Swedish skirt solution
My visit to Sweden earlier this week coincided with a great story from there, which made it into several newspapers. 12 male traindrivers were banned from wearing shorts, even in hot weather when their cabs are particularly badly ventilated. So they turned up in skirts instead – and the company went along with this (it’s not said how reluctantly) since to do otherwise would have been discrimination. The original ban sounds nonsensical, but it’s a nice solution. ( I tried googling for an illustration for this post, but ‘man and skirt’ led me to adult only sites.)
In discussion with a Swedish colleague I raised the question of why jobs are so heavily segregated by gender there, and how much this matters. She was more immediately concerned with the relative pay levels between sectors than with the actual levels of segregation, ie whether teachers and nurses are p aid less because they work in a feminised sector. Of course this is in a country with highly compressed levels of pay – though inequality is now growing quite fast in Sweden.
Talking of which, on the same day as the traindriver story the papers carried the news that the UK’s best paid executive is now a woman, Angela Ahrendts of Burberry, who ‘took home’ nearly £17m. I always find that phrase slightly quaint when applied to executives, as if they are wage-earners who carry back a (rather large) brown envelope and hand it over to their waiting spouse so s/he can get on with the household budgeting. In any case, it’s a startling figure for anyone, which fuels the debate about the divergence of women’s experience between top and bottom.
Back here I took part in the Girls Day School Trust’s annual conference. This was definitely an invigorating event, with contributions from Helen Fraser, the GDST’s chief executive and a former senior publisher, Ann Francke of the Chartered Institute of Management, and Clara Freeman, the first woman to be an executive director of M&S. A lot of very useful advice was dispensed, to the assembled headteachers and their girls (some of which I could have done with myself earlier in my career). It was a particular pleasure to talk with some of the girls who came for the evening presentations. I was struck by the fact that head girls at these GDST schools seem all to be appointed/elected in pairs; I wonder if this is the case also for their equivalent boys schools. If not, does this say something about different notions of leadership?