I’ve just had a fascinating discussion with David Hemery, the former Olympic gold medallist hurdler, and founder of 21st Century Legacy, a charity devoted to raising children’s aspirations to greatness.
The meeting was set up to explore our apparently opposing views of aspiration. David is absolutely committed to getting children to find their spark of greatness and to pursue it. Too many people say how ‘passionate’ they are about something when they don’t really mean it; David didn’t use the word, but he evidently is, in a very unassuming way, passionate about linking aspiration to social justice. So he’s for onwards and upwards.
By contrast I’m interested in people – women and men – who make a positive choice not to go further up the vertical career path . Of course I support raising aspirations (and social justice) But my argument is that more people will find fulfilment if we think of careers more broadly than as the ascent of a vertical ladder. Staying at a particular job level doesn’t mean that you are not a committed person with professional ambition.
So shouldn’t we have been arguing against each other? Well, I do believe that there may often be a tension between the kinds of single-minded concentration needed to realise greatness (at whatever level), and the need for balance in life. We also want to avoid people rising to their level of incompetence. But I thought it fairly unwise to go head to head with an Olympic winner who still has great energy to press his arguments. Happily we found ourselves very much in tune with each other.
The key, I think, to reconciling our two perspectives is to have a lifecourse approach. There may be periods, long or short, in our lives when a focus on a single goal is what is needed. There will be other times when life is full of different activities, none of them with particular priority over the others. A life characterised by a single goal, or type of goal, throughout its course is less likely to ‘succeed’, in the sense of true fulfilment. But the trick is to achieve not just balance at any single moment, but over time.
Easy to say, much harder to do. It’s especially hard to get a longer-term horizon into one’s life, and anyway how many amongst us really want to try to map out our lives that far in advance. David quoted John Harvey-Jones, usually known as a jovial business guru, who said that momentum is more important than direction, provided the momentum is forward. Tacking may be the appropriate image.
David left me with two encouraging episodes, to share:
- A deputy headteacher who had to act up as headteacher. She was unhappy at leaving teaching altogether, but got her job description rewritten to allow her to remain an active member of the profession
- The choice of Jessica Ennis as a sporting role model – by a bunch of 13-year-old boys at Wallingford school.
I’ve been doing a few interviews for the putative PP book, and they’ve prompted some thoughts about how different kinds of organisation do or don’t foster careers and progression. In particular, is working in a large bureaucracy more likely to help or to hinder a woman making her way up, at whatever level?
I caught some of Lucy Kellaway’s radio series, broadcast last year, on A History of Office Life. One episode dealt with the invention of the career ladder (it’s from that that I pinched the Dickensian illustration below), another with nepotism vs meritocracy. A third covered the arrival of women in the office. She slily sketches in the way office life evolved over the decades .
In principle, bureaucracy goes along with meritocracy. There are transparent rules governing such things as promotion, and this should reduce the scope for nepotism and unfairness. Everyone can understand what is required for going up the ladder, and those who make the decisions have to abide by them. This does indeed happen, and it allows leverage for making the process more fairer to all those involved. One of my conversations was with a former senior civil servant, Bella, who described how she and a colleague had changed the profile at the top of the service by a mixture of active argument (civil servants being on the whole rational folk), target-setting - with tight criteria and public accountability – and several other nudges. The combination brought about significant advancement of women through the upper ranks – though Bella was not completely sure it would be sustained.
I also listened in to several groups of women, from the central civil service and from a local authority, discussing the PP factors. I was very struck by three things. First, they were were very conscious of the gradings in the system, and of the procedures which operated for promotion between grades. This is, in one sense, what you would expect and what should happen in a bureaucracy – cf above on transparency. Secondly, though, they were alert to weaknesses in the procedures. I heard several times how ‘sponsorship’ was still needed, with ‘words in the ear’ still counting for a lot. No one spoke of nepotism, but there was a strong sense that you needed a personal backer to get that promotion, and men are more likely to have these.
Thirdly, all these women were serious about their work. They were mostly middle- or lower-grade professionals, and had no aspirations to be high-fliers. But they all wanted appropriate recognition (and reward), and to have a sense of progression. There was no torrent of complaint, but there was a general sense that the organisations they worked in were not making this happen as well as they might.
Finally, I talked to a younger woman, Ursula. Daughter of two professionals (a successful and unusual cross-race, cross-class, role-swapping marriage) she had not taken up a university place when leaving school ten years ago, but tried her luck at a musical career. In order to do that, she worked in a variety of jobs, but not just to earn money (and has now gone back to study – to Birkbeck, hurrah). So she has a track record of professional employment, but no obvious career path. I suspect, though, that she has gained experience of how to choose jobs and occupations without needing to have the steps laid out in front of her.
