70,000 Volunteers... A Success, But Now Let's Employ and Pay Them

19/08/2012 13:18 BST | Updated 19/10/2012 10:12 BST

As to the London Olympics' legacy - will there be one? and, if so, is sport going to be the only beneficiary? The disputes and disagreements are only just beginning.

As to the London Olympics' success as a two-week sports extravaganza, well, most find themselves in agreement that it was.

And one of the reasons for that success - acknowledged at the closing ceremony - were the 70,000 volunteers, who made the complex look easy and enjoyable.

Yet how many know that more than half of those volunteers - all of whom this week go back to lack of paid work, life on the dole - were women.

I don't want to go on about the Olympics. At the risk of being called a heretic, I think we've had more than enough already.

But I do want to go on about women. In particular, female volunteers.

Not for nothing are many of them treated more shoddily than their male counterparts.

Let's face it, we're used already to women acting as unpaid workers in the home, and as low-paid workers in the caring professions. So female volunteers? Well, of course they'll volunteer.. of course they'll do it well... after all, they're used to it.

Yet women, globally as well as nationally, are much more likely than men to be employed - if employed at all - in low-paid and precarious jobs. And the consequent poverty only makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence, to ill health, to depression...

Which makes it so much more galling to turn on the television or open a newspaper only to see and read about women who've made it, women strutting around the boardroom, women with power and wielding it. And next to nothing about women who through no fault of their own languish at the bottom of the career ladder.

The stigma of being both female and poor is a terrible burden to bear.

But still we appear obsessed with advancing the careers and salaries of those privileged women in senior management posts. Even better if they look attractive! And little or no attention is shown to the unpaid or low-paid women who, having proved themselves as volunteers, could and would with imaginative help prove themselves in paid work.

A report from the Institute of Leadership and Management said that almost three-quarters of women in managerial roles believe that what they call 'a glass ceiling' prevents them reaching the very top of their professions. Change the law, they plead, so that companies are forced to give seats on their board to women.

But all this, especially in the middle of an economic downturn, is so much nonsense.

How much better it would be if they pleaded for another change in the law - not to get more women, already doing well for themselves, onto the boards of big companies, but to ensure that disadvantaged women at very least are given the chance to switch from volunteer to employed - and therefore paid - status.

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