Paula Factor 5, you may remember, is positive choice:  where women make the decision not to go for a job which is above their current level because they actively prefer to stay doing what they are doing, or to move in a horizontal direction.  They don’t need the money or the status that a promotion would bring;  they feel they are exercising their competences already and/or learning new ones; and they do not want to rise to a level where they might perhaps become examples of the Peter Principle.

I’ve been discussing this with a male friend.  He sent me the following:

“I know clearly in my own career I have been very doubtful about seeking advancement because of concerns about not being sufficientlycompetent. But these get muddled up with rationales about not wishing to take on the strain of more responsibility. And then in  retrospect it often looks as though this perception of strain proved to be right - it matters how you anticipate that you will respond to anxiety, pressure etc. Some seem to enjoy it , many suffer with it though.

Then I worked in a very progressive college with a large proportion of highly capable women middle leaders. A strong pattern developed of them not seeking promotion (and some males too), so other candidates were promoted instead.

There are two open questions for me here:

1.  What happens if a significant fraction of people with a particular profile opt out of promotion – does it leave an opposite type as more likely to be in leadership roles, by default?

2.  Are higher level jobs the wrong shape’?”

To which I replied:

I’m increasingly clear that jobs are often defined quite dysfunctionally, and this is now a definite feature of the gendering of work – i.e. jobs, especially senior ones, are defined in ways which – quite understandably – reflect those who currently hold them or have held them in the past;  and therefore ‘discriminate’ against women.  The really interesting question is how much plasticity there is in different jobs, i.e. what the elbow room is for rewriting the jd.

It would be great to hear from anyone who wants to follow through on any of his comments/questions, with examples or questions of their own.



I’ve been reading a collection which focusses on how and why men do or don’t learn as adults.    It’s a basic component of the Paula Principle picture that men appear more reluctant to engage in learning, formal and informal, across most OECD countries.   The PP looks at the consequences  of this (or lack of them) for women ;   Men Learning Through Life  asks what this reluctance means for men.   It is not an exhibition of ‘moral panic’ about male disadvantage, but a good research-based look at a distinctive issue and what might be done about it.

men learning


The book draws its inspiration from pioneering studies done some time ago by Veronica McGivney.  She was the first (at least in published form)  to point out how adult men disappeared from the learning lists.  Men Earn, Women Learn was the neat title of one of her early studies.  This is interesting for me not only, obviously, because of its content, but also because Veronica was a woman writing about the experiences of the other sex.  I’ve just had the PP book turned down by a publisher on the grounds that I’m a man, and one question for me is whether this is judgement is based on an accurate sense of the market – and whether it raises any ethico-political issues.

Anyway, back to MLTL .  The book  covers a number of countries – Ireland, Greece, China and New Zealand, but the mainspring is Australia, and particularly the “men’s sheds” movement there.

The sheds are places where men, especially those who have worked mainly in manual jobs can get together, just for a chat but also to practice their skills, work-related or not, and to learn new ones.  Typical skills are wood-turning and painting.   They can also pass on their skills – one or two sheds were set up to help intergenerational learning, where the older men offer guidance to adolescent boys who are not doing well at school.  The important thing is that it’s a place where they feel comfortable;  the sheds cater especially for men with few qualifications who are often on the margins of the labour market, and who have never felt at ease in a formal educational environment.

Australia is a country with a fairly pronounced masculine culture. I can’t be the only person who recalls the Bazza Mackenzie strip cartoon and the dubious practices which took place in the shed there.

barry mckenzie(More recently we had the real-life spectacle of  a female prime ministerJulia Gillard,  being on the end of some truly awful treatment.)   So the sheds raise some interesting questions for contemporary thinking on gender.  The authors address the issue of whether setting aside spaces for men reinforces gender differences generally.  There are some obvious respects in which it does, but the overall message is that if men can use them to engage in learning, including communicating about what they are doing, this has a broader social benefit.  Sheds can alleviate the difficulties of some marginalised groups.  And in doing so they may help  their families also.



A quick post following a good meeting yesterday organised by UCU, on widening access to higher education, in the august surrounding’s of the Dean’s Yard Westminster.  (My last post came from the even more distinguished crypt of St Paul’s – where will I find myself next?).

Two key issues struck me.  One was ‘trends in gaps’.    Helen Thornley of UCAS gave details of the latest figures on applications and entries to universities.    The gap between those from the most and least advantaged backgrounds is diminishing – though not very fast, and not o the ‘high tariff’ (i.e. elite) universities.  At the same time, the gap between female and male entries is growing.   If these two trends continue, the gender gap in favour of females will overtake the socio-economic gap in favour of better-off young people.  That’s quite a crossover to contemplate.

When I talked afterwards with Helen she said how difficult it was to get a proper debate going on the gender gap issue.  We both wondered why.

The second issue was about careers advice, or guidance.  Angela Nartley of UCU reported on some research they have been carrying out on young people’s perceptions of HE – whether it is for them, why they will or won’t choose to go, where they might go and so on.  The sheer lack of any advice was very striking.  Most of them never visited a university, and got information only from family or friends.  Most striking of all was that only 38% even accessed information on HE via the internet.

The report notes:  “Young women tend to have a more coherent picture of what they want to do after school.  The tend to source multiple suggestions on potential careers, rather than focussing on university courses.”

The two issues are linked.   Young men are much more likely to use only family or friends as their source of information.  So peer group plays a stronger part for them.   As Ann Hodgson pointed out, it may become progressively less cool for young men to continue their education, especially if they come from a poor background.  What are the alternatives for them?

“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.

St Pauls

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    t may  Theresa May  and

grayson perryGrayson 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.

Merchant of Venice

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






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