The long and the short of it: differentiating part-timers

I went yesterday to the launch of an important new book, Unequal Britain at Work.  Using surveys that go back about 20 years and more it documents changes in the way we work and how it is rewarded:  not just how we are paid, but  the quality of the job, measured in terms of intensity, discretion and so on.

A crucial feature of the book, and of the presentations made by its editors, Francis Green, Alan Felstead and Duncan Gallie, is the attention it pays to groups usually considered marginal, especially  part-timers and the self-employed.  One of the overall conclusions is that there has been a fair degree of convergence on non-pay issues (in striking contrast to the rising inequality of pay overall).  Some groups have  done better on some aspects, others on other aspects.   There is no overall cumulation of disadvantage,  but a mixed picture for most groups of progress in some areas but retreat in others .   So it goes against the idea that there is a growing ‘precariat’, in the UK at least; or rather, it means that the precariat is smaller, but those who are in it are more intensely disadvantaged.

The chapters on gender, by Joanne Lindley, and on part-time working, by Tracey Warren and Clare Lyonette, are particularly relevant for the Paula Principle.   The latter makes a particular advance by distinguishing between part-timers who work 20-29 hours and those who work under 20 hours.  Any dividing line is arbitrary, but this is a big improvement on lumping all part-timers together.

Warren and Lyonette show that the ‘long pt’ category has been growing, so that over half of all part-timers are now working more than 20 hours.  These are now quite likely to be working in higher level positions – by 2012 36% of them were in such jobs.  They were very likely to report themselves as working very hard, though not quite as likely as women working full-time.  This is especially true for women graduates.

Women part-timers still work in jobs which require fewer educational qualifications than full-timers.  But this gap has been shrinking.  The gap between the two (measured by a standard score) has gone down from 51%  in 1986 to 22% in 2012.    On the other hand, more part-timers are working below their potential, i.e. they hold higher qualifications than the job they are working in requires.   41% of all part-timers were underemployed;  this figure rises to almost half of all those working short hours.

In other word:  part-timers are increasingly well-qualified but underemployed.  And although ‘short’ part-timers are less well qualified than long part-timers or those working full-time, they are still more likely be working under their potential.  Further  confirmation of the PP, as if we needed it.

AsSumptions: progress and pace

High Court judge Jonathan Sumption has given his views to the Evening Standard on how fast the legal profession can or should move towards greater gender balance.  In his view it will take a long time (perhaps 50 years, see below), and cannot be rushed without great damage to  the system.  I’m only going by the ES piece, which is risky.  But assuming that the interview is a fair representation of Mr Sumption’s views, I think it raises some very interesting questions.

First, and most important, is the general issue of how far working practices – in this case, amongst the judiciary – are somehow fixed because of the nature of the job, or can be modified.  On the one hand, Sumption is very clear that they are not ideal:

“The Bar and the solicitors’ profession are incredibly demanding in the hours of work and the working conditions are frankly appalling. There are more women than men who are not prepared to put up with that. As a lifestyle choice, it’s very hard to quarrel with it, but you have to face the consequence which is that the top of the legal profession has fewer women in it than the profession overall does.”

So:  this is the way the law works, and that’s why women sensibly choose not to go for these kind of jobs (Paula Principle 5).  At the same time, he accepts that this way of doing things is not immutable:

“We have got to be very careful not to do things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the  cards are stacked against them. If we do that we will find that male candidates don’t apply in the right numbers.”

Sumption presumably has an idea of what the ‘right numbers’ are, but doesn’t tell us whether that happens to be the exact current figure.  We need to know. But he is quite right that we need to debate how fast things will and could change.    I’ve argued before that the pace of change is an inherently political issue, especially when it comes to things like greater gender equality, and that part of the politics is the practical challenge of managing change successfully.  So he’s obviously right that there are dangers in trying to move ‘too fast’.    But Sumption seems to think that the pace of change has to be a purely evolutionary one.  In other words, things will simply take their course, and the system will evolve towards an acceptable level of equality.

“You’ve got to be patient. The change in the status and achievements of women in our society, not just in the law but generally, is an enormous cultural change that has happened over the last 50 years or so. It has to happen naturally. It will happen naturally. But in the history of a society like ours, 50 years is a very short time.”

