Are quotas the answer to workplace equality?

  • May 27th, 2018
  • Blog

In 1993, the British Labour Party introduced a new concept: All Women Shortlists (AWS). For the then-upcoming 1997 election, only women would be presented as Labour’s parliamentary candidates in 50% of the Party’s target seats. A measure driven by Harriet Harman, the aim was to increase the proportion of women MPs. As a result, Labour’s 1997 landslide victory saw the number of women Members jump from 37 to 101. Such an increase simply would not have happened without the introduction of AWS.

 

Harman, in her 2017 book A Woman’s Work, argues that quotas are necessary for women’s progress in politics. She is absolutely correct. Indeed, the need for women’s quotas extends beyond politics to all areas in which women’s representation is far from equal to that of men: from the political chamber to the computer science lab, the professional sports field to the professional kitchen, the newspaper editing room to the cockpit.

 

Correcting the underrepresentation of women is not a given. It requires changing the status quo, which means challenging established mentalities and practices. Women make up 50.7% of the British population and 46.5% of the workforce, yet are far from constituting half of UK STEM employees (24%), FTSE 100 CEOs (28.0%), or, despite Harman’s best efforts, elected politicians (32.0%) Reflecting the gender pay gap, women are also more likely to live in poverty than men. Though we have made much progress in the workplace towards equality for men and women, the continued existence of pay disparity, gender leadership imbalance, and the absence of women-focussed HR policies in many workplaces shows that we still have far to go.

 

Ensuring that women are proportionately represented in all fields is widely regarded as instrumental to tackling social, economic, and political inequality. This is a cornerstone of feminism: women should be in a position to make decisions about their lives and the hugely varied issues that affect them. Implementing quotas for women in key areas in which they are underrepresented across a plethora of organisations is a simple yet effective way of achieving this goal.

 

The Council of Europe’s gender parity threshold lies at 40%. That is to say that if a company board constitutes 40% women then it can be said to be gender balanced. This being the case, why should we not implement quotas to ensure that women represent at least 40% of our political, economic, and social leaders, and at least 40% of employment categories in which they are greatly underrepresented?

 

Harman states that without quotas, progress is too slow. The snail’s pace at which we are moving towards gender equality is proof enough of that. Targets and workplace policies only go so far before they stagnate and plateau. There is constant resistance to fostering female talent in many industries and women still struggle to shake the biases that have a detrimental impact on their careers. Quotas move us beyond the ‘sprinkle approach’, in which structural change is avoided and a sprinkle of difference in an otherwise homogenous group ticks the diversity box. We still live, and work, in societies designed by and for men. If we wait for the current chipping-away-at-the-patriarchy strategy to deliver equality, we’ll be waiting a long time.

 

Inspiration can be drawn from Northern Europe, as is common with many issues of gender and social equality. In 2006, the Norwegian government introduced legislation that required women to make up 40% of public and state-owned company boards. Iceland swiftly adopted similar quotas, and now women now hold 44% of corporate board seats. Much closer to home, we can see the success that AWS brought to women in the Labour Party, and to British women in general: women MPs were instrumental to the design and passing of the 2004 Domestic Violence Act and the 2010 Equality Act, to name but two examples. Implementing quotas in a variety of sectors would see women brought up and valued for their contributions to society, instead of waiting slowly and patiently for equality to dawn.

 

No, introducing quotas does not paint women as weak. No, quotas do not suggest that women need help in the workplace because they can’t get to the same positions as men. No, quotas do not constitute discrimination against men. Quotas simply acknowledge the structural issues in place that hold women back in employment and seek to redress them in a proactive and effective way. They acknowledge the importance of women’s proper representation, and correct institutional imbalances so that our workplaces reflect society, instead of a skewed version of it. Quotas strive to achieve what is naturally given in the gender make-up of all societies before patriarchal values interfere: equality. Carving out space for women to assume what should be naturally given would surely see tangible progress, as it has done in the instances where quotas have already been used.

 

Increasing women’s representation in order to pursue equality requires a firmer commitment and stronger action, but also for women to be in a position to assume equality across all areas of the workforce, including management. We need to have working conditions in place which facilitate equal access to opportunity, which sadly is not always the case. Limiting the talent pool for management recruitment in this way does a disservice to women and we all lose out. Thus, measures such as quotas that seek to increase women’s representation must be thought of in tandem with greater work-life balance and women-friendly policies, and must always be tackled in the context of addressing domestic inequality.

