“Between 1990 and 2011, the value of intangible assets in the UK grew from £50.2 billion to £137.5 billion, while at the same time the value of tangible, physical assets has increased much more slowly from £72.1 billion to £89.8 billion. In 2015, intangible investment will be 50% higher than investment in tangibles.” CIPD Human Capital Reporting: Investing for Sustainable Growth 2014, quoting a NESTA report by Goodrich et al Technology and the Arts.
I’m always a bit suspicious of these kinds of calculation, but the overall message is pretty clear: we should be looking at how the money we spend (publicly and privately) on things like education and training (prime examples of intangibles) is effectively put to use, and not only think of ‘investment’ as something made in physical assets.
This point was made several times at a lively meeting I went to yesterday in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral – not somewhere I’ve visited before. It was hosted by the St Paul’s Institute, which works to stimulate debate on contemporary issues. The topic was What’s Gender Got to Do With It? Women in the Economy, and the panel included Stefan Stern, whose tweets have provided me with many useful leads, and Vicky Pryce. They are writing a book on quotas as a means of promoting women’s participation in senior positions.
The case they make is primarily a business one rather than an equity one, i.e. that organisations that do better on diversity are more likely to succeed commercially. Vicky took a very forthright economist’s approach to women’s labour market activity generally – pointing to the huge waste involved if women’s skills are not used to the full. (She also illustrated her approach by reference to the costs of putting women, especially mothers, in prison – including the long-term effects on children – but that’s another story.)
Coming from someone else (e.g. a man, maybe) this hard-nosed economist approach might have put some people’s backs up, but it didn’t appear to. One member of the audience added the point that we need some different labels or categorisation , especially in thinking about ‘infrastructure’: we shouldn’t count only hard physical things like airports and roads, but include ‘social infrastructure’ items – the capacity for care being the main one.
There was a lot of discussion of part-time work and the penalties it brings. (I dropped in a question about whether we need to change the way we define ‘part-time’ , but I think this went into the ‘too hard’ basket.) Later that day I picked up the latest ONS stats on part-time work, and the reasons why people work part-time. Here we may be reaching a milestone of a kind.
Male part-timers have gone up by about 14000 over the last year, to just over 1.5 million. This increase is not big. What is much more significant is the numbers who say they do not want to work full-time. This has shot up, from 909,000 a year ago to 992,000. The numbers of women who are working part-time and not looking for a full-time job have increased by even more. Of course the fact that they are ‘not looking’ for a full-time job partly reflects the absence of such jobs – the discouragement effect. But it may be that we are reaching a point when choosing to work part-time becomes normalised, for men as it is for women. So when the 992K turns into a million we might look on that as a turning point. But of course the question is whether employers will recognise part-time careers – and make that intangible investment pay off.
What gives the Paula Principle its current salience is the difference levels of achievement between women and men in education of all kinds. I’ve just been looking at the latest UCAS report on applications and entry to higher education. It confirms the seemingly inexorable growth in the gap between female and male educational paths.
First, the overall picture:
- For 18 year olds in 2014 the entry rate increased (3.2 per cent proportionally for men, 3.7 per cent for women) to the highest recorded levels for both men (25.8 per cent) and women (34.1 per cent). As with application rates, 18 year old women were around a third (32 per cent) more likely to enter higher education than 18 year old men.
- The absolute difference in entry rates between men and women widened by half a percentage point in 2014 to 8.2 percentage points – the largest difference recorded. This difference in 18 year old entry rates between men and women equates to 32,000 fewer 18 year old men entering higher education this year than would be the case if men had the same entry rate as women.
- By age 19, 44 per cent of women have entered, over 9 percentage points higher than men.
