We seem to be getting a flurry of useful reports just now.  Last week it was the turn of the CIPD to publish very solid one on Pay progressionfocussing on the barriers for the low-paid to moving up the ladder.  It has a very strong Foreword from Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman (sic) of the John Lewis Partnership.  He argues that our low pay reflects a productivity problem, and notes how many low-paid people have no clear paths to show them how they might progress.

The CIPD use the three  categories of low-pid worker which were developed originally by the Resolution Foundation, and which have proved themselves sound:

Stuck are those who remain in low-pay over a 10-year period

Escapers: those who start in low pay but find their way out

Cyclers: those who move in and out of low pay.

About 20% of the low-paid are stuck, just under 40 are % escapers and just over 40% cycle in and out.  Many young people are cyclers, not surprisingly;  quite a few of them, especially the better qualified, can expect eventually to escape.

It’s no surprise that women are far more likely to be stuck than men, and somewhat more likely to be cyclers.  Getting on for 2 in 3 low-paid women are stick or cyclers, compared to 40% of men.  Much of this is due to their greater likelihood of being part-time.  Working more than a year part-time within a 5-year or 10-year period is strongly linked to being stuck.

This is predictable, and familiar to readers of the blog, but important.  Less predictable is the relationship between low pay and job satisfaction.  Stuck low-paid people have higher levels of job satisfaction that the cyclers or escapers.  Of course this is in one sense natural:  if you like your job you’re more likely to stay in it, despite the low pay.  So there are trade-offs to be made, and that’s what life is made of.  But the CIPD report is very strong with its concrete recommendations on how employers could do more to provide pathways for people to progress out of their low pay.  They suggest that employers should think about ‘professionalising’ routes into higher pay, providing small steps upwards, especially for part-timers.  Definitely on the right track.

The research also involved qualitative material from focus groups: younger and older men and women, from London and Sheffield.  One quote struck chords with me.  It’s from an older woman, talking about the courage required to go for a new job:

“Years ago when you went for a job you were normally interviewed by one person and they normally offered you the job there and then.  But it’s not like that now;  it feels like an interrogation…You feel sick before you even go, don’t you?…So if you’re the sort of person who can sell yourself, then fine, but if you’re not then once you’re in a job it’s easier to stay there.”

I’ve found in the interviews I’ve been doing that women sometimes express an ambivalence about the system of selection and promotion at work.  On the one hand it seems to have become less arbitrary , i.e. less a matter of someone just fingering you for the job according to their own preferences;  on the other hand women often find the process quite intimidating.  They seem less comfortable with the idea of ‘selling yourself”, especially if they think it’s a matter of using the right rhetoric rather than sound  evidence on what they can do.   Practically that’s quite a hard one for HR people to deal with.  It’s part of a wider issue around how a person’s ‘value’ is demonstrated, and rewarded.

A powerful new report, The Missing Million, has just been published by PRIME, the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise.  It makes the case for enabling far more older people to stay in work.  Many elements of the case are quite familiar:  the challenge  to us all of an ageing population; the need for individuals to assure themselves of a decent income in old age;  the intrinsic value of work, e.g. in the social contacts it brings;  and so on.  But there is a wealth of factual analysis and insights to back it up, some of them quite surprising (to me at least).  Apparently people in the UK on average believe that old age starts at 59 –  lower than most countries in the EU, whose average is 62.

The report calculates that £88bn is lost to the economy from the underemployment of older people.  I’m getting a bit sceptical of some announcements of this kind, since they usually involve heroic assumptions, in the understandable desire to produce an impressive headline. In this case, the assumption is that the employment rate of older people could be raised to the same as that of younger people, which is probably unrealistic, as they acknowledge.  But the basic point is sound and strong:  whether it’s £20 billion or £40 or £80, it’s a very big figure.

PRIME missing million   The demand is there. “ 26% of people aged 50-64 who are currently out of work, would like to work. These results are suggestive of a silent cohort who are currently out of work but could still make a significant contribution if the right employment support was in place.”