Here is the danger of relying on a newspaper interview.  It may  well be that Sumption outlined the active steps he thinks ought to be taken to achieve a reasonable, though not excessive, rate of progress.  But if he did we don’t hear about these, and ‘happening naturally’ sounds as if  there weren’t any.  Instead, we assume a steady projection of current trends, with an implied 50-year timeline .  My conclusion is that Sumption a) recognises that intervention is possible;  b) warns against it trying to move things along too quickly;  and so c) implicitly at least wants things just to take their course, in some inherent internal process.

People more familiar with the legal profession than I am will have more to say on whether this captures the general feeling within the profession.  There’s clearly a debate to be had about what changes might be consciously and deliberately made to the ‘appalling’ working conditions which discourage women from seeking these top positions.  But the Sumption position illustrates a much wider issue, which goes to the heart of the Paula Principle.

The issue is the extent to which current working practices are determined in advance, as it were, by the nature of the occupation; or can can be adjusted to reflect the availability of competence, and the changing gender composition of that competence .  Some practices are pretty immutable:  it’s hard, for example, to adjust the working hours of those on oil rigs, to make them more family-friendly or even person-friendly.  But are the current working patterns of judges immutable in the same sense?   Is there nothing that could be done without imperilling the culture of judicial public service which Sumption wishes to preserve?

The same question needs to be put across a whole range of occupations where women’s competences are currently under-utilised.  The Paula Principle applies at all levels, and not only to the high-flyers.  But it would be good to know more about how high-flyers – of which Sumption is one of the highest-flying – envisage the pace, and the mechanisms, of social change.


PP and ethnic integration

No, this is not about the current migrant issue, dominant though that is in all of our minds.  (It will, incidentally, be very relevant to see how well the competences of the Syrians are recognised, given that many of them are very well qualified, but that’s another story.)

It’s about changes in the attitudes of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women towards employment.  The Economist reports some very interesting changes in their participation rates.  In the early part of the noughties, 31% of Pakistani women and just 21% of Bangladeshi women were in the labour market.  Since 2008, these proportions have risen quite sharply – in the case of Bangladeshi women by 13%.   This at a time when the numbers of Bangladeshi men in work have fallen.

There’s obviously a major generation factor here.  Younger generations of women will have been to school in the UK, and gained qualifications that their mothers did not have, as well as native English competence.    The result is a rise in the incomes of these groups’ household incomes – in contrast to all other households.  Other ethnic minority groups saw their household earning drop, especially black African and black Caribbean.

The question for the future is whether this trajectory will be continued.  In other words, in addition to actually gaining employment, will these Bangladeshi and Pakistani women see their earnings match their qualifications, so that they can enjoy a career with some upward progression?    There will be another longish lag before we know the answer, but it’s worth asking the question now.

Hillary and Montaigne: knowing when to stop

Readers of this blog may know that PP factor 5 is ‘positive choice’.  That is, one of the five factors that explain why women work below their competence level is their capacity/willingness to choose not to go up one further rung on whatever career ladder they are on, even though they could (probably/possibly) do so.

By ‘positive’ choice, I mean a decision that is, as far as we can tell, a free one, not driven by  the prospect of grumpy partner unwilling to increase their share of the childcare.  It would be good, incidentally, if more men made such choices; for one thing it would reduce the instances of the Peter Principle (people climbing to their level of incompetence).

I’ve recently come across two pieces which illustrate, from very contrasting angles, the kinds of issue that PP 5 illuminates.  The first was a Guardian piece by Mary Dejevsky.  Dejevsky is an admirer of Hillary Clinton, but she urges her to desist from running for the White House.  The headline for the piece reads:  I’m a Hillary Clinton fan. But I hope she bows out with grace.  Dejevsky worries that Hillary is carrying too much baggage, and may get beaten, for the nomination or in the election.  She runs through her many achievements and qualities, and concludes:

“It is a distinguished and remarkable career, but it is now time to call it quits, while the decision is still hers to make.”

If Hillary followed this advice, she would meet a tidal wave of disapproval and disappointment from those who hope that she will break the barrier and become the first female POTUS.  But what a fine example this would be of positive choice.

