Gender equality needs to be solved at a national level

While the University must solve its gender difficulties, we must also address our institutional issues at a national level to see true progress

Cartoon: Sarah Jilani

Cartoon: Sarah Jilani

A number of you will shortly be entering the world of work, either permanently or for the rapidly approaching summer break. Unless you’re joining the small and growing army of unpaid interns and work experience drones, you will presumably be rewarded with some level of pay. It is fair to assume that you expect to be paid the same as any other person, providing they’re performing the same task as yourself. You live in a liberal society, and this is your legitimate expectation to basic equality.

Bear with me a moment as we consider the hypothetical: the bad news is that you’re not going to get paid the same. You will later discover that those sharing the same differences from the rest of the workforce as yourself are receiving the same unfair treatment. Frustrated? So are a number of people at the University, as it transpires Heslington Hall is knee deep in similar kinds of practice.

While it is not quite as immediately simple as this due to the numerous pay grades and roles at the University, once they are put into perspective it is perhaps all the more linear; the majority of the lowest bracket of pay are women, the majority of the highest bracket are men. Clearly, promotion and hiring is considerably biased towards men at this University.

There is very little argument in my mind against fighting this; gender is an arbitrary feature that you are born with, that in no sense dictates your practices, your abilitities and talents, or even your intentions on how to live life. Just because you are female, that does not mean you are going to be family focused. Expectations of lower wages for women must surely be demoralising and work against academic standards.

Of little consolation to women at the University is that the gender pay gap is not a conspiracy from Heslington Hall but an institutional problem of society. When the ‘New Politics’ coalition can muster up only four women to sit at the cabinet table, and the unelected member of this rare group of female ministers is also the only ethnic minority representative there, it is unsurprising that the University, despite its best efforts, has failed to overcome a bias towards men in academia.

Indeed, it has at least tried. The Athena Swan Gold award for the Chemistry Department is impressive; it indicates a commitment to improving standards of gender equality, but this is hardly enough to satisfy women expected to work for the University knowing they would likely receive more for the same amount of work if they were male.

Justifying the status quo with the argument that there is a clash between the competing demands of academia and being female is illiberal.

A ‘long hours’ culture should not discriminate against women. If the needs of dependent families are to be met then better access should be provided by the University to childcare facilities.

Simultaneously we must consider the national institutional bias against the female role in family care. Men should be encouraged to take responsibility for raising families through positive legislation, offering them rights to take paternity leave for as long as women are able to. This does not mean they get double the leave between them but simply the right to decide how it is divided. It is unreasonable to expect all organisations to immediately adopt equal career expectations of employees while one is incentivised over the other.

We cannot allow ourselves to grow complacent with current efforts to close the gender gap. The numbers are in, and they are still unacceptable. Our national bias against women in the workplace must change.


  1. 25 May ’10 at 2:33 pm

    Disgruntled Man

    Firstly, the Chemistry Department at York was the first Chemistry Department to be awarded the Athena Swan Gold Award, therefore York is far far far ahead of other institutions. On top of this many other Science departments in York have received Athena Swan awards of varying levels.

    Now to address the other issues combatted in this piece of fictitious journalism.

    With regards to the University hiring more men than women in higher pay brackets, I’m sorry.

    As a man, I’m so sorry that the University decided to employ a man over a woman. Perhaps the fact, that when the job was advertised, and candidates interviewed, the fact that a candidate was the best person for the job just doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that their gender.

    Your anti-Conservative, pro lefty attitude is ridiculous. The membership of David Cameron’s cabinet has absolutely nothing to do with gender equality. Evidently the people in the cabinet are the BEST people for the job. Again, would you rather have a complete 50:50 split in the cabinet for gender, and place the country in poorer hands?

    Maybe it is a tad uncouth to say, but many of the jobs that are dominated by women (administrators, PAs, Catering etc) are done so because women apply for them more than men. At the end of the day, an employer, decides to employ the candidate best for the job. If there is a simply outstanding female candidate for any job, she will be selected over a male.

    Seriously, get over it, and dare I say it, man up.

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  2. @ Disgruntled male:

    This attitude is exactly the reason why women are forced into low paid ‘administrative’ jobs. While women continue to be seen as the ones responsible for childcare there will never be a 50:50 gender balance in terms of pay and senior jobs. No woman will be as successful as her equally competent male counterpart while she is also responsible for childcare.

    When you say “Evidently the people in the cabinet are the BEST people for the job”, you completely miss Ben’s point – far from being the best people for the jobs, these men were the ONLY people for the jobs, their female colleagues never having reached the position of potential minister after succumbing to the social expectation of wife and mother.

    Ben is completely right when he says: “Simultaneously we must consider the national institutional bias against the female role in family care. Men should be encouraged to take responsibility for raising families through positive legislation, offering them rights to take paternity leave for as long as women are able to.”

    While government legislation actively encourages women to give up work and stay at home, what chance do we have of seeing equal numbers of male and female professors, government ministers etc.?

    I thing you gave a coherent argument, disgruntled male, until the end when you said “Seriously, get over it, and dare I say it, man up”. Can I surmise from this that you view any man who believes women should have ambitions beyond the kitchen sink, as feeble?