But there are many barriers: discrimination, lack of training, and so on on the one hand;  and caring responsibilities and so on on the other.  One of the most important  sections concerns flexibility at work.  This is crucial, given that older people do work long hours: analysis of the Labour Force Survey shows that those who are in work aged 50-54, work an average of 37.8 hours per week and those aged 55-59 work an average of 36.6 hours per week.

It’s very clear that many more people would stay at work if they could work shorter hours, and ones that suited their timetables more.  Partly that’s linked to health:  older people do suffer more from aches and pains (don’t I know it…), and serious complaints such as heart or breathing.   In fact many people of all ages would rather work fewer hours; the key point is that more older people would be willing to do this and take an accompanying pay cut:

“By age 55-59, nearly 40% of all those in work want to reduce their working hours compared to 7.7% who wish to increase them. In addition, 15% of all those in employment amongst this age group would take shorter hours even if it meant less pay. Overemployment, as it is often termed, is therefore more prevalent amongst this older age group than any other in the UK. It implies that there is a large cohort of people in their 50s who are locked into long hours against their will.”

There is a set of concrete and practical recommendations to finish the report, which provides a good agenda.

On gender, though, I think the report misses a trick.  The authors note:

“Until the female employment rate rises to match the male rate, women are likely to remain worse off in retirement than men and reliant on their partner or spouse for income in retirement. The equalisation of State Pension Age is likely to see further falls in female inactivity but women are also more exposed to certain key factors pulling them out of the labour market, such as caring for family members and relatives.”

But  the report is a bit short on breakdowns by gender – notably on exactly the issue of the demand for flexible working.  Of course they can’t include everything.  But there’s an important angle missing: the report ignores the increasing skill levels of succeeding generations of women.    This substantially increases (and will go on increasing)  the overall cost of failing to enable older workers to carry on –  whether or not it reaches the full £80 billion.

Pensions don’t grab everyone.  When I was a youngish researcher, about 35 years ago, I did a study of employee trustees of pension schemes, and how much influence they had on the way the schemes were managed.  I got quite into this, since it seemed (and seems) to me really interesting that there were employees formally involved in the management of huge sums of capital (even then, in the early 1980s, the funds were worth many billions).  “Pension fund socialism’ was a prospect raised by the management guru of the time, Peter Drucker.  In fact I got so into the topic that my friends used to make ‘switch-it-off’ gestures; years later I used to get phone calls from some of them saying “Tom, you know about pensions….”

Anyway, October’s Prospect magazine has a supplement on pensions, with a very interesting piece by Norma Cohen.  She brings together demographic trends, most obviously increased longevity, with analysis of the investment challenges, e.g. bond yields.  She has pertinent things to say about how people underestimate their pension needs, and the doubtful merits of increased ‘choice’ in respect of pension products.

When it comes to the problems of matching investment returns to the reality of longer lives,  Cohen says “the solution to what looks like a pensions crisis may be to simply re-think what is meant by retirement.”  Working longer is, obviously, a major part of this.  It is already happening, to some extent: between the 2001 and 2011 censuses the percentage of those at work aged 65-75 roughly doubled, to 16%.  But she also brings into the picture the opportunity costs of women choosing to have babies.   These costs are, as readers of this blog will know, increasing steadily because of women’s increased skills and qualifications.  Reducing these costs is necessary if we are to improve the fertility rate, and to boost economic performance sufficiently to cope with the pensions crisis.

This links nicely with the puzzle which the impressive Resolution Foundation is currently grappling with:  what is happening to our labour market:  why is employment holding up, whilst wages are dropping, Matthew Whitaker showed us at an event today how this is happening in a way that is historically almost without precedent.   Investment too has fallen away drastically;  and productivity has completed failed to grow.  This is all rather weird.

