It’s a day for getting on my hobby horse. I wrote some time ago about the fact that men are denigrated in the media. To take it further, it is my belief that, in many areas, men have become the sex which now needs to seek equality.
Last year we heard lots in the news about the gender pay gap at the BBC, and it is absolutely right that people, regardless of gender, are paid the same salary for doing the same job provided they do it to the same standard – why on earth would anyone not be? But there is also a lot of talk about there being too few women working at board level and this is where I have an issue. To actively seek to restrict women from top jobs is reprehensible but I do think that it’s a very slippery slope to introduce mandatory quotas. Surely what any company wants is the best people, regardless of gender.
In 2018 The Telegraph ran an article entitled ‘Why the UK needs to get more girls into electrical engineering’. Needs? Why needs? Certainly it must be available as a career opportunity and girls should be encouraged if they show an interest but again, what we need is good people; their gender is immaterial. I have some experience in this area. For several years I was part of the HR team which dealt with apprentice recruitment for a major player in the energy industry. At meeting after meeting the same ‘concern’ would be raised: not enough females in electrical engineering. As a company we went out to schools and we advertised heavily but in five or six hundred applications each year for our four year apprenticeships, less than 1% would be from females. I argued long and hard that the reasons for the lack of girls applying was the same reasons that I wouldn’t have applied: that I didn’t want my nails ruined and I didn’t want to be crawling around in trenches or climbing poles or pylons in pouring rain after paying a small fortune to keep my hair looking good. OK, it’s a bit flippant but I spoke to girls in schools, I asked friends, the daughters of friends, and later I discussed this with my fellow female students at university and the most oft-given answer was that (for whatever reason) it simply does not appeal. Why is that so wrong? I was once accused by one of my colleagues of not understanding that times had changed when I questioned why we spent so much time and energy on something that was such a very difficult sell. The opportunity was there and the girls knew it was there, but the indisputable fact was that very few were interested. My accuser was quietened when I told them that one of my sons worked with children in the Early Years sector and, at the time, my daughter edited a football magazine; I most definitely did understand that times had changed.
At the grammar school I attended forty years ago, we girls took classes in woodwork, metalwork, needlework and domestic science in the first two years with a choice to be made for the third year. Even that long ago, the opportunity was there, but how many chose those traditional male subjects of woodwork and metalwork at o’level – not one! Not a single one.
Contrary to popular comment on social media by older women who claim not to have had opportunities for careers, by the end of the 1970s forty percent of university students were female. Thinking back to my school days, the majority of primary school teachers were female as were nurses and one of my parents’ greatest friends was a female police inspector. At my high school the split between male and female teachers was about 50/50, and my mother (with a working class background) had an army career in the 1950s and her two sisters were also professionally qualified. I accept that back in those days, in some families old fashioned attitudes still existed and the education of girls was considered a waste, but that’s down to individual family values, not a lack of opportunity.
In many institutions females now outnumber males. The Royal Veterinary College has identified males as under-represented. Females do have equal opportunity and yet despite this, I see in the company magazine (for the electrical engineering industry) that I still receive that they are still pushing the ‘gender agenda’. Do we really need to keep fighting the same battle? In 1974 I decided (for about ten minutes) that I’d like to work in a bank. I stuck it for slightly longer (9 days) but what remains uppermost in my mind from that time is the statement in the employee handbook that the bank was ‘not in the habit of granting mortgages to female employees’! Nowadays we’d be horrified to read such a thing. Indeed, it would be illegal, and rightly so.
I started by mentioning the pay gap. Perhaps at the very top of the tree this is an issue but an awful lot of women have no aspiration to reach such lofty heights. Does the pay gap exist at ‘average salary’ level. Many leading economists don’t believe that it does:
“Let’s start by ditching a few of those everyday myths about being a bloke in the 21st century. First up, the wage gap. For years men have been guilt-tripped over a supposed discrepancy in pay that apparently sees women lose thousands of pounds every year compared with their male colleagues. The claim has been debunked by leading economists …… Many women work fewer hours than men. They choose lower paying jobs that fit in with their many other commitments, perhaps to children and ageing parents rather than strenuous, dangerous and life-threatening ones. These naturally bring higher pay for men…” (Peter Lloyd, Daily Mail 2015).
There is no excuse for any employer not paying the same salary to women who do the same job as men. But outside this, the much quoted pay gap argument doesn’t take any account of the irrefutable fact that it is still mainly women who assume the greater responsibility for child care and later provide support to ageing parents. Maybe this is unfair, maybe it’s not even desirable, but it is what happens. This means that women often, either through necessity or choice, take part time work or roles which are less demanding in terms of time/travel commitment. This is why women earn less through their working lives. I don’t even think that this is a generation thing – my own daughters in law and the daughters of friends, almost without exception, CHOOSE to assume the main responsibility for childcare in the formative years and work in jobs that suit the demands of the family, often part-time.
Further evidence of the male half of the population being discriminated against: did you know that for every £4 spent on women’s healthcare, only £1 is spent on men’s. Five years ago The Guardian reported that the Government was considering introducing a HPV vaccine to help protect boys against prostate cancer in later life. Five years on and only recently has it been announced that boys will be given the vaccine from 2019 whilst girls have been routinely vaccinated against HPV for the past decade. Many other first world countries have been operating a gender-neutral policy by making the vaccine available to both boys and girls for years. Furthermore, funding and research on male-specific diseases has long lagged behind that which is focused on those which are female-specific. Breast cancer, for example (yes, men can get it but it is predominantly women who do) receives TEN times more funding than prostate cancer. In other areas of health, funding for treating what are traditionally men’s illnesses is estimated at four times lower than for women.
I support equality 100% but I think it is wrong to become so focussed on the past inequalities suffered by women that we fail to see what’s in front of our eyes – we already have it in a great many areas and it’s men who are now on the wrong end of the see-saw.