The Guest Blog

Gender awareness expert Dr Jane Hailé discusses whether the world needs more women in decision making positions.

The last couple of years have been difficult ones for the several of the so-called Bastions of Male Privilege – the Banking and Financial Sector globally, the Catholic Church, the British Parliament with its expenses scandal.

For the banking and financial sector several commentators have proposed that better gender balance particularly at the top of these institutions would have tempered if not totally avoided the crisiss , although this analysis seems to leave out of consideration that according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index Iceland is the most gender egalitarian country in the world.

For the financial sector– bizarrely dubbed the ‘mancession’ by some in the US – the departure of so many male CEOs is seen as having created an opportunity for women- in –waiting to crash through the glass ceiling. Whether this will happen or not is not yet clear. Will there be a rush of women eager to take over and transform the old male institutions with their allegedly more caring, more inclusive, less aggressive more group – oriented style? On the political front in the UK ..the new government dubbed Too Pale, Too Male by one newspaper… suggest that hope for a revision of the old gender order might be premature.

Indeed, in terms of the effects of the economic recession so far the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission reports increases in discrimination against pregnant staff; and women are more likely to experience difficulties in returning to the workforce after maternity leave, and are victims of covert techniques to lever them out such as refusal of flexitime working to accommodate family responsibilities.

Women who want to forge ahead in their careers are it should be noted charged not only with transforming themselves but also the decrepit institutions they will be heir to. Is it any wonder that many of them seem to prefer to set up their own businesses than to take on a rescue job.

Even though they are now being proposed for rejuggling the old equations of
testosterone =aggressiveness =high value=public space = men : oestrogen =caring =low value =private space= women demonstrate the kind of stereotypical thinking which got us into trouble in the first place and help to maintain the current vertical and horizontal segreggation of the labour force – with women ideally placed as secretaries, nurses, receptionists, assistants and deputies; and predominating in lower paid, lower value, informal, part-time & home-based work. Male managers hire people looking like themselves & women despite their education and skills doubt their own capacity to take on non-traditional functions.

Recent years have actually seen a resurgence of biological determinism which tries to link innate characteristics with difference in competences and aptitudes which affect occupational choices and opportunities. However what is overlooked is that biological inheritance is not fixed and that there is interaction between – for example – testosterone levels and lived experience. Has anyone compared the testosterone level of a woman trying to deliver several young children to their different schools and activities whilst also planning laundry and dinner, with that of her husband sitting at a Board Meeting?

Why do we need more women in decision-making after all? The argument for more women or any other minority group rests on the belief that their life experience is very different & that diversity needs to be represented. And indeed as long as men’s and women’s experience remains very different this is a legitimate concern. However what we really need to address immediately are those differences in life experience which are well known; women in many countries are as educated and skilled as men but the still retain by far the largest responsibility for child & family care. This responsibility can only grow greater with as the population ages.

This virtual monopoly on family responsibilities accounts for breaks in women’s career which damage their chances of success even where equal opportunities policies are scrupulously followed, and is one of factors behind the gender wage gap.

So what should the European institutions be doing? President Baroso on International Women’s Day this year promised that the EC would deliver a ‘women’s charter’ aimed at redressing inequalities in pay over the next five years, and that would of course be most welcome.It would be an excellent idea to report regularly on salary levels of men and women particularly in comparable posts.

Equal opportunities recruitment policies need to be scrupulously applied and monitored to see they not contaminated by considerations other than merit.

We have seen so far little or no discussion as to how men’s roles need to change to complement the expanded and expanding role of women in the labour force. This is what consideration of gender equality means. Of course some male CEO’s are now claiming to be in touch with their feminine sides to the benefit of their businesses but this does not go far enough.

Men should be empowered and supported through paternal and parental leave arrangements to spend more time in child and family care and studies suggest that many men would not see this as a punishment or a downgrading.Many men feel trapped in the office as women used to – and in some cases still are – trapped in the home.

Meanwhile new career models will emerge outside the traditional institutions which give both men and women the opportunity to arrange their working and personal lives more flexibly. Abandoning the old gender stereotypes would not only permit but would require abandoning the old institutional way of doing things, and perhaps as these institutions seem anyway to be tottering this is the time to do that?

Dr Jane Hailé is an independent consultant to governments, the UN, the EC & others, specializing in gender, human rights and development. She facilitates online training in academic & non-academic settings. Her website can be found at

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