International Women's Day: some depressing statistics

Two reports released today show that women are still under-represented on television and in business

Two reports published today to coincide with International Women's Day yield some sobering results.

First, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 found, predictably, that women are still unable to break into senior management, or sit on the boards of companies.

While 52 per cent of the workforce in the US is female (compared to just 23 per cent in India), women everywhere are concentrated in entry- and middle-level positions.

Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Finland had more women in top jobs than others, following legislation that makes it compulsory for public companies to ensure that 40 per cent of their board members are female. Even so, the average number of female CEOs in the WEF sample was just 13 per cent for Finland, and 12 per cent for Norway and Turkey -- the three highest-performing countries.

Women in the UK make up more than half of all graduates, yet only one in every ten FTSE board directors is a woman. Twenty-five FTSE firms have no women on their boards at all.

But perhaps it is not surprising. Quite apart from constraints of childcare (which I won't go into here), many women quoted in the WEF report cited a "lack of role models" progressing in business.

On that note, a second survey, commissioned by Channel 4, found that men outnumber women by two to one on television. Moreover, this number is disproportionately made up of young women -- a bitter-sweet vindication for various female broadcasters who have recently accused their employers of ageism. Just four in every ten women on screen are aged over 40, although six out of every ten men fall into the same age group.

Even more telling are the contexts in which women appear. They make up almost half of the actors in soaps, but when it comes to serious broadcasting, they constitute only a third. And when they do feature on news programmes, 69 per cent of the time they are discussing softer topics, such as health, culture or cookery, leaving the serious stuff to the men.

It's a rather dangerous situation: it could be argued that women on screen are sometimes used as "window-dressing" (to borrow a phrase from Caroline Flint). Their presence gives the impression of equal representation in the media, but the importance placed on their youth and appearance, and the fact that, more often than not, they do not discuss "serious" topics such as business or politics, subtly underline gender stereotypes. They also reinforce the message that there are certain spheres to which women are simply not suited.

No wonder there are so few female CEOs.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Gender pay gap: women do not choose to be paid less than men

Care work isn’t going anywhere – and it’s about time we recognised which half of the population is doing it, unpaid.

Is it just me, or does Mansplain The Pay Gap Day get earlier every year? It’s not even November and already men up and down the land are hard at work responding to the latest so-called “research” suggesting that women suffer discrimination when it comes to promotions and pay. 

Poor men. It must be a thankless task, having to do this year in, year out, while women continue to feel hard done to on the basis of entirely misleading statistics. Yes, women may earn an average of 18 per cent less than men. Yes, male managers may be 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted. Yes, the difference in earnings between men and women may balloon once children are born. But let’s be honest, this isn’t about discrimination. It’s all about choice.

Listen, for instance, to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

“When people make the decision to go part time, either for familial reasons or to gain a better work-life balance, this can impact further career opportunities but it is a choice made by the individual - men and women alike.”

Women can hardly expect to be earning the same as men if we’re not putting in the same number of hours, can we? As Tory MP Philip Davies has said: “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.” Since we’re far more likely than men to work part-time and/or to take time off to care for others, it makes perfect sense for us to be earning less.

After all, it’s not as though the decisions we make are influenced by anything other than innate individual preferences, arising from deep within our pink, fluffy brains. And it’s not as though the tasks we are doing outside of the traditional workplace have any broader social, cultural or economic value whatsoever.

To listen to the likes of Littlewood and Davies, you’d think that the feminist argument regarding equal pay started and ended with “horrible men are paying us less to do the same jobs because they’re mean”. I mean, I think it’s clear that many of them are doing exactly that, but as others have been saying, repeatedly, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The thing our poor mansplainers tend to miss is that there is a problem in how we are defining work that is economically valuable in the first place. Women will never gain equal pay as long as value is ascribed in accordance with a view of the world which sees men as the default humans.

As Katrine Marçal puts it in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, “in the same way that there is a ‘second sex’, there is a ‘second economy’”:

“The work that is traditionally carried out by men is what counts. It defines the economic world view. Women’s work is ‘the other’. Everything that he doesn’t do but that he is dependent on so he can do what he does.”

By which Marçal means cooking, cleaning, nursing, caring – the domestic tasks which used to be referred to as “housework” before we decided that was sexist. Terms such as “housework” belong to an era when women were forced to do all the domestic tasks by evil men who told them it was their principal role in life. It’s not like that now, at least not as far as our mansplaining economists are concerned. Nowadays when women do all the domestic tasks it’s because they’ve chosen “to gain a better work-life balance.” Honestly. We can’t get enough of those unpaid hours spent in immaculate homes with smiling, clean, obedient children and healthy, Werther’s Original-style elderly relatives. It’s not as though we’re up to our elbows in the same old shit as before. Thanks to the great gods Empowerment and Choice, those turds have been polished out of existence. And it’s not as though reproductive coercion, male violence, class, geographic location, social conditioning or cultural pressures continue to influence our empowered choices in any way whatsoever. We make all our decisions in a vacuum (a Dyson, naturally).

Sadly, I think this is what many men genuinely believe. It’s what they must tell themselves, after all, in order to avoid feeling horribly ashamed at the way in which half the world’s population continues to exploit the bodies and labour of the other half. The gender pay gap is seen as something which has evolved naturally because – as Marçal writes – “the job market is still largely defined by the idea that humans are bodiless, sexless, profit-seeking individuals without family or context”. If women “choose” to behave as though this is not the case, well, that’s their look-out (that the economy as a whole benefits from such behaviour since it means workers/consumers continue to be born and kept alive is just a happy coincidence).

I am not for one moment suggesting that women should therefore be “liberated” to make the same choices as men do. Rather, men should face the same restrictions and be expected to meet the same obligations as women. Care work isn’t going anywhere. There will always be people who are too young, too old or too sick to take care of themselves. Rebranding  this work the “life” side of the great “work-life balance” isn’t fooling anyone.

So I’m sorry, men. Your valiant efforts in mansplaining the gender pay gap have been noted. What a tough job it must be. But next time, why not change a few nappies, wash a few dishes and mop up a few pools of vomit instead? Go on, live a little. You’ve earned it. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.