Now here’s the specific link to Paula.  Matthew showed amongst other things that over the period 2007-13 women’s wages have held up better than men’s, with women losing on average only 0.4% compared to men’s drop of 1%.   That may seem to go against my general theme of women being under-rewarded for their competence.  But my hypothesis is a) this difference is quite small relative to the way women’s skill levels have been growing faster than men’s;  and b) the fact that wages overall are so depressed may be in some measure the direct result of women now having a greater share of our overall human capital.  Apart from anything else (discrimination etc)  we know that, individually and collectively, women negotiate less hard, on salaries as well as bonuses.

In other words, an important factor in the productivity puzzle is the following cluster of facts: a) women represent a greater share of our national stock of skills ;  b) women tend to claim less in the way of wages, so c) employers get labour cheaper, and d) make lower capital investment, so that e) productivity is lower.   Can anyone do the necessary calculations on this?

Chwaere Teg means  ‘fair play’ in Welsh – a good title for an organisation that is doing excellent work promoting equality issues in Wales.  I was in Newport last night giving a lecture for them on Paula (and chapeau to them – they aim to alternate female and male speakers in their lecture series, though the audience was 90% female).

chwaere teg

We had quite some discussion on careers.  Chwaere Teg produced last year an excellent report, A Woman’s Place, on women in the Welsh workforce.  Welsh women are upping their learning – 55% have recently taken part in adult education or training, compared to just 39% in 1996, and a full three-quarters of these did so to help their career.  Many woman feel that their skills are not fully used , and this is especially the case in lower-paid jobs.  But the proportion of women saying they want promotion has dropped since the 1996 survey.  The explanation is probably that the economic climate has depressed expectations/aspirations.

I ran into some flak for expressing opposition to 50/50 proposals.  I’ll repeat that I believe 50/50 arrangements may be necessary as a kickstart in some circumstances.  But for me it reinforces the unfortunate idea of a simple binary division, and goes against all the thinking and research which shows that men and women overlap on most characteristics.  If we want targets – and they are often necessary  - then realistic thresholds, e.g. of a minimum 1/3, are much more suitable (as well as being practically much more manageable).

One participant came up with a great phrase in relation to how we get things to change.  Organisations, she said, either have to feel the heat or see the light.  And she went on that since there’s not much heat around, we need to keep generate as much light as possible.


In the last couple of days I’ve done one of my last PP interviews, and had a lively discussion with members of the NHS Employers Forum.  Both brought up the question of the effects of networks on people’s career prospects, and how difficult it is to draw the line between networks which are part of ‘normal’ working lives, and those which serve to exclude women.

My interviewee, Olivia, is 30ish and works for a global branding agency.  She told me how in her first years there a middle-aged manager had put together a group of younger male colleagues, who went whisky-drinking together.  Olivia saw this as a rather desperate attempt on his part to cling on to his departing youth;  but it seems also to have had a significantly divisive, you might even say discriminatory, effect on how information passed around the office, and on promotion prospects.  Happily, the central figure departed for their Tokyo office and gradually that particular network dissolved.  This is a classic example of an exclusionary form of social capital.

Exactly the same issue came up in the discussion with the NHS Forum.   We talked about how hard it is to draw the boundaries around direct and indirect discrimination – a topic on which the group had a great deal more expertise and experience than I do.  One very experienced member recounted how he had taken explicit action to counter the effect of the pub-going network on the prospects of Asian female staff, who were not going to go anywhere near the pub.  He aimed to make sure that the women all got as much information as the others (though it wasn’t quite clear to me how he actually did this).

It’s neither possible nor, arguably, desirable to try to prevent colleagues going to the pub together and talking about work there.  It seems to me (as a man, of course) one sign  of a healthy workplace if people want to do that rather than scattering immediately work is over, even though it isn’t accessible to all.  But there’s no doubt that it’s an in-group that discriminates (in the neutral sense, as well as possibly the negative sense) against some people.