Now for some interesting further wrinkles. First, the report distinguishes between entry into so-called high-tariff and low-tariff universities. High-tariff universities demand higher A level (or equivalent) results; we can reasonably think of them as the more elite institutions, though I would certainly not make any link between that and the quality of their teaching. The relevance for the PP is that these universities tend to lead to better careers, more likely to place their graduates on fast tracks. Back in 2006, women were already ahead of men in entry into this type, but by a considerably narrower margin than their overall lead into HE generally. Now, that difference is disappearing, though it has not quite vanished. In 2006, women were 18 per cent more likely to enter higher tariff providers than men; in 2014 they were 26 per cent more likely to enter than men.
Secondly, the overall pattern of more women going to university is universal across the country. (In only 2 constituencies do more men enter higher education.) But when it comes to disadvantaged areas, the relative gap is even greater than elsewhere . In 2014, 18 year old women living in these areas were around 50 per cent more likely to enter than men.
In other words, the gender entry gap is smaller in elite institutions than in others – but it’s heading in the same direction, so we can assume that in a few years women will be as far ahead in the ‘top’ universities as they are in the sector generally; and the gap biggest of all for young people trying to make their way from parts of the country where higher education is not part of the norm.
Information from France confirms that the Paula Principle is at work there too. Looking at graduates from higher education rather than entrants, the Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques shows that in the 2011 cohort 31% of women left with a qualification equivalent to 3 years HE, compared with 24% of men. But the study also shows that for all women the gender pay gap persists: 7 years after leaving the education system, women get between 8 and 18% less than their male counterparts. This is a bigger gap than in the UK, where for this age group, at least for graduates, the pay gap is small. In France there is a strong division between permanent and temporary jobs: 47% of women in this cohort have permanent jobs, compared with 60% of men. So young women are much less likely to get on a career track. And hardly any men work part-time – just 1%, compared with 12% of women.
I’ve argued several times in this blog for more attention to part-time work as the key to women being able to work to their level of competence (and men too…). A report on Women and Flexible Working from the ippr (published,a tad puzzlingly, on Boxing Day) compares practices across 7 EU countries.
The basic premiss is clear: better practice on enabling women to work flexibly will be good for the economy, as well as for them personally. Sweden, Netherlands and Germany are the leaders on both female employment levels and flexible working. The first two show particularly strong levels of employee choice over working time, with around 40% of women able to adapt their hours, within limits – more than double the level for the UK.
But the picture is not straightforward, because practices and preferences are mixed up in different cultural contexts. Poland, for example, has very low levels of flexible working, and especially of part-time work. Only 57% of Polish women work - well below the EU average – and only 11% of these work part-time. Polish women, if they want to work, more or less have to do so full-time. Yet Polish women express high levels of satisfaction with their working hours. Preferences are shaped by what is available. As the report says, moving to higher levels of female employment requires cultural changes beyond employment.
There are also significant differences between the two ‘market leaders’. The Netherlands has very high levels of part-time employment, whereas Swedish women tend to work full-time. It’s interesting that far more Swedish women would like to work fewer hours – 44%, compared with 25% in the UK and 18% in the Netherlands – and only 38% say they are happy with their hours, compared with 62% and 59%.
So there’s no magic solution. The report focusses on working mothers, but rightly acknowledges that we need to look at this issue across the whole life course. Preferences for different time schedules will vary according to age and stage, as well as being a matter of tradition and culture. But we can be pretty sure that increasing choice over working schedules is a positive way forward. The key point from the PP point of view is that greater worktime choice. over the life course, is I think an essential condition for better matching of people’s competences to work opportunities. The ippr report is a useful further bit of the jigsaw.
Cultural variance also leapt out from a report in the Financial Times a week or so ago. This was headed ‘Gender, class and education prove no barrier to Iran’s growing drug problem’. It pointed out that women now account for over 60% of Iran’s graduates. But these well educated young women find very little outlet for their competences, so they turn to drugs, with a doubling of female addicts since 2007: a powerful and sad instance of the effects of the Paula Principle.
What do Theresa May and
Grayson Perry have in common?
Maybe not very much. But on Desert Island Discs recently, May chose Walk Like A Man as one of her numbers. She hurriedly added that much though she swings along to the song, she did not mean it as a message to any ambitious females, who should walk their own walk.