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  3. There is naturally going to be a lag as women catch up to get the top jobs, whether in govt or universities. There is NO barrier to women being ambitious and achieving anything they want to, but of course the statistics are going to take a while to reflect the reality on the ground. Further, do you really want to see quotas introduced for even amounts of women and men on boards of companies and in the cabinet, despite their ability. We should only employ people who are qualified. We should only employ those who apply for the jobs advertised. We should accept people on their merits, not because of their gender, to do otherwise, and to favour women over men, is nothing other than….wait for it….sexism. Women are equal. Why the fuss still? Is it because it’s just keeping feminist women in jobs in ‘equality’ departments in universities and public quangos?

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  4. stop moaning lassies, and Ben, you should know better.

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  5. Such an old argument. The crux of the matter is lifestyle choice. Why should a woman not want to look after her children? The majority of women do and therefore miss out on the top jobs. Someone has to be around to look after children and it is usually the mother who CHOOSES to do this. It is militant feminists and left wing morons who make them feel guilty for wanting to do so. I agree people should be paid the same if they are doing the same work, but don’t make women feel guilty for prioritising differently to men, and therefore maybe earning less as they are doing less, i.e working part time etc.

    You cannot offer equal paternity rights either, especially in the current economic climate. Small businesses would not be able to survive.

    Cameron’s cabinet is made up of the people he thinks are the best to do the job who have put themselves in a position to be selected, or Lib Dems who he has to fit in to make the coalition work. The small number of women is irrelevant. If there were not enough talented women in a position to fill a senior ministerial roles that is not his fault. Why should he place large responsibility in the hands of an incompetent woman just to appease left-wing jokers like you. Can you name a woman who should have been in the cabinet but missed out due to her gender? No. This situation has arisen even after positive discrimination. Think of the Blair babes, what a disservice to our country that was, and we are still suffering Harriet Harman.

    Being a politician is a very difficult life, there are very few people, let alone women, who wish to put themselves through such an uncompromising and scrutinised existence.

    The greatest disservice to women is to promote them in the name of equality. Let those that want to get to the top on their own merits.

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  6. Iron Man is a superhero. Iron woman is a command.

    Ben, grow some balls.

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  7. You cannot deny that women are discriminated against in jobs, although admittedly its getting slightly better. The idea of the ‘best person for the job’ is complete crap, companies have things they need to stick to, ie the number of ethic minorities hired weather they are the right person for the job or not, its all political, which gives men another excuse to assert their dominance.

    There are a number of reasons why men are hired over women, one being the issue of family, it is better for a company to hire a male, than a woman who may have to be paid maternity leave for example. But why does the pressure of raising a family rest entirely on a woman shoulders?! I’m sure women do want to get the top jobs but are missing out because the men dont want to give up their job because its not the ‘done thing’ so women are stuck in a quite difficult situation.

    Also, if you take the stats from my dept (Archaeology) it has been shown that although more women graduate with better degrees in the subject there is a significantly higher number of male field archaeologists. Why? Because it can be very physically intensive therefore they would rather higher a guy on the basis of his sex than a woman who may infact know alot more on the subject.

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  8. Firstly, I wholeheartedly agree with L.A.D. When he (I presume) says ”Let those that want to get to the top on their own merits,” this is both the modern and correct way of thinking. Whilst men will always be inherently stronger and more able to work, (sorry ladies, it’s true and the sooner this is accepted the less time will be wasted,) we also must consider certain industries where it is now accepted that a female working knowledge is more valued and the pay gap is not of consideration (ie. fashion, midwifery etc.)
    Secondly, I feel that the article is somewhat confused in it’s direction- are we ultimately considering the position in the University or in the working world here?
    Although you use the word ”Simultaneously,” if we are applying the situation to students the argument fails. We undertake courses which are clearly based upon our own desires to succeed- and also we all know the outrage caused by the YUSU elections in regards to the position of Women’s Officer.
    The argument raised over that situation before still stands- why not have a Men’s position? It’s never going to be ”fair” or ”equal” so, why not, as mentioned, we embrace the freedom of lifestyle choice?

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  9. Also, in the words of a wise philosopher, ”bore off.”

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  10. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

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  11. Dobby, I applaud your beautifully put words that brought a tear to my eye. May you always rest a free elf.

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  12. @?? some interesting points however what was the point in your last para? Women may know more on a topic but its a physically demanding job so men get more jobs. That sort of…makes sense doesnt it. You could have the worlds foremost archaeological mind but if he has no arms he is unlikely to get a job digging in a field is he.

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  13. I hate the imposition in articles like this of a “social expectation” of women to stay at home which holds back their potential high flying careers. The truth is, as L.a.d. touches upon, women have a biological imperative, i.e. the female looking after the child, that makes them want to stay at home. Of course this is not universally strong and we should encourage women to go to work or stay at home (whichever they want to do).

    Secondly, students should not worry about the gender pay gap they should worry about how this recession is claiming male jobs at a far greater proportion than female jobs. Surely if we believe in such affirmative action we should be reconciling this gender injustice as well?

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