I also heard the argument that most of the PP factors – confidence and childcare, as well as vertical networks – should be treated as forms of discrimination.  As I said, I’m not expert on the technical aspects of this.  But it seems to me that ‘discrimination’ should as far as possible be reserved for describing serious acts and practices for which someone should be held responsible.  Otherwise, behaviour which is clearly culpable gets lumped in with acts which are mainly a matter of lack of awareness.  I know this doesn’t solve the issue of where you draw the boundary, and I acknowledge the power of the argument for classifying them under discrimination, but I’d still try to separate out these factors.  It was certainly a discussion from which I learnt a lot.

Afterwards one member sent me a link to a brilliant Youtube number which does the business on different labels for men and women.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOjNcZvwjxI&feature=youtu.be .

I was chatting recently to a friend who lives in France.  We were musing sadly over the state of a country which we both love – she as a long-term resident, me as a sometime resident and frequent visitor.  The French economy is in poor shape, they have major social fractures, French culture seems to have lost its cutting edge;  and the political situation is dire, from almost every angle.

There was an interesting recent piece by a political journalist (I’m afraid I can’t remember who it was) which argued that the French presidency was designed by de Gaulle for himself; more or less worked for him for most of his incumbency;  but since then has been in steady and inexorable decline.  De Gaulle set it up to combine a degree of democratic legitimacy with an embodiment of the French state – himself.  The President has enormous executive powers  He (they have all been men) can and does dismiss Prime Ministers, and at the same time represents the state, externally and internally.

It requires very considerable stature to make this kind of constitutional set-up work.  But stature is precisely what has been in shorter and shorter supply – and I’m not referring to the difference in height between De Gaulle, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.  Sarko’s offensive blingery (to say nothing of his possible corruption, currently under investigation) and Hollande’s lack of leadership and personal authority have overseen a steady slide in the standing of the presidency and in the efficacy of the French system.  It’s no surprise that they are morose.  The only winners have been the Front National.

So these men have not been up to the job.  In a sense they have all been instances of the Peter Principle, rising at least one level too high. That may be unfair in this case, if the job is simply not doable, as the pundit argued.  Maybe anyway it’s the case that “all political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure”, as Enoch Powell famously remarked.  But I have been thinking anyway of a significant contrast between two prominent politicians of the last Labour government.

Gordon Brown was a man of extraordinary ability and a commanding figure as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a sad failure in the prime ministerial position for which he’d waited so long.  He could not make the necessary decisions, including, fatally, on the timing of the general election which he eventually lost.  The qualities which marked him as a highly competent Chancellor (though not without flaws – no space for that here) were not the ones which could sustain him in the top job.

In the same administration, Estelle Morris resigned as Secretary of State for Education.   She had been a teacher herself, and arguably understood education from the inside better than very many of those who have held that office.  But she acknowledged that she felt the job of being in charge of the country’s education system was just too big for her.  For this she received some very unworthy flak for having betrayed the cause of women.  But how courageous a decision that was, and in the long term – I think –  how empowering, for men as well as women.

I have to add one other example, which goes against my case:  Alan Johnson, who refused to run for leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that he did not think he was suited to the job.  Anyone who has read his wonderful memoir, This Boy,  will know just how remarkable his journey to the top has been, and I am a wholehearted admirer of his political intelligence and personal humanity.   We’ll never know if it was the right decision, but it was a fine one to make.

Having started off this post being gloomy about France, I’ll finish on a cheerier note.  I’ve asked Clo’e Floirat to do the illustrations for the Paula book.  Below is an example of her  fine work, which I hope you’ll enjoy.



illustration © Clo’e Floirat

Today will be full of news about A level results and what is happening to student access to higher education.  I hope at least some attention will be paid to the continuing plunge in mature student enrolments, and especially to the way in which part-time higher education has been harshly squeezed over the last years, but the focus will be on school leavers.  My firm bet is that a count of the images used in the press reports on exam results will show a big majority of girls.  One reason of course is that papers find them more photogenic , and they probably smile more easily than boys;  but another is that there will, yet again, be many more successful girls than boys.