Now for something completely different.  I’ve just finished reading Stefan Zweig’s short book – the last he wrote – on Montaigne, in a very readable new translation published by Pushkin House.  The translator, WIll Stone, also provides an illuminating introduction;  I for one had no idea of the sheer range of Zweig’s writings.  Apparently Zweig stumbled across Montaigne’s Essais in the villa in Brazil to which he fled in 1940 (and where he and his wife died in a double suicide  in 1942).  He became fascinated by Montaigne, and wrote a short but very coherent appreciation – his last work.

Montaigne is best known for retiring to his circular tower and contemplating life from its second floor.    Zweig argues that his extensive self-contemplation is very different from the egoism and arrogance of which Pascal accused him.  Instead, this self-regard is a way of understanding himself and how he should live.  (Montaigne eventually left his tower and devoted himself to public service, inspire of acute pain from kidney stones.)

Montaigne believes that people should pursue their passions and ‘strive for the fullness, the limits of enjoyment, but not exceed them.’  As Zweig puts it:

“One must not alls oneself to be impelled by a sense of duty, overriding passion or naked ambition, to go beyond one’s natural capacity;  one should endlessly weigh the genuine value of things and not overestimate them;  one should stop when the enjoyment stops.   One should safeguard a clear-sighted mind.”

I doubt that Hillary has the time, or even the inclination, to read Montaigne, but she might find something to ponder there.


Ageing and equality: a curious relationship

Another really interesting post from Rick at Flip Chart Fairy Tales, this time on the impact of gender equity on demographics worldwide.  Rick cites an important study by Anderson and Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania.  The basic point is that in countries where women go to work but there is no accompanying social change to reduce their domestic commitments, the birth rate falls.

I’ve pointed before to Japan and Korea as countries where the Paula Principle applies particularly strongly, and it’s no surprise to find they have dramatically ageing populations:  their highly educated women are forced to choose between children and careers, and even if they choose to carry on working the odds are very much against them achieving anything like the levels of their male colleagues.

The unsurprising contrast is with Scandinavian countries where birth rates have turned upwards, as policies and culture makes it easier to combine work and family.  By contrast, the Southern European countries see their populations ageing fast.  Catholic values apparently can’t persuade women to abandon their wish to work.

It takes a long time for cultural change of this kind to happen, politically and domestically.  Add to that the time it then takes for any demographic upward shift – a lot longer than nine months.  And it’s not exactly a smooth glide.   The UK is in with the other Northern European countries in having a slower ageing rate (of its population – there’s no magical solution to individual ageing).   This is linked to greater gender equality.

Problem solved then?  Not according to  the latest CMI report on pay equality.  It has a neat infographic on the persistent gap, including how many days women work ‘for free’.  The overall gender pay gap is narrower than it has ever been.   But the CMI study – a large one, covering 72000 people –  shows very strikingly how much  the pay gap is an issue of age.

“The survey data also reveals that the pay gap becomes wider as women grow older. Women aged 26-35 are paid 6% less than their male colleagues, rising to 20% for women aged 36-45. The gap increases to 35% for women aged 46-60, equivalent to working 681 hours for free compared to their male colleagues. For women and men in their 60s the pay gap expands to 38%.”

So:  greater gender equality stops our population from ageing;  but the gender pay gap increases with age. Something odd there.

Qualifications, overqualification, etc

We’ve had the annual  pictures of  school leavers celebrating their A level results.  As usual most of the pictures feature girls, hugging each other or jumping in the air.  This is partly because girls have as always better results to celebrate, partly because they are more likely to be seen as photogenic.  I did see one  picture of a pair of boys congratulating each other, but the hug looked like a very awkward clinch from which both would break away as quickly as they could.

The significant gender difference was quite a prominent theme amongst the comments.  Projections show us moving rapidly towards a 2:1 ratio in higher education, in favour of women.  We already have a majority of women in each graduate cohort, and the difference will only get larger.   But what kinds of job will these graduates go into?

A CIPD  report, Over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market, followed soon after, and was quite  timely, even though it does not include any gender differentiation.   The authors, Ken Mayhew and Craig Holmes, patiently go through the numerous different senses in which we use terms such as over qualification or skills mismatch.  How far do graduates actually work at ‘graduate’ level?  The answer depends on whether we mean jobs that you need a degree to get, or the kind of work that you actually do in the job.  And of course this changes over time.

