2018 has got off to a storm of different headlines on or around Women’s rights, equality and equal pay.
I shan’t go too far down the road of commenting on Sarah Vine’s ill-chosen critique of Vogue for putting forward champions of diversity dressed as models and comparing them to the original Suffragettes. I think she is, for one thing, out of date. One of the big changes we have seen over the last couple of decades is an acceptance that women can be feminine and still be entitled to equal rights. I also doubt if any of those involved would belittle the incredible achievements of the original Suffragettes. It is simply a case that the fight has moved on.
In the UK, we saw 500 firms reveal their figures on equal pay, which as expected, showed still massive gaps between the sexes. But it is these figures which so many anti-feminists chose to misinterpret. They reveal two entirely separate issues.
We have been watching the BBC exposed for paying women doing the same job as men substantially less, the latest headline being the resignation of Carrie Gracie. This is discrimination, nothing more and nothing less. We should be following Iceland’s lead and making this illegal. There is no argument to defend discrimination and unequal pay of any two people doing identical jobs, especially not on the basis of their sex or indeed race.
The other issue is a question of gender opportunity. The figures revealed last week showed a huge gender imbalance. These figures are for overall pay, so if you have a company – for example Easy Jet, where 94% of its very substantially paid pilots are men and the majority of the averagely paid cabin crew are women, you get a huge in-balance. Virgin Money, Co-op Bank, Cambridgeshire Police, Ladbrokes were all among those cited with substantially higher figures of payment for male workers and all citing the fact that there were more men at higher levels causing the figures to read like this.
Outraged men point out that women want it all. They want time off to have babies and they want to have routes of access that match in ease and time to the men’s. In some ways, their outrage could be taken as understandable. But on the flip side, it is simply penalizing women for the genetic accident that allows us to become pregnant and the men unable to do so.
Nor is it sadly the only reason women don’t get to the top. There are too many to list in a short blog, but the way they are objectified from a very young age, the resulting lack of confidence, the lack of encouragement for women that still exists in no- traditional careers (including being pilots), many firms reluctance to invest in young women in case they get pregnant, lack of acceptance or use of paternity leave- the list goes on and on.
Virgin Money hope to have achieved equal figures by 2020. Certainly things have been improving – albeit at a slow rate – for some time and therefore equally slowly the amount of women will increase at the top. That increase will also mean more role models for others to follow, more confidence in the possibility of achieving higher levels.
But many women, myself included, are against tokenism. We do not want jobs to be awarded for the sake of enforced quotas, but for merit. Sadly, on this basis, I think we are inevitably looking at some gaps existing for much longer, if not for ever for some areas. But I applaud the British Museum who has achieved a legendary 0%.