Recently in the New Statesman Perry asks, how did the straight, white man get the keys to the kingdom, and when will he give them back? He goes for ‘Default Man’ as the label for this, saucily explaining his reasons : “I like the word ‘default’, for not only does it mean ‘the result of not making an active choice’, but two of its synonyms are ‘failure to pay’ and ‘evasion’, which seems incredibly appropriate.”
I doubt if May would go far along with that line of thinking, but there is some interesting overlap in their refusals to accept the standard male norm. Perry expresses very well what I have been arguing in making the case for ‘reverse convergence’ in respect of careers:
“Default Man feels he is the reference point from which all other values and cultures are judged. Default Man is the zero longitude of identities.” (my stress). We need a redrawing of the maps (or is it a reorientation of compasses), with a different set of standard reference points when it comes to defining careers and evaluating competences. Included in this might be more men actively choosing to pursue horizontal careers, not the default vertical orientation.
Maybe Grayson will take to wearing leopard skin shoes. Meanwhile, back at the statistical ranch, I came across some interesting figures – led to them, once again, by the excellent Flip Chart Fairy Tales. In early 2012, the numbers of men and women in ‘Professional Occupations’ was more or less equal. Now, women are out ahead, with nearly 2.8 million in that category, compared with 2.55 million men. The number of professional women has grown by 4.8% in the last year, whilst men have gone down by 0.5%. The trend is pretty clear.
But link it, as FCFT does, to pay: the number of people earning over £20K has gone down. Is this a coincidence – that as women come to the fore in professional occupations the modal salary (overall – not just for professionals) is dropping? I’m sure there is more to it than this. But we may have here at least a partial explanation of the ‘hollowing out’ of the labour market: it’s to do with how pay is determined, as well as with technological change…..
We went last week to the Almeida Theatre‘s extraordinary production of Merchant of Venice. It’s set in Las Vegas, with gaming machines and glitz everywhere, and intermittent appearances from an Elvis imitator. Portia is a dizzy blonde on 6-inch heels, and the competition to win her hand is pitched as a TV reality show. The accents are full-on American, except for Shylock who speaks with a thick German intonation, initially from behind a broad business desk.
For the first three acts I enjoyed the imagination that had gone into it and laughed at the jokes embedded into the glitz, but wondered how they were going to pull it into meaningful tragedy. The usual acid test for this play is how to conjure up sympathy for Shylock, such that we feel for him as he bleeds. In this production, the trial scene was truly dramatic;a semi-naked Antonio is strung up on a hook , his torso convulsing in gruesome anticipation of Shylock’s knife. Portia intervenes, dressed in a smart male business suit and flat shoes; and Shylock is spat upon and dismissed.
The coup comes in the last act. Generally this is an overlong working out of the joke which Portia and her maid Nerissa play on their respective lovers. In their lawyers’ disguise they have managde to extract from them the rings that the men promised never to let go, and can now exact their revenge. In this production, the women (or at least Portia) carry this through with real sharpness, and none of the standard affectionate teasing. And then comes the coup: right at the end, Portia, having revealed herself to her husband Bassanio, goes to her clothes bag and pulls out her gear – the big blonde wig and the silver heels. She gets one shoe on and then almost collapses in tears. Instead of falling happily into her husband’s arms, she crumples miserably. There’s no happy ending, for anyone.
Our view, huddled in theatre-bar conversation immediately afterwards, was that Portia had tasted freedom, and then found herself forced back into captivity . In her first appearance, in Act 1, she says: ” O me, the word ‘choose!’ I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike.” She is the passive prize of a competition. Conventionally we are glad when Bassanio wins her, as her preferred suitor. But – and here is the production’s originality – Portia turns out to be seriously clever in her legal thinking, even doing it on the hoof. She is much more than a confection of garish pseudo-sexy clothes. Having had the chance to show her talents, she now finds herself thrust back to her previous role, with Bassanio likely to spend more time on his (strongly homoerotic) friendship with Antonio than with her. She wants to choose what to do with herself – and can see that she’s heading straight back to the Vegas lifestyle. I thought this was a brilliant interpretation – and a wonderful illustration of the Paula Principle.
