Better than equality?

In a previous post I discussed different possible effects of the current pandemic on gender and careers. On the plus side, the wholesale shift to working at home should (should…) blow a big hole in the prejudice against flexible working, with its related bias against anything that does not look like a full-time career. It will take time before we see how strong this effect is.

I was ambivalent over how working at home would affect the domestic division of labour. It’s possible that men actually being present at home would lead them to share childcare more equally. But I listened in on a recent RSA webinar on the future of work, and heard researcher Laetitia Vitaud refer to a dismal result from an analysis of academics’ outputs: that for women academics their production of research papers had fallen by 70%, whereas male academics had seen no such effect. I can’t find the study itself, but it’s a gloomy pointer. Research by Alision Lacey, from the university of Sussex, reports that 72% of mothers describe themselves as the default parent for all or most of the lockdown time, and almost the same proportion as the parent most responsible for home schooling.

At European level the story seems similar. A Social Europe paper from Massimiliano Mascherini and Martina Bisello reports:

Among parents of young children (up to and including 11 years old), our data confirm that work-life conflicts are troubling women more than men, as illustrated in Figure 1. For instance, almost one-third of these women found it hard to concentrate on their work, as against one-sixth of men, while family responsibilities prevented more women (24 per cent) than men (13 per cent) from giving the time they wanted to work. But work is also impinging on family life: 32 per cent of women in this group said their job prevented them from giving time to their family, against 25 per cent of men.

More bad news came from recent HESA analysis of salary outcomes for recent graduates. This is pre-Covid19, and shows that gender pay gaps for graduates open up very early.

Source: HESA

This is contrary to most of the trends I have seen previously, which suggest that the GPG is minimal for graduates until a bit later in their careers, but needs checking out. I’d like to know how much is due to occupational choice – which sectors female and male graduates enter.

I was glad to join in the Equality Trust’s event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. It’s fairly astonishing to think that it’s been that long, and no one doubts there is still a long way to go. I very much liked the caption to an early cartoon, quoted by Hilary Wainwright, with a bunch of women saying to a group of puzzled men: “Equality? We had something better in mind.” In a way, this captures exactly what the Paula Principle points towards: given women’s strong lead in qualifications, skills and competences, simple equality is not really the goal. I’d love to find the cartoon itself.

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