Posted by: Blair Mcpherson10/02/2011
Equality for women in the workplace has gone as far as it can go. So there is no need for further legislation. A target of 50/50 is hopelessly unrealistic because fewer women than men want to be senior managers. So says Catherine Hakim a sociologist at the London School of Economics in a report to be published by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Of course this doesn’t fit with the evidence on equal pay produced by the Human Rights Commission which can be summed up as the gap is closing so slowly that without further legislation it is unlikely to have closed for our great grand draughts never mind our daughters. There is evidence that some women, partially those with family commitments have the ability but not the desire to be senior managers but this is also true of a growing number of men. This lack of ambition should in its self prompt questions such as what is it about senior management that is turning some very able people off? Then there is the anecdotal evidence that women are losing out in management restructurings designed to reduce the overall number of management posts. Its middle management posts that are being cut the very areas women have successfully occupied in the public sector.
Restructurings results in redundancies but also opportunities. In my experience men respond to these opportunities by banging in an application if nothing else it will show them I am ambitious. They are not put off by the range of responsibilities, gaps in their experience or the significantly higher salary. The thinking seems to be why not me and if they appoint me then obviously they think I can do it after all no one is expected to know everything from day one. Typically when I have asked able female colleagues why they did not ably for a senior post in the new structure they have been put off by the high salary. One such colleague summed this up by saying for that sort of money they will expect too much. The women I worked with as a coach and mentor had a tendency to focus more on their lack of experience in some aspects of the job and have unrealistically high expectations about what someone new in the post ought to know and be able to do from day one.
The current wave of management restructurings involve merging services resulting in fewer managers but with greater spans of responsibility won’t inhibit the over confident from applying but might put off those concerned about their lack experience and knowledge of services they would be responsible for.
So has equality gone as far as it can? No clearly not. Do we need legislation to speed up change? Clearly we do. Is a 50/50 profile of senior management teams an appropriate and realistic target? No because in areas like local government the workforce is 80/20 in favour of women so why would the target be 50/50?
Blair McPherson is author of An Elephant in the Room - an equality and diversity manual, and Equipping Managers for an Uncertain Future both published by www.russellhouse.co.uk .
Inside Housing’s Women in Housing special issue is published tomorrow.
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