I want to switch attention away from HE, to the much neglected FE sector.   FE was the first sector where a ‘gender crossover’ took place, i.e. where women began to outperform men educationally.   That was a good 25 years ago. I chair the governors of the Working Men’s College in Camden, which caters for an extraordinarily broad range of students.  Our Diversity Day is a glorious spectacle, as students from over 60 nationalities put on national costume, and provide national food and music.    Our major strength is in ESOL, but we excel in all kinds of fashion courses, and in arts and humanities, including pottery classes which produce a constant stream of interesting shapes.  Our latest venture is hair and beauty – inside Holloway Prison.working-mens-college-logo

Of course our name is a regular source of comment, and about every five years we  think about changing it.  Over two thirds of our students are women.  We do call ourselves the Working Mens College for men and women, and our  subtitle is Camden’s Community College.  But the title is literally built into the bricks, and is a powerful brand with a very long history reaching back to the 19th century, so for the time being it endures.

Anyway, I’ve just been reading papers from the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills on ‘outcome-based success measurement’ for colleges (such are the joys of governorship).   I think, incidentally, these are probably the first DBIS papers published under the watch of Nick Boles, who has been appointed as the new Minister for Skills and Equality  - that’s an interesting combination of portfolios, and I look forward to seeing how he brings the two together.  DBIS is pushing forward outcome measurement, which is fair enough – provided that the measures are used in the right way, and they have published a consultation

The key measures are sustained employment and sustained learning.  In the accompanying paper on experimental data, for those who finished a course in 2010-11 we can see first that there are many more women completing FE courses – 814K to 676K, a difference of around 20%.  When it comes to employment outcomes – i.e. whether the person went on to be in employment for at least 5 months out of 6 during the period October 2011 to March 2012 – the rates are identical for women and men, at 61%.  But when it comes to sustained learning – i.e. those who were engaged in learning, whether or not they were also in employment – there is a large gap:  24% of women are still learning a year or so on from completing their course, compared with 17% of men.   That means about 115K men continued learning – and 195K women.  The competence gap continues to surge, in FE as elsewhere.

I’ve just finished reading Money for Everyone by Malcolm Torry.  It’s an exhaustive, and quite exhausting, account of the case for a Citizen’s Income – a basic unconditional payment to be made to every citizen –  man, woman and child.  A simpler version of the case is available from www.citizensincome.org.uk.

The CI would bring together our current tax and benefits systems – if they can be described as such.  Torry goes into gruesome detail on the complexities of the benefits system.  He shows how strong the incentives are for people to cheat.  The complexity and perversities of the ‘system’ are such that anyone with an unstable earnings record is likely to have really strong reasons not to declare earnings.   The costs of byzantine conditionality are enormous.  In straight financial terms it costs £181 to administer an Income Support claim, £92 for a Jobseekers Allowance and £351 for a means-tested Pension Credit.  These are just the administration costs.  On top of this come the financial costs to the individuals; and the psychological costs of confusion, uncertainty and unfairness.  A basic unconditional payment would cut these at a stroke.

From the PP point of view, the key issue is the provision of a steady income platform on which an individual can build as circumstances require.  The incentive to earn is much clearer, and people keep a far higher proportion of any additional earnings.  For those who do not conform to the standard model of continuous full-time employment, the benefits are enormous.  And of course most of these are women.  Because a CI would mark a giant step towards dethroning the full-time continuous job as the standard, it would give a huge boost to careers which do not fit this pattern.  And this means a much better outlook for women’s competences.

It would mean, obviously, that paid work would be more likely to fit with other responsibilities.  It would mean, gradually, that employers would recognise that people who are working non-standard patterns can be just as committed, and just as interested in a ‘career’, as anyone else.  And it would mean that unpaid work would be treated more on all fours with paid work – and the competences which accompany unpaid work would achieve better recognition.  All of these would do much to get a better fit between women’s competences and careers; and at the same time it would greatly expand the range of realistic choices open to men as well as women.

