The mythical glass ceiling returns (yet again)


How do you fight a problem that doesn’t exist? Pass a law against it. That seems to be the consensus of women of a certain political hue.

Women of both sexes, it might be added. On page 8 of last night’s Evening Standard was a story headlined ‘Set deadline to get women into top jobs’. This is a report about yet another government report about what terrible lives intelligent, educated, ambitious women have, and how they are being held back by sexism in the workplace, and the glass ceiling.

The full report can be found here. It appears to be the first of many, that is of many to follow, many having already preceded.

Some of the evidence that went into this report came from the Fawcett Society, an organisation that was set up in 1866 when women were not permitted to vote, when women were in effect the property of their husbands, when women had no voice, and when women were not educated. And guess what, nothing has changed since then, or so you’d think.

You can read what the Fawcett Society said about the gender pay gap here. Like the glass ceiling, that does not exist either, yet we are constantly being told that something must be done about this non-existent problem, or legislation will be forthcoming. What are the true facts?

Men and women are different both biologically and psychologically. The biggest difference is that women – or at least some of them – have babies, so for a woman to have both a career and a family – with a family life – is no mean feat.

Many women can cope with this, some can’t, some don’t want to. While most employers will take reasonable steps to accommodate this, most employers are in business to make a profit, that is what business is all about. There are other professions: teaching, nursing, some branches of academe, that can accommodate working mothers more readily, usually because the taxpayer picks up the tab, but commercial enterprises have to play by different rules.

Two years ago Lord Sugar came underfire for talking common sense about women in the workplace. But who should we listen to, one of our most successful businessmen, or a gaggle of feminised politicians? Businessmen pay for their mistakes in the marketplace; when politicians make mistakes, we are often the ones who pay for them.

The mythical gender pay gap is currently running at around 17%; generally men outnumber women in the higher echelons of business by 4 to 1, sometimes much more, but so what?

When the really high earners are removed from the contrived statistics, and allowance is made for mothers taking out time to raise families, etc, this pay gap disappears. As for the glass ceiling, yes, there are a lot more men than women in Parliament for example, but be careful what you wish for, the women of this country voted in Margaret Thatcher, and many came to regret it bitterly.

So what is the real problem? Let’s return to 1866, actually, it is not quite true that at this time women were denied an education, there have been highly educated and indeed highly accomplished women throughout history including St. Hildegard of Bingen, who died in 1179. At that time and for many centuries afterwards, the majority of both women and men were if not totally illiterate then poorly educated. That is no longer the case, and one does not need to be of noble birth in order to obtain a good education, which for most people is the gateway to a better life.

It is notable though that those campaigning to close the mythical gender pay gap by legislation are concerned primarily with those few, very privileged women who are already earning megabucks. The story of these poor, oppressed creatures may have been relegated to page 8 of last night’s paper, but the story on the front page was far more important. It was about the number of “rough sleepers” in London doubling in five years. The vast majority of these are men, but there are plenty of women amongst them, women who don’t have the luxury of whining about a 17% pay gap. It is these people at the very bottom of society and ordinary working people Parliamentary committees should be agonising over and doing something to help. Passing ludicrous laws that penalise businesses for making rational decisions in the workplace does nothing to help them, or anyone else.

[The above op-ed was first published June 21, 2013.]

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