Angela O’Connor’s assertion that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did – only backwards and in high heels (Opinion, Personnel Today, 6 March) – is undeniable. And Astaire was undoubtedly paid substantially more, was more highly thought of by the studios and the film-going public and, by virtue of doing things in a generally forward (if not forward-thinking) direction, only had to practise half as much. But then he was a man. For while there are many things getting in the way of women achieving real equality in the workplace, men are the main obstacle in the way of creating a level playing field.
Women who aspire to being leaders and getting to the top can adopt all the best tactics and make all the right decisions to develop their careers, but without the man at the top agreeing that it should happen, it just won’t.
Ruled by men
For the world of work, like the world in general, is not equal. It is ruled by men in suits focused only on self-interest, money and power. We know this to be true because many companies that claim to invest in the wellbeing of their workforces, and to have one eye on the concerns of the community in which they operate, only do so because they know it will provide them with the increased profits that will ensure they keep their power base.
At this point in the story, the light infantry that is the public sector could ride to the rescue, ensuring that equal pay becomes a reality by insisting on self-crippling measures to bring pay parity to council workers across the country. Unfortunately, this action is likely to make it even less likely that women will be able to make their way to the top as most of the country’s (male) employers take umbrage at the insistence that they spend cash on something that happened in the past. The net result will be that employers – especially smaller, private businesses – will be more wary of employing women in any capacity at all, let alone in senior roles. So it seems that women are no closer to attaining equality in the workplace than they ever were.
And it’s all their own fault. When women reach positions of power, they get all over-excited and do exactly what men do in the same situation – succumb to the urge to maintain their new-found status to the detriment of all else. That absolute power corrupts absolutely is absolutely true.
Women may only occupy 12.5% of the most senior roles in this country (a rate that has actually gone down in the past two years), but the women who make up that 12.5% have a secret up their well-ironed sleeves: they are, in fact, honorary men.
This accusation has been levelled at the few really powerful women to have ever emerged throughout the centuries, in a list that is impressively short on substance – from… err… Boadicea to, um… Margaret Thatcher. For example, whatever the reality of the situation at the time, our abiding image of the first Queen Elizabeth is of a bitter and twisted, ugly, follicly challenged monster monarch who was more like a man than most men.
Of course, the second Queen Elizabeth currently occupies a spectacularly elevated position in our society, yet what has she done to further the cause of the sisterhood since settling down for a long stay on the throne? Well, nothing actually. Constrained by self-interest, the male-dominated high-society machine keeps her cosseted from the realities of modern living. The head of state and head of the nation’s church has succumbed to the sucker punch by behaving just like a king, and has pretty much sat about doing very little for the past half a century. The fact that Princess Anne continues to be bumped down the line of succession says everything about how power and privilege are designed by men for the benefit of men.
The formation of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) should have been cause for celebration. Yet the commission is led by Trevor Phillips – a man – and judging by its Equalities Review report, it looks like the CEHR has been hijacked by minority interests – strangely, ones that can have a direct effect on men.
Ethnic and disability equality are serious subjects that need addressing, yet if Phillips and his team focused on women, all these areas would be tackled simultaneously for half the country’s population. Alas, his inate masculinity is perhaps clouding his judgement, and it seems equality for women has been sidelined yet again.
How times don’t change. In her 1999 book The Whole Woman, author and commentator Germaine Greer admitted that things had improved in the 30 years since the publication of her ground-breaking polemic The Female Eunuch, but equality of opportunity and reward were not on the list. It still isn’t. Greer warned of the potential havoc that could ensue if women were to down tools and stop pandering to the needs of their lazy menfolk: “As things stand at the end of the century, women are clear that they are doing all the work [including all the housework] without having a fair share of the reward. Less work for the same reward must become an irresistable option.”
It hasn’t happened yet, but we’d be in big trouble if it did. Perhaps Phillips should make reading The Whole Woman a priority just in case it does.
By Tony Pettengell, group production editor, Personnel Today
Short of a revolution, what can women do to avoid being sidelined? E-mail your response to firstname.lastname@example.org