So one the one hand bureaucracies should favour women’s careers – and since the public sector is largely dominated by bureaucratic organisations, these are where most women work. On the other hand, women may learn to make their own paths if they follow less organised routes. It depends heavily on how competences are recognised. I’ll come back in a future post to consider whether social capital (networks) may be gaining in importance relative to human capital (qualifications and skills), and what the PP implications of that might be.
Mrs Moneypenny, a Financial Times columnist, wrote this weekend about how depressing she finds it that Mary Barra, the new head of General Motors, is being paid a basic salary of $1.6 million. This is 25% less than her male equivalent at Ford.
The gap is a significant one, and not atypical, though I find it hard to get too worked up about discrimination at this level. What I find depressing is Mrs M’s subsequent argument. Apparently Ms Barra’s predecessor at GM is being rehired as a consultant, at $4m (we aren’t told if this is an annual fee, but I assume so). Mrs M comments:
“That is someone who knows his value and negotiates well. That might be the role model I would want my non-existent daughters to look at.”
I’d take a rather different line. Ms Barra’s predecessor looks to me like someone who is well in with a group, presumably heavily male and certainly all wedded to very high remuneration levels which multiply massive inequalities, who make decisions about financial rewards at GM. The same men probably also sit on remuneration committees for many other large corporations. Markets in any true sense don’t come into these decisions much.
I am all in favour of women learning to negotiate for a fair deal for themselves. I recently interviewed a woman who loved her work at the interface of journalism and politics, did not care that much about money, but felt justly hurt at finding out that she was paid less than her equivalents. She felt undervalued – and had been coached by her partner on how to negotiate a fair deal in her next job. Great. There is a big distinction, though, between getting a fair deal, and extracting the maximum. ‘Value’ in this context is not something that is determined by some impersonal process; it involves particular people with particular outlooks and interests making particular decisions.
The key point for me is whether we want our organisations and their remuneration systems to be governed in ways which applaud the kinds of individual behaviour geared to extracting maximum personal reward ; and as a result encourage women to behave like the men who do this most successfully. We need changes in the reward system, very much so. But I’d rather see movement on this taking a different direction: instead of cheering if more women become like men in procuring (a good term, I think) outlandish salaries and bonuses, we should be asking how we get an overall fairer and less unequal reward system – because this will benefit far more women.
I would certainly like my daughters to know their value, and to negotiate well. Indeed, I’ve just been advising one of them on how and when to ask for a pay rise. But someone who extracts huge sums of money because their position and contacts enable them to do so is not what I think of as an ideal role model. I’d like them to have a really sound idea of what they are worth. This should certainly include relativities – what they are paid compared with their equivalents. But I’d like them to have their own sense of value and worth, against which they can judge what they want to negotiate.
We’re working our way through a box set of Bergman films, and came last night to Autumn Sonata. It stars Liv Ullman and Ingrid Bergman, as mother and daughter.
There’s a lot of quite heavy duty digging-down as LU reproaches her mother, a high-flying classical pianist, for neglecting her and, especially, her handicapped sister. In this film at least, Bergman doesn’t leave much to the imagination as far as psychological exploration is concerned. At the time, this very explicit examining of parent-child relationships must have been revelatory. It still packs a punch, due especially to Ullman’s extraordinarily expressive performance.
There’s a scene in which LU, or rather her 6-year old self, waits outside her mother’s studio for her to finish a practice session. She slips in quietly, to find her sitting in a chair relaxing. The mother immediately says to her, ‘Don’t disturb Mamma now, she’s working.’
The girl has waited eagerly but patiently for a pause in the practice, and hasn’t interrupted her. So it’s tough on her to be sent away, even though it is done quite gently.
I found this scene particularly striking. If IB had been the father instead, I think we would have seen it as unremarkable, a man preoccupied with his work and gently but firmly excluding the child. Here, given what we know about the pianist’s absence as a mother, physical and emotional, it becomes a painful, even heartless, rejection. It’s true that the IB character is a self-obssessed, egotistical drama queen who probably deserves the earful she eventually gets from her daughter, but her behaviour still attracts a kind of double criticism.
A more cheerful image just to counterbalance: at the Paul Smith exhibition in the Design Museum I came across this delightful picture of girl-hard-at-work.
I went on Friday to talk about the PP with the sixth form at South Hampstead High School, a single-sex school. The 60 or so girls engaged with the issues in lively fashion (or so it seemed to me), and I learnt much from the discussion.
Towards the end of the discussion one girl observed that I shouldn’t really be talking to them, but to boys – and men – instead. How right she is, for two reasons.
First, here are the latest UCAS figures on university applications.
In England, in 2014, 39.9 per cent of 18 year old women have applied compared with 30.0 per cent of men, making women a third more likely to apply for higher education at age 18 than men. This proportional difference has remained steady between 2012 and 2014.