I was at a City Event yesterday: capital letters for the Power & Part-time Top Fifty awards. It was bright, cheerful and positive as the achievements were recognised of 43 women and 7 men who had demonstrably successful careers on a part-time basis. Many of them were on 4-day weeks, but quite a few work on three days or even less. One man is on a 9-day fortnight, which sounds to me as if ‘part-time’ is a label which stuck only precariously to him.
I had several interesting conversations with winners or their sponsors, who all had good stories to tell. I asked them (as per previous PP posts) whether they think ‘part-time’ is a helpful term. Most of them have come to terms with it as individuals, but agree that it’s not generally helpful. One woman told me that her husband also works part-time, I think in a logistics company, and gets regular stick for it. The consensus was that if we could move to ‘flexible working’ it might better – a category which includes full- as well as part-time. The key argument is that in advertising jobs flexible working should be the default position.
Anyway, I happened also to be browsing the European Quality of Work Survey. It asks two questions relevant to flexitime: Can you vary your start and finish times? and Can you accumulate hours for time off?
The chart gives the answers for the UK on the first question. The UK has higher averages for both men and women (only 45% of EU men and 40% of WU women can vary their start and finish times); but there’s a big difference between the genders.
Here’s a (possibly) surprising further comparison: the country with the biggest gap is Sweden, where 69% of men and 56% of women can vary their times. Maybe that means that Swedish men are more involved in the school runs etc; but it’s still a big gap.
The same picture emerges on the accumulation of hours for time off. In the UK, 48% of men say they can do this, compared with 44% of women. EU figures are 47% and 41%; Swedish are 74% and 68%.
So the P&P-T evening left me with two thoughts. One is that there is still massive scope for more flexible working, across most sectors and most organisations. Secondly, it is decidedly curious that the gender gap runs the way it does on this…..
We know that the ‘miracle’ of the UK labour market reflects trends that most of us are not happy with: people are working for lower wages and in greater insecurity. On top of this, they are working fewer hours, so incomes are dropping, and people’s uncertainty about their employment depresses their wellbeing.
The table below, from Craig Holmes’ contribution to a most interesting set of papers from the Policy Network, shows that ‘self-employment’ has grown considerably faster for men than women, and we know that this often disguises un- or under-employment. We also know that underemployment generally is growing, where women and men want to longer hours but can’t (overemployment also exists, especially for older professional men).
But it’s part-time employment that interests me most, as readers of this site will know. We know that part-timers are generally regarded as less committed to their work, even though many of them work beyond their hours, and that shifting to part-time employment is usually near-fatal for a career. These are major reasons why women work below their competence level. So why do I find a ray of light in the figures below, which show a big proportionate jump in men working part-time?
The answer is that I believe it is only when a significant proportion of men, across all levels, work part-time that we shall get a real change in attitudes and practices in relation to part-time working, and women be enabled to make full use of their competences. Or maybe (weaker version) we can say that the pace of change will accelerate the more men there are in this position. That’s a matter of realpolitik, not a normative judgement on my part.
So although it’s causing a lot of pain, it’s just possible that the jump in male part-timers might open the way for change for employment conditions for all in this category, if we can seize the opportunity. In another of the Policy Network contributions, Sylvia Walby addresses exactly this issue (though not specifically from angle of the Paula Principle). She argues:
1. the regulation of employment should be improved so that more women can stay attached to the same employer before and after childbirth;
2. women who are intending to return to employment after a break (but not the same employer) should get access to free training, so they can re-enter the labour market with refreshed up-to-date skills; and
3. applying the practice of ‘gender budgeting’ so that the gendered costs and benefits of financial decisions can be made more visible.
