The Gender Paradox

“There’s never been a better time to be a woman” a standard line of mine which I trotted out again at last week’s Leadership Jersey conference. Game changers this year – Hilary Clinton, Teresa May leading the pack of prominent female role models – progress is being made! In the same week, the World Economic Forum has revised its gender parity forecast back from 118 years to a staggering 170 years, which in itself was an increase from the previous 80 year estimate!

Delving into the figures, the report states “progress towards parity in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically” “with women around the world on average earning just over half of what men earn despite, on average, working longer hours taking paid and unpaid work into account”. On the global ranking of countries the UK stands 20th out of 144 countries, down 2 places on last year.

guernsey-earnings-comparisonWhere are the Channel Islands? Well here are the figures from the latest Guernsey Annual Earnings Bulletin. They come with a government health warning – “Please note that differences between male and female earnings may result from differences in numbers of hours worked as well as differences in rates of pay for different jobs. This is not intended to be used as a measure of pay equality.”

Despite the health warning – in essence these figures are a direct comparison with the World Economic Forum’s data. Women in Guernsey do the lower paid jobs, work part-time and work for nothing.

jersey-women-in-business-october-2015

I can’t find comparative data for Jersey on the government website, but an extract from the Jersey Community Relations Trust’s 2015 Jersey Women in Business report would indicate a similar picture, although the data is 5 years out of date. I look forward to seeing by how much a 2016 comparative has changed!

What is clear, despite all the progress women have made towards a fairer society, we do still live in largely patriarchal world fashioned on masculine norms. The problem with the current system is we can all become accustomed to the way things work and either lose sight of or just accept these inequalities.

WDF has been operating now for 8 years; our mission to raise awareness that gender diversity is not a women’s issue; it is a business imperative. To inspire female potential and stimulate change by creating a different kind of business community. Without statistical data it’s hard to know how much of a difference we are actually making and how much our efforts are helping. Approaches to the government for data suggest that gender stats are on their way, just not quite yet. But even with stats for board composition will this be a true measure of societal change?

Sitting last week at the Leadership Jersey conference amongst a completely gender balanced audience of 300 it would be easy to conclude that the job is done. I wonder how many of that audience heard my WDF message and considered a female focussed initiative passé?

Hopefully we will soon be celebrating Hilary’s victory, men and women around the world will rightly take this as a sign of a giant step forward – as was the gender balanced conference audience. But the paradox is, while these things show visible progress, they also lull us into thinking the equality goal has been achieved – it hasn’t.

Our next mission seems to be finding ways to keep gender on the agenda in the Channel Islands until the job is really done.