 

Nevertheless, actively creating space for women where they are underrepresented is important to protecting the rights and progress that so many before us fought to make a reality. As the election of the world’s number one delusional narcissist on the other side of the pond shows, these rights are fragile and require our ever-greater commitment. Of course, the idea is that one day such quotas and measures to institute equality will become redundant. But – to paraphrase one of my favourite Lord of the Rings moments – that day is not this day.

Nathalie Greenfield
Research Associate

Women’s Solidarity – reviving the Sisterhood within Women’s Networks

  • March 30th, 2018
  • Blog

The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet” – Adrienne Rich 

Within my research, I focus on men’s support for gender equality, and I am convinced their support is crucial. We need those men that affect gender equality by means of holding power positions to support the cause, and we need all men to take over an equal share of household chores and childcare, so that women are less restricted and can excel to their full potential in other areas of life.

Lately, however, I have returned to the roots of feminism – a collective movement of women standing up for their rights. Attending last year’s women’s march I walked close to a group of women singing “As we go marching, marching, We bring the greater days, For the rising of the women, Means the rising of the race”. I felt inspired and felt that the sisterhood was alive and well, somewhere. What about women’s solidarity within the workplace, however?

Women’s Relationships in the Workplace

Numerous contemporary articles and books discuss workplace relationships among women. Oftentimes, authors focus on the detrimental nature of these relationships, signified by titles such as “Why Women Are Their Own Worst Enemy“. The existence of terms such as “cat fighting” (an altercation between two women), or “Queen Bee” (a female boss who is perceived as harsher to junior women than male bosses) further emphasizes the relevance and the tone of this discourse. “Women gossip about each other, and judge each other with very critical eyes”, a female employee interviewed for the purpose of this article confirmed, “we sometimes envy and then create problems for each other in the workplace.”

At a closer glance, however, this narrative might reveal itself as a little one-sided.  It is unlikely that all relationships among women are tainted by behaviours of malevolence and rivalry. Almost all women I spoke to could indeed recall moments of female solidarity. One woman working in recruitment reported: “If I think that a woman has the right attributes I inform her directly about an open position that I know about”. Similarly, several women reported that they encourage their female co-workers to apply for challenging positions. One woman reported that a co-worker would happily take over her work when she needed to leave early to pick up her child, and others remembered colleagues who introduced them to valuable members of their professional networks. Lastly, some women mentioned that they might speak up or advocate for other women in difficult situations.

Women Networks

Whilst these individual efforts are absolutely worthwhile, a more structured approach might accelerate the pace of change. Throughout the past decade, official networks for women have become increasingly popular.

Alexandra Ekkelenkamp, board member of the the BrusselsNV network for Dutch-speaking women, is convinced of the important role that networks play in empowering women. She explained some of the benefits to me: “Within our network, we organize trainings to further develop our members’ skills and we provide women with powerful female role models”.

Carmen Vera Garcia, leader of the Leadarise network for young women, emphasises the importance of providing women, and especially younger women, with the opportunity to connect with others in a way that suits them: “In our network we make sure that everyone feels welcome, and we facilitate conversations among the members. Our events are less formal than common networking events, and might therefore make it easier to connect. The reason is that we understand and promote networking as a way to build meaningful and sustainable relationships, and to help each other”.

Similarly, the Gentlewomen’s Club focuses less on career development but rather on providing women with a safe space. Co-founder Sabina Ciofu explains the philosophy of the network: “Ultimately, we challenge mentalities and help our members create meaningful and supportive relations with other women – we aim at replacing competition with collaboration, envy with admiration and judgement with understanding”.

Functions of Women’s Networks     

The board members’ philosophies converge with current research: exposure to role models, safe spaces, and networking opportunities have been identified as essential ways of fostering more female success stories.