Mayhew and Holmes break the evidence down to quite a fine-grained level, looking at how different occupations seem to show different effects.  But their overall conclusion is quite a sceptical one:

“The simplest interpretation of this development is that HE is acting as a filtering device to identify the most able individuals and that these individuals are no more or less productive in such jobs than their mothers or fathers.”

On the Today programme, Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University and a former minister of higher education, was asked for his response.  He of course has an interest in maintaining high levels of student entry.   His main point was that those with university degrees continue to have generally higher incomes;  the so-called ‘graduate premium’ is around £10K annually.   True enough.  But  the CIPD report is asking a different question.  It is not about individual benefits/returns, but about whether the system of education on the one hand and the world of work on the other are making the best use of people’s talents.  That generates some tough challenges, which go beyond simplistic questions about whether or not we expand higher education.   I’m convinced that the extent to which women and men’s skills are used differently will be an important component in such a debate;  we don’t yet have enough detailed evidence on this.

Early modern England: whose skills were applauded?

I’ve just read Keith Thomas’ The Ends of Life: roads to fulfilment in early modern England,  about what people valued during the early modern period (that’s 1530-1780, for those who like me need a definition).  KT provides a glorious stream of quotations on 6 areas where people might have sought fulfilment – wealth and possessions, fame and afterlife, honour and reputation, and so on.

One of the areas is ‘work and vocation’, and this chapter provides nice  insights into the division of labour.

“Some occupations were thought to be unmanly because they could equally well be performed by women: brewers, bakers, and cooks all suffered from this stigma.”   I wouldn’t have thought of brewing as liable to be undermined in that way.

KThomas Endsoflife

On the other hand women figured in a whole range of unlikely occupations:

“There was scarcely any productive occupation in which women did not play at least some part.  They could be blacksmiths, butchers, building labourers, chimney sweeps, colliers and agricultural workers;  they went out in fishing boats; they were heavily involved in the textile industries;  and they participated in a wide range of retail trades.  In Jacobean Southampton one widow ran a slaughterhouse where she killed pigs, sheep and cattle.  It it likely,’ Thomas wryly adds, “that at least some of this work enhanced female status and self-esteem.”

Thomas’ overall conclusion is unsurprising:

‘Though many female occupations, from midwifery to embroidery, were technically demanding, women were less likely to be applauded by contemporaries for their skills and dexterity than were men.  Public and professional life, business success, technical know-how and hard manual labour were all seen as intrinsically masculine.” (p105).

It would be great to see a chart which covered occupational esteem and rewards over a few centuries, and matched that to the gender profiles of the occupations.

Theatrical chaos

Beautiful Chaos is the arresting title of a book by Carey Perloff, on her life and times as director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.   I have a partner with 30 years’ experience as an actor but I have no professional understanding of the theatre; yet the book engrossed me with its insights into the dynamics of the world backstage.  (Declaration of interest:  Carey is a second cousin of mine, though we’ve never met.)

C Perloff

Two themes in the book struck me particularly.  The first is the emphasis put on theatre as a vehicle for lifelong learning.  At a technical level Carey describes the changes she made to the training programme for ACT actors, fitting them for a broader range of theatre  roles;  this would make an excellent case study for anyone engaged in changing professional training.  She makes an eloquent case for the part theatrical encounters can have for the public at large, expanding their access to the range of human experience.  As for schools, she says:.

“Children who participate in arts at school display better concentration, greater empathy, richer imaginations, and less truancy…Without arts education, there are no future audiences, since without a gateway experience to teach them the pleasures and benefits of interacting with the dramatic arts young people aren’t likely to seek out theatre on their own later in life.”

And so she and her company have made strenuous efforts to involve themselves in schools, especially in areas whose residents wouldn’t normally think of theatre as part of their lives (as it happens, one of my daughters does something similar here for the Royal Opera House).

I would only add that actual participation in the arts has exactly the same kind of effects on adults – maybe not in reducing their truancy levels, but certainly on the other dimensions.   Taking an active part in the arts is a wonderful form of lifelong learning.  (I went yesterday to the Almeida Theatre’s production of The Oresteia: what a rich source of material for exploring the clash between emotional ties, justice and the harsh demands of power.)