I’d strongly support all of these: especially the second because it naturally it appeals to my continuing belief in the value of training, and the third because as the PP shows we are wasting an awful lot of skill and experience.
High-quality part-time work could also be high-productivity work – something we need a lot more of. So maybe now could be the time to argue for a real sea-change in attitudes and practice in relation to part-time work, to balance the notion that the real business is to expand the number of full-time jobs.
Table from : Craig Holmes, Turning over the ‘hourglass’ labour market argument, Policy Network, Nov 2014
We went to the Design Museum, mainly to see my daughter who works there, but also to look at the exhibition on Women, Fashion & Power. This cigarette card caught my eye because of the title at the bottom (rather blurred, I’m afraid): “VAD woman’. How fashionable you think her uniform is, and what it says about her power, is not the question here. I came across Voluntary Aid Detachments when I read Dorothy Whipple’s novel High Wages. It’s one of the very few books I’ve come across which deals more than just fleetingly with women’s paid work.
High Wages was first published in 1930, and has now been smartly reprinted by Persephone Books. The heroine, Jane Carter, is a single woman, intelligent but poorly educated and ill equipped with marketable skills. She has no family to support her, and is grateful to get a job in a draper’s store, owned by Mr Chadwick. She and her fellow shopworker Maggie are paid a pittance, cheated by Mr Chadwick of commissions they earn on sales and by his wife of the food which forms part of their employment ‘package’. They work about 12 hours a day, six days a week.
It is 80 years ago so, although Jane lacks qualifications, she doesn’t lack competence. She is also enterprising. She hears that Northgate, a great house on the fringe of the town, is to be turned into a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital, and suggests to Mr Chadwick that he must tender to supply the hospital with bed-linen, table-linen, towels and so on. Jane takes it on herself to go to Manchester, returns with a specimen VAD uniform, dresses a wax model in it, and announces outside the shop that such uniforms are supplied within. She gets to know about a YMCA hut to be opened near Northgate, and procures the blue overalls and veils for the voluntary helpers.
What is the result of her enterprise and skill?
“Mr Chadwick was busier than he had ever been in his life before; money rolled in. Yet he paid Jane one pound a week, and Maggie thirteen and sixpence, and looked with complacency on his wife’s schemes to deprive them of their food rations.”
Exploitation – the gap between competence, effort and reward – has always existed. Today Jane would certainly not lack qualifications and she would be far better paid, and better protected (though some of these gains are today far from secure). But the reward for her competence would still probably fall some way short of fairness, if not as far as it did in Whipple’s novel.
I said at the top that this is one of the very few examples I’ve been able to find of fictional accounts of women’s employment. I was really surprised when I set out to gather a few examples which would illustrate the PP arguments: women working in jobs which didn’t match their skills, or careers which didn’t go far . I phoned a few friends, much better read than I am, and they came back with George Eliot, of course, and quite a few others from Victorian times. But there were hardly any items from contemporary or near-contemporary fiction.
I went to the British Library and consulted a few encyclopaedias, first of women writers, and then of fiction more generally – about 10 volumes in all. It was hardly what you’d call rigorous research, but here are the results. In none of the indexes did ‘ work’, ‘employment’, ‘job’ or ‘economic’ figure at all. The nearest I could get were 5 entries in Paul and June Schluter’s Encyclopedia of British Women Writers, under ‘Women and Feminism: equality in the workplace’. Of these two were from the C19 -Anne Brownell Johnson and Charlotte Turner Smith – and the other three from the first part of C20: Olive Schreiner, Mary St Clair Sinclair and Beatrice Webb, and BW’s work was, predictably, a tract on ‘The Wages of Men and Women: Should they be Equal? (1919), so not fiction.
I half-expect to be emphatically proved wrong – tell me so; there must surely be more accounts of how women get on or not at work. I’m curious.
Exactly 40 years A Working Women’s Charter was published. You can see a good TedX talk on it by Pamela Cox. On Saturday, a group which admirably aims to provide policy debates with a historical perspective, History & Policy, ran a meeting to reflect on how many of the original Charter’s demands had been met, and what a new Charter might look like.
