a job over a male applicant just because of my gender. If I can't hack it on a level playing field, I can't hack it at all.

But when I do get the job, do me this courtey: pay me on the basis of the work I do, not on the basis of the body parts I bring with me to the office.

In some ways, I hope Harriet Harman succeeds, in others I wonder if legislative intervention is the way forward. Enforced compliance does not win hearts and minds. If anything, I suspect the converse to be true!

Sigh. We have a long road ahead through the minefield.


Harold Jarche said...

I think it's easier being self-employed, where I don't have these issues. Like you, I'm not sure what the answer is, other than education and culture that don't discriminate on any basis other than performance.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, In Indial all the government jobs have a very fair deal. Even in private but socially India give a very raw deal to the women. All said and done we are the other half Karyn. The half that brings forth life but has been conditioned to stay submissive, self-doubting and guilt-ridden, if we question the basis of these discreminations. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The sad part is the way millions of baby girls are killed or aborted even before they put their tiny feet on this Earth. I love the way my little daughet showers me with affection, a son can never match that. And I am firm about treating him equal and mostly better than my son. She has more potential as she will urture life. Take forth what we expose her to, to her children and her grandchildren. I agree with you Karyn high time they offer fairness and respect where it is due. Hugs and thanks for such a lovely post.