A slightly lower proportional difference in application rates is observed in Northern Ireland where, in 2014, young women are 30 per cent more likely to apply than men.
In Wales, the proportional difference in application rates between women and men is higher, at around 42 per cent in 2014.
The proportional difference in application rates between women and men in Scotland has increased from around 44 per cent in 2012 and 2013 to 49 per cent in 2014. This increase has been driven by an increase in the application rate from women, while the application rate for men has remained unchanged. Also, for Scotland, there was a significant widening of the gap in application rates between women and men in 2010. This coincided with the integration of the Scottish nursing admissions system (CATCH) into UCAS.
These are really substantial differences, and I think it’s time for a debate on why this is happening (especially in Scotland…). There seem to me to be at least three lines of reflection:
1. Quite simply, just why is the gap so big, and growing?
2. If we think that there are lessons to be drawn from the girls’ superior performance and aspirations which might help boys, what are these?
3. Looking in a very different direction, is it conceivable that we should be thinking about a different emphasis for boys’ learning pathways? This is controversial territory, and of course I don’t think that there is any kind of absolute distinction. But what innovations might there be in our educational offer which fit better with different average maturation trajectories between the sexes? How far would these be compatible with general equality concerns?
The second reason for taking the discussion to males is very different. It is to do with male careers (not just of young men, but across the life course), and whether more men might be encouraged/enabled/incentivised/induced to pursue different trajectories. I’ve talked about this a little in earlier posts – and will return to it.
I’m normally a bit sceptical about international business survey results. but Business Insider recently produced a set of findings which I found really interesting. They come from pulling together the results of an enormous number of ’360o ‘ appraisals. These are where you as the appraised person get the views of all those you work with – above, alongside and below. So as well as your boss, you get the views of your colleagues who operate at the same level – and those who work to you.
BI pulled together results of 360o appraisals of 16000 ‘leaders’, about one third of whom were women and two thirds men. The average number of judgments which went into each appraisal was 13, which makes a big dataset. There were three very PP-relevant findings.
The first is that women were generally ahead in the ratings. They were seen as better than men under 8 of the headings, whereas men were ahead on two – Technical/professional expertise, and Develops Strategic Perspective. Btw, we aren’t told the gender breakdown of those doing the ratings, but let’s assume that there’s no significant intrinsic bias from that.
The second is the way the gap between men and women shows up over the life course. The chart below shows this pretty clearly.
In short, it’s in the scone half of the career path that women appear to pull ahead – those that are there in leadership positions.
The third PP-relevant finding is that women continue to go for self- development. This competency measures the extent to which people ask for feedback and make changes based on that feedback.
You can see that the gender divergence happens around 40. Women are more likely to go on seeking ways of developing their competences, whereas men seem to tend to believe they have things covered. This fits pretty snugly with evidence on participation in training, and adult education generally.
I’m not saying that most men fall into some kind of slothful middle-aged complacency while all women remain razor-keen on self-improvement. But these are quite strong indicators.
3 adverts from the same page in a recent Economist.
See next blog for Business Insider results on leadership competences!!
I’m taking part tomorrow in a Women’s Hour discussion on part-time work, so I thought I’d use this post as a way of clarifying for myself what the position is on the gender pay gap, using the recent ONS report on earnings. For the mathematically challenged such as myself some of the figures need a bit of puzzling out, but don’t switch off – I think it’s worth persevering.
First, the ‘headline’ figure which has attracted attention is the increase from 9.5% to 10% of the median hourly earnings of full-time employees. It’s right, of course, that we should be emphatically reminded that progress towards equality is by no means guaranteed. But the 10% was quite widely reported as the gender pay gap, and this misrepresents the overall position. If you take all employees, i.e. part-time as well as full-time, the figure is almost double, at 19.7% (up very marginally from 19.6% in 2012). Surely, since part-timers represent over a quarter of the workforce, this should be the main benchmark.
Secondly, the pay gap is actually ‘negative’ if you compare just part-timers. Part-time women’s median hourly earnings are 5.7% above that of male part-timers. This means that for those few men (6% of the total) who work part-time, their earnings are generally extremely low – i.e. they tend to be marginal members of the workforce, and to work in female-dominated occupations.
But here’s a twist. If you look at the mean (average), and not the median (the mid-point), the picture changes. (This is ONS Table 8.) The overall gender pay gap remains quite similar, at 19.1%. But the ‘negative’ pay gap for part-timers turns into a ‘positive’ one (these terms start to look rather strange to me…). Men part-timers have higher mean hourly earnings, by 5.2%. I assume this is because a few male part-timers are very high earners, so that even though most female part-timers do slightly better than their male counterparts, at the top end there is a huge discrepancy in favour of men.
