Cast a glance onto the opening screen of any academic institution and note what you see first: most likely a young girl in a teacher’s company, used as the face of poise and intelligence. Now divert your attention to the people you see when looking at any large company and ask yourself how many of these young girls we see in high working positions, despite being the ‘ideal’ of education’s standards at the same time. So where does this lack of faith in women’s ability begin?
Our society today is undoubtably measured by how progressive it is, in all aspects of the word. When met with the idea of ‘feminism’, many people’s minds go straight to a complete overhaul to solely benefit women. Where this is false, the education system has seen what we know as the feminisation of education; introducing things - like coursework - in which girls typically perform better than their male classmates. The way schools are marketed in competitive league tables even utilises the increasing high grades of young girls as a means of attracting prospective students.
From an outside perspective, you may call this unfair, biased, even sexist, but in the bigger picture, it maintains a false sense of hope and security around girls that believe they will be able to fairly achieve all they desire post-education. In schools, girls are surrounded by the idea that the world is slowly becoming more enabling for them career-wise. Initiatives such as GIST (Girls in Science and Technology) and WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) are widely promoted as an inclusive area of work that was once male dominated, there is much emphasis on changes in women’s employment through wider opportunities and the appealing statement of equal pay, not to mention the number of times we’re told that we can ‘break the glass ceiling’.
So, with the uplifting nature of the education system to young girls, how does this transition into employment?
Unfortunately, women’s inferiority in employment shows from the get-go. Starting from the recruitment process, a simple look at many job descriptions posted online often display a subtle misogyny. When you look back to the common stereotypes of schoolchildren the submissiveness that girls are praised for puts them at a significant disadvantage in the workplace. It all comes down to the language used and the kind of person we envision alongside certain words. For example, ‘assertive’ and ‘headstrong’ may be intimidating to a woman applying for a managerial role, when they have previously been commended for their ‘organisational skills’, and ‘attention to detail’. Male dominated industries often play to these gender stereotypes by describing a ‘demanding’ workplace, rather than a ‘committed community’.
Say, however, that a woman does get employed in a high position, there remains gender-based implications. Continuing with the most obvious: the gender pay gap. In conversations about this there will inevitably be someone making the argument that we have equal pay, and that we should be happy. This is true, it is illegal for employers to pay men and women differently for the exact same work (since 1970, in fact). But the inconsistencies with this law are in plain sight. As an average figure of pay for men and women, things that contribute to the pay gap are the number of women in high paying positions compared to men, comparative working bonuses etc. When you take into account recruitment biases as mentioned before, alongside potential missed growth opportunities due to pregnancy and maternity leave, and the fact that women were not able to share said maternity leave with the child’s father until 2011, we end with 78% of companies reporting a gender pay gap and women earning £260,000 less than men in their lifetime (as seen in a survey from the ONS).
The reality is that a woman’s employment is more fragile than her male counterparts’ and there is an expectation to settle with what we are given rather than ask for more – or equal – than others. This only breeds unsafe working environments where women are hesitant to dispute pay differences, uncomfortable when rhetoric are used around them, and even willing to settle for dismissed harassment claims.
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There is an ignorance in our society, it seems, that young girls eventually grow to be women. And it comes unfairly as a reality check when they realise that the ideals they are held to change to fit those around them rather than play to their own strengths.
Written by Amelia Defeo