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Baroness Prosser wrong to encourage women in to menís work


So women in full time employment are paid 13% less than full time men and women in part time employment are paid 41% less than full time men. No surprises here then. But these figures are still, as Baroness Prosser said, an outrage. Her solution though, that women shouldnít choose low paid jobs but should aspire to work in engineering and finance where they can earn more, is ludicrous. One thing we have achieved for our daughters is the right to choose any career they want. What if they donít want to be engineers and accountants? What if they prefer teaching the nationís youth, publishing great books or caring for the elderly and unwell? And what if their talents lie in communication, building and sustaining relationships, caring? Why waste these gifts working in occupations theyíre not attracted to just to close the pay gap?
Iím sorry, but if the last 30 years of gender research have taught us anything, itís that, in general, men and women have different brains, and different hormones acting upon those brains, resulting in different ways of looking at the world and a different set of talents and behaviours. To encourage women into science and engineering when theyíd rather be making TV programmes is to shoehorn them back into a manís world; a world where most of them feel uncomfortable and where theyíre required to play to menís rules, rules which discriminate intentionally or not against them.
Of course, there are exceptions to typical gender types and we fought hard so that these exceptional women should have the right to enter predominantly male professions. That right should never be denied them. And yes, young women do need role models in these occupations and more enlightened career advice at school and university.
But the facts remain that most women are attracted to occupations that require them to deal with people, not objects, to manage relationships, not money and to use their considerable abilities to lead others towards a society that is productive, just and caring. Do the majority of young women want to lie under a truck having oil drip into their eyes or would they prefer to be a receptionist in a dental surgery? Do more women choose to be building surveyors or family lawyers? Are more women working for the rights of refugees or for arms dealers?
The way to close the pay gap begins by recognising that 2000 years of hegemony has produced occupations of unequal value. Work which is attractive to women is lower paid simply because it is not attractive to men. If it were, you could be sure theyíd compete for jobs in those fields and earnings would begin to rise. Many women are grateful to fill these low paying jobs because they offer more part-time possibilities, conveniently close to home and school and allow them to combine the roles of parent, homemaker and carer. The real glass ceiling is at home and is rooted in our biology.
Recent research has also shown women to be less motivated by money than men, less likely to negotiate a higher salary, more likely to be attracted by a better working environment and a good work-life balance. They may be paid less, theyíd argue, but theyíre getting a better deal than those prepared to work ridiculously long hours in macho cultures where your commitment is measured by your obvious presence and your ability to schmooze up the hierarchy. Indeed, highly paid women (and some men) are leaving corporate life because it just doesnít work for them any more.
So the way forward is not to encourage women into careers that they donít want simply to close the pay gap, but to help women earn more for work of equal value in whatever occupations they choose. We could also teach them how to negotiate better and value themselves more fairly on the market. We have the legislation in place to pay for work of equal value, weíre just not using it.
Another way of closing the pay gap is to promote women into senior positions of responsibility so they can set policy and progress an agenda which allows more flexible working in the higher paid careers. Iím not suggesting quotas, but doing all we can to encourage women to equip themselves for top jobs and apply with confidence. Iíve just influenced a global accounting practice to advertise for part-time partners and I hope others will follow. It can be done.
This governmentís agenda should not be to push women into careers they donít want but to help women earn what theyíre worth for the work they do well. Donít let us waste yet another opportunity.
Karen Moloney is a well published psychologist and writer on the future of work. She can be contacted at or via her agent Anna Roffey at Virtual Concierge


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