What Can Be Done To Get True Equality In The Workplace?

08/03/2012 18:24 | Updated 22 May 2015

Today marks the 101st International Women's Day – and at MyDaily, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to find out what women – and men – really think about what equality means today. Together with YouGov we asked about everything from attitudes to prostitution to boardroom quotas.

The results are startling. Perhaps the most eyebrow raising answers relate to women and the workplace, specifically the marked differences in the responses between men and women. More than half (56 of women, highlighting that women still have a way to go to convince men that inequality is still rife at work.

What can be done to get true equality in the workplace?50 high profile women, incuding Karren Brady, joined Nick Clegg to open the London Stock Exchange this morning. Photo: PA

An anecdote: in a recent conversation about equality in the workplace with a couple of male acquaintances, they (like the men in our survey) said women have an equal standing in the workplace. They referred to their female boss who managed to juggle an incredibly successful job in PR with three children under the age of five. It soon transpired that she managed this by employing a (female) nanny.

I have no problem with this, but it is far from being the ideal of sexual equality in the workplace. Hiring a nanny is both a luxury and a lifestyle choice that divides opinion, but certainly not a solution to most women attempting to further their career. Later it transpired that she often had to leave work early to pick up her children rather than her husband. The reason? "It's more frowned on if a man uses childcare as an excuse to leave work early" was the response.

As much as I want to be a believer, all too often even the most 'have it all' set ups remain flimsy and contain far too many ifs and buts to signify true, unqualified workplace equality, and this is exactly what was reflected in the MyDaily survey.

While it's well documented that women have succeeded in closing the gender gap in education, few have succeeded to see this translated to the workplace. Despite impressive results at university, British women continue to lose out on seniority and wage equality in the workplace.

And women are acutely aware of this: only 19 of women. Of course Cameron's 'golden skirt' policy raises its own issues. Would women artificially installed in the boardroom get the same level of respect as their male counterparts, however qualified they are for the job?

Boardroom quotas are extreme – but perhaps not entirely unjustified if it means dramatically altering the role of women in business. Hopefully the policy would be a catalyst for a wider set of changes that would eventually create a new business norm.

That said, tbe policy ignores the elephant in the room: motherhood.

It's a fact of life that women give birth. It's also a fact of life that they need to take some time off during the immediate period of time before and after the birth, And, eventually, someone is going to have look after the needs of that child until they reach an age when they can look after themselves.

The state encourages women to take this time from their career to raise kids. Statutory paternity leave is a fraction of statutory maternity leave, and although men can't give birth, they are just as qualified to change a nappy. In countries like Sweden paternity leave is enforced so that men have to take the same career breaks as women, which are funded by the state. This isn't necessarily the solution for Britain, but the conventional world of work has not caught up with the needs where men and women have careers, with few senior positions offering flexibility around working hours – and it is still on the whole women who require flexibility in order to manage childcare commitments, therefore restricting their career.

This points to another finding in the MyDaily survey. Karren Brady – not Meryl Streep, nor Kate Middleton, nor Kim Kardashian nor Hilary Clinton – is the woman that most women would like to trade places with. Why Brady? I think it's because she's the archetypal self-made woman.

Almost a quarter of women under 30 expected to start their own businesses within 10 years, compared to 20% of men. So if large organisations want to nurture the talent of their best female employees – before they run off and set up their own enterprise, they need to start challenging some of the unwritten rules of what boardroom jobs look like. And that, surely, is good business sense.


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