A lack of role models, i.e. individuals who provide an example of the kind of success one may achieve, is a key reason for the under-representation of women in positions of prestige and power. In the words of Chelsea Clinton: “(…) it’s really hard to imagine yourself as something that you don’t see (…)”. Indeed, role models can positively impact on success beliefs, attitudes towards the self, aspirations and values, especially when role model and role aspirant share group membership. Getting acquainted with more senior women in women’s networks might hence have a positive impact on the careers of junior women.

All-female environments might make it easier for women to share their thoughts on workplace conflicts. Other women might have experienced similar problems, and can give useful advice. In the form of formal trainings or informal gatherings, women’s networks might provide this safe space that is often absent in an ordinary workplace environment.

Women’s networks further offer great opportunities to connect to other women in one’s field. Members of one network can actively and consciously suggest each other for speaking opportunities, projects, or job openings. Considering that in 2016 70% of people were hired at a company where they knew someone, these connections are invaluable. Currently, men might experience an advantage in this regard due to the so-called old boys’ network: men find it easier to connect with those in high-level positions who are predominantly male. Sharing similar experiences, interests, and after-work activities that women might have less access to results in the kind of natural bonding that women’s networks are trying to simulate.

 

Solution to gender inequality?

More critical voices lament that women’s networks cannot simulate these organic bonds that men form, and will therefore always be lacking. Moreover, it is justified to ask whether a focus on women’s groups unfairly places responsibility for change on women, and whether we should rather aim for more holistic and inclusive solutions. Laura Bates, founder of everyday sexism, noted that it is indeed a problem that “it tends to be mainly women who are involved in diversity projects and mentoring networks”.

After hours of interviewing female employees and women’s networks board members, I conclude that it is useful to tackle the issue from two fronts. Whilst we must not exclude men from this conversation, women’s networks have their own place in women’s empowerment, and provide one route towards more gender equality.

Antonia Sudkämper
Research Associate

Spotlight on Women in Business: Where Does It Come From?

  • March 19th, 2018
  • Blog

This week GenPol sat down with Jo Salter, founder of the ethical clothing brand Where Does it Come From. We talked about ethical fashion, the simple steps we can all take to live more sustainability (cut down on plastic bottles, everyone), and the importance of women empowering each other. Jo has been kind enough to offer all our blog readers a 10% discount on an item (or items!) of their choice using the code Gen10. Have fun browsing her beautiful collections, and we hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.

What was it that first inspired you to set up Where Does It Come From back in 2013? Tell us a little about your journey

I’ve always been a questioner – some might say too much so!  I’d been involved in Fairtrade and ethical business for a while but when I had my children I became even more aware of the total lack of traceability in the products we buy. I wanted answers to questions on who was making their clothes – was it other children making clothes for my children to wear? What was in the fabrics I was putting on their skin?  As I looked into it more and more I was amazed about not only the lack of information available, even to brands, on the working conditions of the garment makers involved in their products, but also the environmental impacts of clothing production such as pesticides, polluting dyes and even overuse of water and carbon.  I determined to pull together a brand that would be as eco and fairtrade as possible and totally transparent to customers too.

If you could go back to the moment of founding your business and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

I was naive about reaching customers! My advice to me would be to concentrate much more on fearlessly getting the message out there.  When working on your own business it’s too easy to be modest and avoid shoving the message down people’s throats.  It’s really important to be evangelical and let your passion shine through.  I do avoid preaching however, no one wants a sanctimonious brand!  Also I would have advised myself to be more patient – but that is never going to happen 

 The notion of ethical and sustainable fashion has been attracting increased media attention over the past few years, how much progress do you think the fashion industry has made?

There are some really positive developments happening in ethical fashion – big names such as Stella McCartney and celebrities like Emma Watson and even Meghan Markle are making it cool to dress according to your values.  Fashion has moved further and further along the ‘fast fashion’ model in recent decades – a downward spiral of bargain prices, cheap fabrics, poor working conditions for both garment makers and the environment.  We are now seeing a backlash against this.  Information on working conditions coupled with disasters such as Rana Plaza have inspired many of us to change our shopping habits.  Big brands such as H&M are seeing their customers demand more ethical alternatives and there are many new brands, such as Where Does It Come From? who are stepping up to meet the demand.  