The first Charter’s 10 demands were (in abbreviated form – I looked for an online version of the more detailed list, but in vain):
- Equal pay
- Equal occupational opportunities
- Equal access to education and training
- Equal working conditions
- Equal legal rights
- Free childcare
- More paid maternity leave
- Free contraception
- Increased family allowances
- More women in public life.
By most reckonings, 3,5 and 8 had been achieved, and perhaps 9 also; but on most of the others progress had been much slower than might have been expected, let alone hoped for. Item 3, education and training, is of course the area where women have not only caught up but overtaken men, raising interesting questions about what we mean by ‘equality’. But of course the essence of the Paula Principle is in the contrast between this and the lack of progress on item 1 and item 4 (if we take that to include ‘careers’ under working conditions).
Josie McLellan spoke about ways in which women’s work has been undervalued, part of the programme of a European network on women’s work and value. She pointed out that the change in the ‘discourse’, i.e. the way we talked about women at work, has happened much faster than changes in actual practice. I’m increasingly interested in how work gets valued, including what kinds of subjective measure are available. We know how much we earn; and we also maybe understand how much we subjectively rate our work; but how do we go about relating these to each other? I’m intrigued by whether women in some sense put a higher premium than men do on their subjective feelings about the value of their work relative to how much they are paid. I think there’s a lot of mileage in that debate, with practical implications for assessment and reward systems.
The working group I was on had an interesting mix of age and experience. We were asked to decide on which of the items on the old charter we would drop, and what should be put in their place. We were struggling with what kind of demand we should make to prevent the penalisation of part-timers when I had to leave (sorry, but a season ticket at West Ham brings its obligations). I’m keen to see what the new Charter will look like.
As an aside, I was very struck by a remark from the youngest member of the group, a history student. She said that she found most of her male contemporaries didn’t want to talk about these issues; they either turned away, or got a bit shouty about feminism. She, like all the other members of the group bar one (and me…) had gone to an all-girls school. I guess that the correlation is strong between having been to a single-sex school and feminist engagement.
The TV series Borgen is a rich source of material for the Paula Principle. We’ve just finished watching the first series (yes, I know, behind the times). Its principal character, Birgitte Nyborg, is leader of the Moderate party going into the Danish elections. She is married to an economics lecturer, with two school-age children, and one recurrent theme is her struggle to get home in time to see the children (and her husband).
One episode illustrates in a fleeting moment the imposter syndrome – the tendency of women (more than men) to think that they are not qualified to have got to where they are. On the eve of the election the candidates all appear in a TV debate. Brigitte suddenly discards her spin doctor’s speech and speaks from the heart, beginning with the admission that she could not get into her dress because she had put on weight. “We are who we are,” she says, “and must live up to our mistakes”. She then gives a barnstorming speech about inequalities. This propels her party to a big success in the elections.
The day after the election Bent, her trusty and experienced adviser, tells her that her party is just waiting for her to take them on to a prominent position in the new coalition: “Now go in there and thank them – and lead them,” he says as they walk down the corridor on their way to a triumphant party reception. Birgitte stiffens and says, to herself more than to Bent: “But what if I don’t know how to do it?” She then walks in to greet the cheering members, and eventually becomes Prime Minister. But that flash of the Imposter Syndrome is a recurring underlying motif as she takes on her new role; we are subtly aware of the constant challenges that Birgitte faces internally, as well as from the shark-infested waters around her.
Subsequent episodes show her toughening up, losing her vulnerability and becoming plus male que les males. There’s another illustration for the PP: Birgitte exhibits convergence on to the male norm. She issues orders with increasing authority, which shades into ruthlessness (even faithful Bent gets the chop). She ends up a lonely figure, though still in power. The final episode does a pretty strong line in Danish gloom, but it’s compelling stuff. I might even go on to the second series.