The second theme is the more PP-relevant one:  Carey’s experience as a senior woman in the world of theatre.   She describes the intense juggling involved in taking on the ACT director’s job  a very volatile environment as a mother with a small child, and the incredulous reactions when she became pregnant again early in her time there. She overcame these by drawing extensively on what must be an extraordinarily powerful internal energy source, as well as a very collaborative husband .  But there are also passages where she reflects more widely on the cultural aspects of female leadership:

“It was only in the process of writing this book,” she says early on, “that I began to realise how long it actually took me to stop playing at being a man and to acknowledge my own personal point of view on the world and on the work.”   And then towards the end of the book she writes:

“I didn’t expect the female angle to figure so strongly until I realized that for a woman to see herself as the center of a narrative is a difficult and unusual task.  We are so used to being supporting players that we feel bashful when we take centre stage,  Or I certainly did.  ….  As a culture we tend to remember male successes and female failures, so that women have to succeed over and over again just to stay in the game.  And once we have survived, women have to remember to talk about what we’ve learned, so that there is a mirror for the women right behind us.”

As I say, I don’t know Carey personally but my guess is that she would not normally have been thought of as bashful, even earlier in her career.  It’s a telling fact that she herself feels that way.   The more general point, though, is the one about how success and failure are attributed, not only at Carey’s level as artistic director of a major heater company but at all levels.  Most people will not have the chance to explore this through writing a book.

The point  is  one that I recognise also from several occasions in my own experience, as well as from interviewees for the PP book.  The more confident people are – or present themselves as – the more likely they are to be credited with success.  Men generally find it easier to do this than women.  The confidence often has some kind of relationship with actual performance, but it may be only partially or not at all justified.  The result is some very unfair rewards, where confidence is mistaken for achievement, and lack of confidence for incompetence.

Conversely, being aware of one’s limitations has advantages and disadvantages.  One of the reasons why women are generally keener to go for training is that they are more ready to acknowledge gaps in their competence.   On the other hand, being too hesitant can unnecessarily inhibit you from fulfilling your potential.

The key conclusion I draw from this is not simply that women should have greater confidence in their own records (though this is often the case), but that we need to avoid making  ‘confidence’ in the sense of self-promotion such a prominent factor in careers.   If the convergence is all towards the male pattern, i.e. of boosting one’s capacity to make one’s own case (NB we are talking generalisations here), there will be a relentless growth in self-marketing, at the expense of intrinsic capability and performance.

In any case, Carey’s point about talking about what has been learned – positively and negatively – is surely the crucial one, and one the book admirably exemplifies.

Pay gaps, at both ends of the scale. And OECD on an overblown finance sector.

Two heavy-duty reports came out recently,  both relevant to the PP though from very different angles.

First a commission set up by the Resolution Foundation to look at the attempts to introduce Universal Credit produced its final report, Making the most of UC.  Mainly this grapples with the incredibly complex issues posed by the attempt to simplify the benefits system through Universal Credit.  I’d blow several gaskets if I even attempted to summarise it here, but one of the central issues is how to enable people work at lower levels to earn more, and to keep more of their earnings.   The current system often traps people in low-earning jobs, with the result that the major poverty problem is now around the working poor more than those without work.

This has a strong gender angle, not just because it’s usually women who are low paid but especially because they are usually the second earners in households needing two earners to make ends meet.  The tax and benefit systems (plural, because they are two, often conflicting, systems – if indeed they are systems at all) penalise many of these women, deterring them from working at all or levying a ridiculously high level of marginal taxation as benefits are  withdrawn and the household’s aggregate earnings remain below the poverty level.

The opportunity to move up the career ladder is crucial. At the launch meeting Paul Gregg pointed out the two things are needed for progression: increasing working hours, and moving up the pay scale.  Emma Stewart, from Timewise, added to the list:  employers need to provide better incentives for career progression and better support for those trying to make a career on a part-time basis.   Adequate rewards and decent prospects for part-timers is a constant theme in these blogs.  We can now see that it’s central to the reform of the benefit system that everyone agrees is needed.  Will these messages get through?