 Making ethical cool is a key way to influence shoppers but the fashion industry still needs to address a number of areas, such as the whole concept of trends and being ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion. Transitory styles will just encourage people to discard clothes in favour of the latest craze, leading to increased landfill.  The fabrics being used and the huge amount of unrecyclable and non-biodegradable plastics in clothing needs to be explored.  I would also like to see more of a focus on the stories and heritage around fabrics and garment making not just how they look.

One thing that particularly impressed me about WDICF was your commitment to zero waste and zero plastic. Do you have any recommendations for the sort of swaps/changes our readers could make to try and reduce their own waste footprint?

This is something we feel really strongly about – I want to have minimal negative impact on the environment.  For Where Does It Come From? this meant that every decision taken has to be questioned as to its impact, from farming and clothing production to the labels and packaging we use.  We even have our website hosted on a wind powered platform!  This does require a little effort and often means not taking the cheapest option but the benefits are far reaching and also very satisfying.

For your readers I would suggest starting with small steps – start consciously questioning yourself in choices you are making – do I really need this new t shirt?  Can I bring my own cup with me and re-use through the day? Can I buy second hand?  Can I walk rather than drive this short distance?  I think we are all aware of our options but have ingrained habits.  Every little change has an impact and if you fall off the ‘ethical wagon’ don’t despair – just hop back on again!  If everyone created once less waste cup or bottle per day, just imagine how much smaller the plastic mountain would be!

I love the Trace Your Garment feature available on your website. Where did the idea for that come from?

That was literally a ‘middle of the night’ moment! I had been thinking through my business plan and woke up with the traceability concept and the business name in my head! I had to wake my husband and tell him…. 

I wanted to find a way to easily communicate to customers the story behind their garment, and I wanted total traceability, right back to the core components. Too often we are told that a cotton item is ‘made in Britain’ – we don’t have any cotton fields in the UK! 

As well as the obvious ethical benefits around our production I believe it’s good for us as consumers to know the stories – it helps us connect with our products better which hopefully inspire us to love them more and generally be happier so good for our mental health. It’s also very educational for children. 

 Collecting the information was a bit more challenging as we needed to find partners throughout the supply chain who met our ethical values and were able to be totally transparent.  This took some time as we are really selective about who we work with and want to build long term relationships.  Our Indian partner, Moral Fibre Fabrics, works with local co-operatives to empower rural women and we have now done 7 productions with them. It took several years to build the relationship but when we visited the supply chain we stayed in the family home of the founder and attended a family wedding of one of the designers!

The fashion industry has historically come under attack for the pressure it places on women to conform to a certain set of aesthetic criteria, but has been your experience of the gender dynamics in the industry?

As an ethical brand owner I work closely with many other ethical clothing brand owners and I’ve found that many are women – often women who themselves want to take hold of and change the perception of women and fashion. Brands owned or co-owned by men are equally looking to promote consciousness in clothing. Due to the whole ethos of thoughtfulness, quality and re-usability of ethical fashion I’ve found that women (and men) who are targeted as ethical fashion customers tend to be of a much wider age range and economic dynamic.  These are people looking for style with individuality and longevity.

 The wider fashion industry does appear to have assigned certain values to women in the past, around size and, dare I say it, a certain shallowness around how they look.  I don’t think that this reflects the majority of women which is why we have felt alienated from it.  I believe this changing in the wider fashion area but not perhaps so much in fast fashion.  Hopefully this will develop as the younger generations are certainly very switched on to environmental issues.

I also want to see change in the sexual stereotyping of children’s clothing generally. There is no simple solution here but the polarisation that currently exists is very confusing and segregating for many children, as well as influencing them in their self-image from a young age.

A shift in attitudes has been felt across almost every industry when it comes to gender equality in the workplace in the aftermath of #MeToo and #TimesUp What are the biggest changes you think we need to see?

80% of garment makers in fast fashion are actually women, and when it comes to shopping for clothes the proportion is about the same – as many women buy the clothing for their husbands and families.  Women have the power to change the situation for their sisters in the garment industry who are enduring poverty, awful working conditions and family separation just to bring us cheap clothing.  I would like to see a movement whereby women support women in the garment industry, through their shopping choices. #womenforwomen

What would your advice be for entrepreneurs looking to start out in the wake of these movements? What would be the main message you’d want them to take away from your experiences?