The CI has been around for a long time.  It has generally been dismissed as either cranky or ok in theory but unworkable.  But when it was first being discussed 20 or so years ago, the labour market was very different.  Employment patterns are now so diverse that the CI looks a much less strange idea.  By coincidence, this is exactly the conclusion Larry Elliott comes to in today’s Guardian.

As a political sell, it’s a tough one.  Many will have an instinctive reaction against the unconditional something-for-nothing proposal. You can imagine what the Daily Mail would make of it.  But as Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit – intended to address some of the very same problems – flounders hopelessly, the CI may just be able to claim a realistic place on the agenda.


I watched Jimmy Wales being interviewed on Newsnight last night.    They are aiming to increase the diversity of their contributors, on gender and other dimensions.  He said that only 9-14% of the contributors to Wikipedia are women.I found this figure surprisingly low, and wondered what the reasons for it might be.  The most likely seems to me to be to do with self-confidence:  women are less likely to consider themselves authoritative enough to provide an entry, or to correct others’ entries – even though there is no entry barrier to contributing, as far as I know.

Wikipedia image






A few days ago I interviewed Ann Oakley.  She referred to a book by Jean Baker Miller, written in the seventies, Towards a New Psychology of Women.  It had a chapter called ‘Doing good and feeling bad ’, which Ann said had influenced her.  Women are brought up to think of themselves as serving others, whereas men think of themselves as autonomous beings with their own individual pathway.  We talked about how men and women do or don’t put themselves forward, and it occurred to me that ‘self-promotion’ has a dual sense:  putting oneself forward, generally, into the public eye;  and (thus) securing an actual promotion.  But this doesn’t explain the Wikipedia absence, since there is no personal promotion – exactly the reverse.

I like the Wikipedia image/logo, with its jigsaw pieces .  Jimmy Wales said that of course it was a work in progress, and would always be so.  I hope the collective assembly of the jigsaw, without hierarchy, can be maintained, even when there are so many attempts to manipulate the authority of knowledge.

The cabinet reshuffle has hardly been an exercise in gleaming meritocracy: after much trailing that it would change the gender profile, just two women were added to the numbers of full cabinet members.  This is not, at all, a snide comment on the competences of those who have been promoted.   It is simply that the exercise seems to have been very largely to do with presentation, and not at all to do with competence.  And that’s not only unhelpful to the supposed  beneficiaries but runs directly against the cause it’s supposedly espousing – better recognition for women.

It’s good that David Cameron has been sparing in his reshuffles.  Whether you like what they’ve done or not – and I mostly don’t, sometimes strenuously  so – he has allowed his ministers to get their feet well under their desks, learn their trades and work to a reasonable timescale.

But the timing and manner of the reshuffle has had consequences.  Some ministers have been shifted out who have performed adequately or at least done what they were supposed to do.  Some who have stayed have shown spectacular incompetence, damaging many others very badly but apparently not themselves – Iain Duncan Smith being an obvious example. But the main relevance to the Paula Principle is the way in which the women have been appointed so late in the (fixed) parliamentary cycle that they are given no chance to demonstrate competence.  We are already nearly into conference season and then the election;  even if they happened already to have their new portfolio at their fingertips, they can hardly introduce any changes before time runs out.

It means, inescapably, that this has been a pretty cynical exercise.   I am slightly reminded of the ‘glass cliff’ idea – that where women are put in charge of companies it is the ones which are just about to plunge downwards.   Be that as it may  Nicky Morgan, who replaces Michael Gove, may be a tough and clever politician, but she is clearly there to put an emollient sheen on the government’s record.  The competences required are cosmetic not substantive, and that is sad.

By the way, I learn from the Centre for Women & Democracy website that  Ed Miliband  has committed Labour to having 50% women in their next cabinet.  They already have 40% in the shadow cabinet, so they are above any reasonable threshold.   The rigid 50/50 formula is to me not just practically problematic , but actively undermines the notion of gender which rejects treating women and men as two wholly discrete groups.  Why shouldn’t women make up 60% of the cabinet?

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