Will We Ever Be Equal At Work?July 15, 2011 1 Comment
A woman has been sacked in the UK for refusing to wear make-up at work, and she’s decided that’s just not right.
Melanie Stark was a retail assistant at department store Harrods before she was unceremoniously dumped for daring to show her bare face in public. Now she’s taken her case to the media and is threatening to sue the corporation.
While there is a huge debate that could easily be had around the grossly sexist nature of this situation and the abhorrent views of those who think a woman’s natural appearance is something to be despised, what this issue really highlights is the uphill battle women face in the struggle for workplace equality.
In recent weeks an international online discussion has been sparked around this very issue by an article published in the International Herald Tribune, examining the relatively conservative views on women held by people in the supposedly progressive Germany.
The article outlines how few women return to work after having children, how few men take time off to care for them, and how poorly represented women are in the upper echelons of corporate management.
Thomas Sattelberger is the head of human resources at Deutch Telekom, one of a handful of DAX 30 companies willing to commit to a voluntary goal of 30 percent female managers by 2015.
“There is a very traditional image of women and men that was taken to an extreme in the Third Reich: female mother cult and male fraternity. These mental stereotypes have not yet been culturally processed and purged… In the DAX companies the old social order is most pervasive, this is a place where male dominance, elitism, power and money all come together,” he said.
While the Third Reich, who awarded medals to fertile women and saw our role only as walking wombs, is unique to Germany, the male-dominated work culture is something quite ubiquitous.
In the US, like most Western nations, women are laden with the responsibility of both paid and domestic labor, even when they are the primary breadwinners. We continue to suffer from a lack of confidence in our abilities leading us to hesitate when it comes to self-promotion or bargaining for better pay. We lack role models and from the time we’re old enough to understand fairytales, are taught to desire only raising children and being looked after by men. Childcare is almost impossibly expensive and our families are taxed cruelly when both parents choose to work.
These problems, among others, are raised in a seven-part essay series featuring in the New York Times entitled “How do we get men to do more at home?” Most of the contributors suggest ways we can increase the acceptability of men in domestic, and women in professional roles.
Andrea Doucet says non-transferrable paternity leave should be implemented so men can’t elect for their payment to be taken by their female partners, thus encouraging men to have an involvement with their kids from the very beginning. She suggests, as has been done in countries like Norway, this will increase the number of men taking paternity leave, change workplace perceptions of the leave and break the cycle before the family gets too used to the woman being the primary care-giver.
Jeremy Adam Smith points out that men are often keen to be more involved but don’t feel supported. The majority of women still believe men should bring home the bacon, and only a small percentage would consider working long hours so their baby-daddy could be at home with the kids. Smith wants an education campaign alongside legal and public policies to help men be the dads they want to be.
Although equality in the workplace is fundamentally a women’s issue, and goodness knows we’ve had to fight hard to get where we are, perhaps the best way forward from here is to involve all of society, including men. We’re not the only ones with something to gain and a lot to lose.
While women are still expected to do more in the home we will be crippled from going further at work. Changing long-held views about gender roles is never an easy feat, but at least we’re starting to talk about it.
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