 The main message I would give to new entrepreneurs is not to hesitate to shout about what they are doing.  Collaborate with other brands to get your message and products out there.  It’s much easier to work with and share ideas with others than to try and work all alone.

You have been kind enough to offer GenPol readers a 10% discount using the code Gen10. What would you say is your ‘must’ have item from the WDICF collection? Why?

 Personally I believe that our scarves are a MUST.  You can wear them to brighten up and add your own personal touch to any outfit, and tie them in lots of different ways too!  Ours are 100% khadi handwoven cotton and then hand printed with our unique designs.  We make them long so they work well as a wrap too, and they’ve been used as a breastfeeding aid too.  I love taking mine on holiday as a couple of scarves don’t take up much room and can be worn in so many ways.  We’ve done quite a few custom scarf designs for businesses too, using their logo’s to make a gorgeous print.

Where do you see Where Does It Come From? in 10 years’ time?

 Just as right now, we will be focussing on three beneficiaries – our makers (fair trade), the environment and inspiring our consumers.  Generally the plan is for Where Does It Come From? to be grow our partnerships so that we work with more and more social enterprises and artisan groups globally, setting up supply chains to create livelihoods and uphold and reinvigorate traditional skills where needed.  We will continue to grow our range of basic items and sharing their stories with our customers and hopefully inspiring them to connect with their products and to shop more and more according to their values. 

We love collaborations too so I can really see us working with other brands and also charities, to raise the issues around the garment industry and ethical consumerism and to support communities around garment making and the farming of fibres such as organic cotton.

 What do you hope will have changed by then?

 I really hope that ethical shopping will have become the norm. The ethical market in the UK is growing steadily each year but is still under 10% of all shopping.  Part of the challenge is that consumers expect their products to be cheap – prices haven’t really risen for many years, especially in clothing.  When faced with a choice between a cheap product with unknown provenance and an ethical product that costs more, most people still buy based on price.  I believe that this will change when consumers are made more aware of what is happening to bring them their cheaper products – most people don’t want others to suffer to bring them a bargain.  Legislation also has a part to play.  The modern slavery act of 2016 will be just the start I hope, with measures coming in to ensure companies monitor their supply chains for abuses.  Looking for the cheapest suppliers will no longer be the best strategy and this will also lead to prices becoming more realistic with less of a differentiation between ethical and non-ethical products.

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

GenPol + Serlo Team Up to Bust Myths About Consent!

  • March 15th, 2018
  • Blog

Consent is one of the most essential aspects of sex, but there are dozens of misconceptions around the topic that create confusion. A new online course, created by Serlo, a German NGO working in the educational sector, in partnership with our team at GenPol, seeks to eliminate that confusion and establish a clear understanding of consent. The course takes users through the most common myths related to consent, providing an easy-to-understand guide that will help empower everyone to create an open and honest dialogue around consent and to engage in positive, respectful, and fun sex.

The course begins by defining what consent is, citing American sex educator Jaclyn Friedman, who describes consent as a “state” rather than a question – that is, consent is an “open and active dialogue (as opposed to a lecture delivered by a single person).” All partners engaging in any sexual activity need to maintain awareness of the situation and keep in tune with verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate consent – or a lack of consent. Below is a small sample of verbal and nonverbal signs of consent and non-consent (more can be found in the course!).

 

Possible verbal signs of consent Possible verbal signs of NON-consent
yes no
yes maybe
definitely / I’m really sure I am not sure
I know I don’t know

 

Possible nonverbal signs of consent Possible nonverbal signs of NON-consent
Direct eye contact Avoiding eye contact
Initiating sexual activity Not initiating any sexual activity
Pulling someone closer Pushing someone away
Guiding someone’s hand to be touched in a certain place or way Avoiding touch


The Serlo course tackles four areas of consent-related myths, covering the perceived (and stereotypical) differences between men and women, what counts as sexual violence, real sex in real life, and what consent looks like. A few myths busted include…

Women are naturally silent and submissive in bed. Men are naturally loud and dominant.
“Luckily, everyone is different, and all desires vary depending on an individual (which makes the world a much more interesting place!). One cannot and should not make sweeping essentialist generalisations about gender (what a woman is, or what female sexuality is, or what a man is or ‘likes’). Moods and desires are not determined by arbitrarily assigned chromosomes. On the contrary, moods, desires, and preferences are cultivated over time and can change. We must be open to this possibility both when thinking about our own sexuality and that of our partners, however they identify themselves on the gender continuum.”