Still with me? In that case, have a look at Table 9, which shows the distribution of earnings, going from lower to upper. For those just above the bottom, the differences are small, and zero for part-timers. At the media, as we have already seen, they are at 10% for full timers, negative for part-timers but 19.7% for all. Near the top (but still far far away from the real big earners), they are much much bigger. The 23.4% is bigger than either of the others, because many more men than women are full-time.
Table 9: Gender pay difference by distribution of median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime), UK, April 2013 Full-time Part-time All
10th percentile 6.6 0.0 7.2
Risking serious overload, here’s one more set of figures which I think are really important. They are not about the full-time/part-time gap, but the way the gender pay gap changes across age groups. I’ve calculated them from ONS Table 12. They are median hourly earning, for full timers (yes, I’m sinning against my own principle, but it’s forced on me – the part-time figures are not there!) For those aged 22-9, the gap is 6.0%. This rises to 8.0% for 30-39 year olds. And then: for 40-49 year olds it triples, to 23.4%, and 50-59 goes up again to 24.6%. For 60+ it drops to 21.1%.
That’s a pretty dramatic profile. Some of it is because the current generation of older women have fewer qualifications. But the 40-49ers will already have caught up with men in terms of qualifications. The key Paula Principle question, though, (almost the key PP question) is will we see the age profile of the gender pay gap change, to reflect women’s competence levels?
I hope I’ve got all that right. Tell me if not.
There’s a long-running debate about what the impact of new technology is on skills at work. Routine jobs are liable to automation and/or outsourcing to countries where labour is cheaper. But how far are less routine jobs beaching vulnerable to the same processes?
Which kinds of jobs get automated is obviously relevant to the PP. Will they be in the occupations where it’s mostly women that work? What will happen to the kinds of jobs that women mainly do? I’ve been reading (parts of) a pretty strenuous piece on this by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne from the Oxford Martin School, called The Future of Employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation? They map likely developments to map the future of a huge set of detailed job descriptions, using an elaborated 2- dimensional matrix: routine vs non-routine, and cognitive vs manual.
Some of the results are already quite familiar, e.g. advances in health diagnostics. Some I find personally quite alarming, e.g. hospitals using robots to deliver food and prescriptions. I think I’ll be examining my plate quite carefully next time I’m in for an op. The paper concludes:
“Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”
Now the Paula question is, who is most likely to have those skills, women or men? Sorry folks, but there’s no simple answer. However, I did scan through the list of 702 occupations which Frey and Osborne rank order according to their likelihood of being computerised. Quite a few are jobs which I have no idea what they are. But here are the top 10 (i.e. most likely):
Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators Tax Preparers
Cargo and Freight Agents
Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
And here are the least likely:
First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics
Emergency Management Directors
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Orthotists and Prosthetists
Healthcare Social Workers
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers
Dietitians and Nutritionists
Now I know there aren’t many female maxillofacial surgeons, and this is a very superficial skim of the analysis. But overall I’d say that if you went through those lists; and you combined their implications about female/male profiles with the conclusion about social skills, you might conclude that the future looks a bit rosier for women than men, at least as far as vulnerability to computerisation is concerned. But then maybe we’ll see a lot more male recreational therapists in the future. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I suppose….
I gave a small – very small, attendance about a dozen – seminar on the PP recently at the Institute of Education. A clever press release, not written by me, gained a lot of coverage – including the illustration below for the Peter Principle, which made me chuckle.
What captured attention was the argument that only if more men work part-time will part-time work become more recognised as a legitimate career option. Is this a pessimistic argument, or a realistic one? I know that friends of mine firmly believe that the only way to go is full-time. But my argument is that the progress towards greater equality at work has been largely achieved by more and more women working more and more like men; and that there is much more scope now for moving on how more men might follow the kind of work patterns traditionally regarded as female, without giving up career aspirations.
It would be great to have views on this.
There is an interesting comparative dimension on the extent of pt work by women. The EU average is around 32% for the proportion of women employed who work part-time. Netherlands is way ahead with 77%, followed by the German-speaking countries - Switzerland (60%), Germany (45%), Austria 44% – Belgium (43%) and then the UK with 42%. There is a strong East-West divide within European countries. Almost all former Eastern bloc countries have low levels of part-time work by women. This is presumably because in these countries post-WW2 women took jobs on the male model, and that pattern became firmly established early on. Even relatively successful countries such as Estonia are down at 13%, and the poorer countries such as Romania and Bulgaria are far lower. (I’m grateful to Riikka Vihriälä for giving me the data after the seminar.)
The correlation between economic success and levels of part-time work is quite strong. I’m not suggesting causality either way. It simply suggests to me, yet again, that part-time employment should be one of the central concerns of overall political and economic debate.