At the other end of the scale are our old friends the bankers.  Or rather, those working in the finance sector, many of whom are far from being ‘bankers’ even if they work in a bank.  Here the evidence comes from the OECD, in a paper on pay inequality in the finance sector.  Three things to note here:

a. Entirely predictably, men’s pay is higher than women’s in the finance sector in all countries.

b. The pay gap in finance is actually smaller  than in other sectors at the lower-earning end of the distribution.  In other words, women working in the lower grades  of the finance sector suffer less of a pay gap than do their sisters at equivalent  levels in other sectors.  But at at the top end the pay gap is even bigger – 29% in the top decile.  I don’t think anyone working at that level is going to feel much material pain (certainly not compared with those under scrutiny in the Resolution Foundation report), but it’s a big gap nonetheless, and hurts symbolically.

c.  These two points cover OECD countries generally. When it comes to inequality, the UK is a remarkable stand-out.   Fig 14 in the report gives separate charts for 18 countries.  The chart for the UK has to use a different scaling to all the others, because the inequalities are just so high at the top end.  None of the other countries need a vertical axis which goes beyond 40% for the gender pay gap;  in the UK it has to go to 70%.  An unenviable distinction, on balance.

I want to add in a link to the post which originally sent me to this paper, by Patrick Love of the OECD.  Patrick consistently writes witty and informative blogs that give excellent access to OECD material.  In this instance, he points us to a report which deserves really wide coverage.  It has the unprepossessing title Finance and inclusive growth.  What it shows – and here I am risking a summary – is that the finance sector, if it becomes too big, inhibits rather than encourages growth.  Once above a certain level of economic development, therefore, countries should pay attention to how large they want to allow this sector to become.  En plus, an overblown financial sector diverts talent from where it could be more usefully applied (now I’m into my own way of putting it – but this is the OECD’s message).

It’s the talent question that counts for PP.   Finance accounts for much of the income inequality, and therefore for much of the pay gap.  How far do we want women to aim for the vast remuneration available at the top of this sector?  If they don’t , that’s quite a block on greater pay equality.    Either way, the picture is one of distorted rewards for talent.

‘Apprenticeship’ and ‘part-time’

I went recently to a presentation by Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller, from the LLAKES centre, of their very informative work on adult apprenticeships, in the lovely Bedford Square offices of the Nuffield Foundation (one of our most effective foundations).  In the pre-election period there was  a rather ludicrous bidding war between the parties on how many apprenticeships they could promise.   We’ve ended up with 3 million.

‘Apprenticeship’ has a good solid ring to it, which is why the parties jumped on it.  It implies work-relevance, application, skill and good employment prospects.  The problem is that it is now used very broadly, so broadly that it is losing that solidity and in some cases becoming simply a rebranding for any form of adult training.

Apprenticeships used to be just for the young.  Not any more. The LLAKES report shows how the number of adult apprenticeships has grown.  In 2012-13, 45% of new apprentices were aged over 25, with 32% 19-24 and just 22% 16-19.  Whatever an apprenticeship now is, it is no longer a young man following in a master journeyman’s footsteps.

Which takes us to the gender angle.  The majority of under 19 starts were men (55%).  But the further we go along the life course, the more female the picture becomes.  A large majority – 61% – of those starting an apprenticeship aged 25 or more were women.   The patterns confirms the latest ONS figures on training generally.  At 18-24 participation rates are more or less the same for men and women.  But for 25-34 year olds women are well ahead (16% to 13%).  The gap increases to 4 points for subsequent age groups, meaning there are about 4 women for every 3 men in training over the adult life course.

All that is in line with the PP’s point of departure, that women are accumulating an increasing share of the nation’s human capital.  But there’s a bit of a twist.  I asked at the meeting whether access to apprenticeships was open to part-timers.  David Hughes, the chief executive of NIACE, helpfully pointed me to SFA regulations which say:

“Apprentices must have spent a substantial percentage of their time as an apprentice actually doing the job they are developing a skill in, on premises where that job is usually carried out. This will normally be for at least 30 hours a week, but may be more.”

So one the one hand we’re supposed to think of apprenticeships as a form of learning which fits in with work at any age.  On the other hand it’s not supposed to apply to anyone working fewer than the completely arbitrary dividing line of 30 hours.  Make sense?