Assault only happens in dark streets at night. One can only be assaulted by strangers.
“Most cases of assaults today happen in a domestic context, and the assaulter is someone the abused person knew. Too many survivors take years to realise that what they went through (for example, being forced into unwanted sex by an ex-partner) was a form of sexual abuse. Importantly, no abuse or assault is more or less serious or damaging than another, and all survivors need to be taken seriously and deserve the utmost support.”

Sex in real life looks like sex in porn. There is something wrong if it does not. (aka. Sex in porn is a depiction of how good sex looks like)
“Sex in real life takes a wide variety of forms, as human beings (luckily) are all different and very complex. Sexual activities can (and should) be pleasurable, enjoyable and mutually respectful, and may, sometimes, be awkward or emotionally challenging. However, they should never imply violence and/or lack of consent, in which case they fall under the category of sexual assault. Sadly many porns show violent, non-consensual sex, objectify women (treat them as objects for others’ gratification), and fetishise non-white and LGBT+ people. They also show bodies that are rather different from most of the viewers’ and often modified by cosmetic surgery, which tends to increase people’s insecurities.”

Consent is simple: yes means yes and no means no, even when there are strong power differences (i.e. age\class\wealth differences, between a student and a teacher, an employer and employee etc.).
“Consent, like many things in life, is far from simple. Sometimes people are able to clearly articulate a no, which we must respect in all cases. Some other times, however, someone might feel pressured or manipulated into sex because of the power dynamics between them and their partners. These include strong differences in age (even when all people involved are underage), or when one of the partners is in a position of authority (a teacher, an employer, a sport coach, a priest). In this last cases, sexual encounters actually tend to be illegal.”

Even if you feel comfortable with your understanding and appreciation of consent, the course offers helpful advice to help anyone engage in healthier, happier, and more pleasurable sex.

GenPol is now taking its commitment to promote consent education to Italy with two exciting projects, PREVENT and PIÙ SANE . They both aim to promote consent-aware sex and relationship education as well as women’s self-esteem, empowerment and overall mental health. We are currently engaged in the production of digital educational modules in Italian language, differentiated according to age group (12-25), and freeliy accessible online through a brand-new web-site and app. The educational materials will also be promoted nation-wide through a social network campaign, and used and tested locally through a number of pilot projects. Stay tuned!

If your organization is interested in partnering with GenPol on a course or training around gender issues, click here to get in touch.

Kristina Chiappetta
GenPol Marketing Intern

Spotlight on Women in Business: Tales on Moon Lane

  • March 2nd, 2018
  • Blog

As part of GenPol’s Spotlight on Women in Business series, we were lucky enough to be able to interview Tamara  MacFarlane, co-founder of the wonderful, feminist, children’s bookshop Tales on Moon Lane. We talked about #MeToo, resiliance, the trials and tribulations of setting up your own business, feminist writers and the importance of role models for children. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Don’t forget to pre-order a copy of  Tamara’s latest book for 8-12 year olds, coming out in April (it features a fantastic female superhero, after all…)

Photo Credits: Tales on Moon Lane

This year Tales on Moon Lane celebrates its 14th anniversary- congratulations! It must seem like a long time ago now, but what originally inspired you to set up the bookshop?

TMF: It seems incredible that the shop has been going for 14 years. The original inspiration was having my children and realising that there was nowhere in the area where I could take them to buy books!

What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learnt about running your own business in those 14 years? What would your advice be to anyone starting out?

TMF: Resilience. There are so many things in business that are out of your control; along with all of the wonderful things that have happened at Tales, we’ve also had our fair share of knock backs. Learning to roll with the punches, and accept that, in reality, I have very little control, has been learnt the hard way (bouts of chronic anxiety) but it was an essential thing to learn. It was either learn to cope with the uncertainty and remain flexible and open to change, or walk away and get a day job.

My advice to anyone starting out is to remember that a business is just a group of people working together towards a shared goal. Without the people there is no business, so always look after the people that are on your team!

