Tag Archives: politics

It’s a Man’s World

Forty years ago women couldn’t sit on a jury, collect children’s allowance, buy contraceptives, or drink a pint in a pub. Now discrimination on the grounds of sex is illegal, and feminism is almost a dirty word. But have women really won the war?

In Ireland women are paid on average 17% less than men. This isn’t just a national phenomenon. On a European level they represent only 11% of the governing bodies of listed companies. Globally women only constitute 2.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs, earn 10% of the world’s incomes, and own 1% of the means of production.

The elusive “glass ceiling” is usually acknowledged but not discussed. Mary Kershaw, national president at Network Ireland, states that its existence can’t be doubted. Her organisation was set up 30 years ago specifically to provide opportunities for business women that didn’t exist elsewhere, and so in a sense stemmed from it. “They couldn’t go then to golf clubs or anything so a few women from Enterprise Ireland set it up so they could meet and discuss things. At that time they found that there were younger men joining the organisations a lot behind them and they were helping them get on and then all of a sudden they were above them… so that was a very big issue then.”

According to their members that discrimination still remains to a lesser extent today. ”I think one of the factors is that they feel that girls in their thirties are going to be taking time out to have families, and that’s probably part of the problem, apart from that and the old boys, the men feel more comfortable in their own company.”

One of the figures put forward by those who doubt the existence of discrimination is the impressive percentage of women now attending and excelling at higher education. Leadership, Learning and Organisational Development Coach Mary Holland provides an interesting theory on why this trend doesn’t continue into the workplace. She points out how the introduction of student numbers have played an unsung but influential part in improving the condition of women, stating that that it was proven in previous research that women were systematically downgraded by about 10% when their name appeared on a submitted paper. “So in terms of the anonymity factor that greatly helped women in education”, but unfortunately in the workplace it is far more difficult to be gender anonymous.

Children do also play a major role in changing women’s priorities, but also their opportunities. In the US 62% of women recognised having children as a barrier to promotion, while a shocking 96% of graduates from France’s elite grandes écoles would agree with them. But with increased equality, why do women continue to shoulder the majority of the responsibility when it comes to kids?

Kershaw says that the sacrifice of career development for a family is a choice, but one that women shoulder a lot more than men. “I think that having kids probably… emotionally it’s more the mother isn’t it? The mother always seems to be the one that will run the home and the work and everything. They’re better at multitasking”. Holland also points to a feeling of guilt that can be endemic in mothers more so than fathers.

Achieving success can also come at a price. A report by McKinsey & Company found that 49% of the best paid women were childless, compared to 19% of men, and a Harvard Business Review Survey concurs that the further women climb up the corporate ladder, the fewer children they have.

Solutions to the status quo are debatable. Holland suggests that mentoring and the introduction of flexible working hours can benefit both sexes whilst decreasing the gap between their incomes, whilst Kershaw proposes that gender quotas may be necessary because of the breadth of the disparity.

Achieving that elusive concept of equality is a complicated process, involving more than just matching statistics. Freedom of expression, and being allowed to play by women’s, as well as men’s rules is a significant factor. Holland states how a cultural expectation of men can lead to an assumption that they’re better leaders and therefore more worthy of promotion. They’re seen as “striving, they’re competitive, they’re authoritative, they take no prisoners, whereas the role perception for women is that they should be much more accommodating, understanding”, a form of leadership that is perceived as weaker and less valued.

And because much sexual discrimination in the workplace goes unexpressed, the lack of awareness that there is a problem itself impedes development. Kershaw described hearing a man speak about his ignorance of the “glass ceiling”; “he said that he never thought there was any discrimination against women in the workplace, and it was only later on that he realised why he thought that, because the women that got into those positions changed their personality and changed themselves to fit in with the male ethos.”

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Don’t Mention the War

Published on the 13th April 2010 by the University Observer

The recent exit of George Lee from Dáil Eireann sparked huge amounts of commentary from irate politicians about his lack of stamina, apparent arrogance and inflated sense of self-worth. It also ought to have raised additional debate, however, on the role our politicians play, why we elect them and their duty to us as their constituents.

Lee’s departure has begged the question of what personal qualities one needs to be a politician. Must one have a natural popularity, charisma and baby-kissing charm? Is it an ability to smile and answer hazily in the face of thorny questions? Or is it the association with a political party which identifies itself by its original side in the Civil War? The skills that cause one to be elected are not necessarily the skills that are vital to run a country effectively, and therein lies some of the issues that Ireland currently being forced to recognise, given the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Before we ridicule the cries to position Michael O’Leary as Taoiseach, and revitalise the Irish economy to the extent that bathrooms nationwide have a PAYG (pay-as-you-go) tax on their usage, we must admit that there is an argument to be made for leadership experience, independent of the political party or the Oireachtas. A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that the Irish have the fifth-lowest level of public trust in their political institutions of the 27 European countries surveyed. Currently Cowen and company are spending €1m per hour more than is being earned through taxes. The Irish citizens’ new attainment of a depraved bank and two building societies – along with further stakes and  €81 billion of property loans through Nama – is costing four times what the UN estimates to be the total cost of rebuilding Haiti

Looking at a government where ministerial positions can be awarded to candidates without background or interest in their appointed departments, it is easy to see how areas like health and education are suffering. Observing a situation where the government’s head honcho earns the fourth highest salary in the world for a government leader – all while preaching frugality and cutbacks – we see a palpable demonstration of a clear disconnection from the voters and citizens of Ireland. We have suffered from the deficit of democracy: that what wins elections is not what runs a country.

To install a minimum requirement of workplace experience – say, ten years – would mean that ideally politics would become less about a lucrative power-wielding career path, and more about a desire to change the world one lives in. To pay ten years of taxes would be to understand the wish that your tax actually gets used for something constructive. In the judiciary, one must have ten years of legal practice behind them to qualify for a post – merely to facilitate an ability to be fair and rational and make good, connected decisions. To run a country, where judgements are being issued to govern all aspects of life, surely this connection is all the more important. Surely ambassadors with experience of all facets of living are vital, rather than just the expertise of politics.

But is a lack of experience the only concern? There is a blatant shortfall when elected TDs like George Lee fail to have their expertise and knowledge harnessed by a government in crisis, and instead are criticised for failing to play the political game – a game which seems to involve sitting pretty while waiting your turn. The Dáil has long been an assembly point for certain professions; barristers, teachers, and at one stage an auctioneer.

When catastrophe calls, it’s up to the people in a democracy to make a change. It’s the citizens’ job to demand experience from politicians, and it would be in the citizens’ power to call a constitutional referendum to limit the salaries of TDs, so as to attract candidates with an interest in the issues at play rather than the money to play for. Those who can make a difference should be encouraged to try, and the government should be inviting ideas from not only their followers, but the opposition, who by their very nature are supposed to object to what is going on.

The Irish political system is failing, and it is failing because our two main parties have essentially identical aims and goals. Instead of the standard split on outlook of issues (normally left and right-wing), they’re split only because of a disagreement that happened ninety years ago. The Irish people need to start judging by experience and results, and remembering that political promises are empty, and regardless of party, all we can be sure of is what has already individually been achieved.