Let’s ask ourself a basic question. In this day and age, why is there still a major discrepancy in gender equality? Let’s confine our focus to the developed world as the status of women in many countries in the under developed world is much much worse and doesn’t bear comparison. That is a whole different issue and of course, needs to be addressed. However, in an age where major initiatives are under way to improve prospects for women, men are still being generally favored in terms of prospects and pay. In business, the boardroom can still be seen as a “boys club” with token female presence and in society generally, the “glass ceiling” still exists for women. We need urgently to change this situation.
My teenage years were spent in the UK with the “Iron Lady”, Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. It was a wonder that this dynamic women, who was “not for turning” had broken into the stuffy old corridors of power that were, at the time akin to a 1930’s Gentlemen’s Club. By all accounts, she terrified all around her and was a tough negotiator. Whether you liked her politics or not, she was a breath of fresh air from the usual “old boy’s network” politicians of the day. She brought all the wile of a greengrocers daughter from a down-to-earth background to the job and it was largely successful. Forty years on, I cannot believe that we are still talking about gender equality issues in society.
I have witnessed this first hand in business in Europe. There was a time when I was a consultant for some of the biggest banks in Europe, helping employees with a range of issues. I witnessed evidence of clear policies to keep female employees in the “stereotypical female” jobs such as secretary and personal assistant. This was despite public initiatives by the same companies to promote women to higher positions. Those who were given that “honor” were usually just there to fill token positions and had little real power. Just as now, women were paid less for doing the same job. There was still the thinking that women would get pregnant and leave anyway, so why bother? Yes, women get pregnant but it is not the end of their lives. Many women successfully juggle career and motherhood with the support of their partners and why are women who make the choice to have a family not allowed to have a career up to that point?
My belief is that policies and initiatives are fine and there are some very good ones out there looking after women’s interests and fighting gender inequality. These are the ones on the ground working hard in society and businesses to ensure fair deals for everyone. They often don’t have celebrity backing and funding but they do sterling work. However, it needs more than this. It needs a change in attitude generally from men (and women) to appreciate the value of women other than being a mother and a homemaker. Things have changed on that score, you may argue and there are many men (myself included), who see their wives, girlfriends and female colleagues as pure equals but the “caveman” attitude to gender roles in the home and business is still alive and kicking. I witness this while working with clients in my practice. There are two sides to the story as always and sometimes the expectations of women are limited to a great extent. Even some of the “high-flyers” I met in the banks were quite willing to give up their careers once they met a man who had enough income to keep them going, baby or not. These women were quite happy to give up their ambitions and become totally financially dependent on a man, sometimes with disastrous results.
As with most things to do with attitude, it mostly comes down to conditioning. Many men and women have seen their parents in traditional roles and they carry that attitude on. I once read an article that this concept was promoted by governments after the Second World War to make men returning from battle feel they had a purpose. Women, who had taken over the mantle of driving businesses and factories were encouraged to become homemakers and caretakers for their men. This would make sense if true and despite Women’s Lib and feminism, this attitude prevails to this day and is, in my opinion one of the main reasons why codependency is the issue it is today. Many men still hold onto the idea that their ideal women comes from a codependent checklist. Traditional parenting styles also promote gender inequality where “boys are boys” and “girls are girls” and all that means. In such cases, girls are often taught to subdue themselves around male siblings and with an often emotionally distant father, come to fear contact with them. This is the blueprint that many women take into adulthood about their role in life. I also have fundamental issues with the trendy “gender neutral” parenting style advocated by many today. This, in my opinion does very little for equality but is more likely to breed confusion in the mind of a child and will set them apart from the majority of their peers.
I find it a tragedy that in the times we live in where so much has changed for the better that we are still struggling with gender equality issues. As with most things that progress and change, it starts with a change in attitude and thinking. If this is not forthcoming, then policies and initiatives are doomed to failure. Maybe it comes down to individuals to promote it in their own families and communities.