This is perhaps an age-old question, but why is it so important for children to have positive literary role models? Why is it important we don’t underestimate the power of feminist characters in the stories we tell children?

TMF: Over the years of running Tales on Moon Lane, I have become increasingly aware of damaging elements in children’s books. The underlying assumptions and innate ideology contained in many of today’s children’s books is often reinforcing out- dated gender stereotypes. It is essential that we identify the inherent values communicated by our stories and discuss what they are communicating to this generation of children. We are having these conversations on a daily basis at the bookshop. One of the huge advantages of being an independent shop is that we are able to create an integrated range that balances out the representation and roles of the genders.

We need to lead by example, and fictional characters are no different. They do not all need to be heroes, but female characters do need to exist in books, with the same flaws and complexity of character we give male characters. The imbalance in the number of male to female main characters in children’s books is still vast. The fight for equal representation has not been won.

All children need to have characters that they can identify with in their books, challenging systems, asking questions and demonstrating empathy; it is how we are able to experience a world outside of our own street. You frequently hear amongst librarians and teachers that girls will read male main characters, but boys won’t read female main characters. This is in part due to thousands of years of girls being expected to empathise with the male viewpoint without the reverse being expected, but it is also a myth that has become self-fulfilling.

It is as important for boys as it is for girls to have strong female literary role models because these characters, as most characters do, offer chances to break down the concept of ‘other’ that allows us to build up false narratives about anyone that appears different to ourselves, and instead helps us to identify and understand shared humanity.

I notice that quite a few of the core team have a background in teaching, and the need to address the attainment gap of girls in traditionally ‘male’ dominated STEM subjects is something that has been attracting a lot of attention recently. In your opinion, how can we educate the future scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow so that their gender is not a barrier to attainment?

TMF: The girls that we work with through our enterprise days are inventive, imaginative, innovative and able to take initiative – we need to harness this and not send out a message to them that they don’t have anything to offer in these areas. Role models are absolutely essential here and while representations of female scientists and engineers in children’s books alone will not change the landscape, it does help to communicate the concept.

Fortunately, there are now an increasing number of biographies of women scientists coming on to the children’s market.  We need to shout about those role models, to stop tucking women’s role in scientific development out of sight and showcase and celebrate it instead. Toys also have a role to play here. We are having an electric train running around the top of the shelves at the new shop and I asked the shop keeper at the train shop whether he had a figure of a female train driver to go in the engine with the male driver (who was supplied with the train).  The shop keeper said that in 30 years of owning the model train shop, he had never even seen one.

 GenPol recently published a blog on the need to address the glass ceiling in publishing. In your opinion what steps can, and should, the industry be taking to address this?

Primarily, and very simply, proper equal parental leave in the Swedish model is what is needed. Until men and women are able and expected to share their children’s care from the earliest days, this inequality of pay will not go away. The two things are directly and inescapably connected.

The second element is that the publishing industry needs to address the class problem that is endemic within the industry. People are very quick to make assumptions about people based on the way that they speak; this affects both genders.

When I look around publishing, in particular, there is still only one accent that you hear, and it is not the voices of the students that shine on our enterprise days. A system where you get a job because you sound right, rather than your ability to innovate, is a system that has no place in a society striving for equality of opportunity. All children have the right to be readers and the voices and experiences of people from all socio-economic backgrounds are needed within children’s book ranges. This means the industry needs to employ people across a wide range of socio- economic experience.

What have your experiences been working as an all-women organisation? Does gender continue to play a role in the way we do business today?

It is interesting that we are currently an all-women organisation, I hadn’t really thought about it until you pointed it out. We have, over the years, had men on the team but we very rarely have job applications from men.

I think that the values that we share as a team in terms of work ethic, the level of importance of quality of life, and enjoyable working life over high salaries etc. are very much more conducive to supporting one another and having a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve. We are ambitious for the change that we might be able to create together. The team is much greater than the sum of its parts and we are able to do so much more when we are working collaboratively, both in terms of good business and social change.

The #MeToo and #Timesup movement seem (we hope) to be constituting a profound shift in working and employment cultures across a range of industries and continents. What would your hopes be for this generation of women, who will now be taking their first steps in to the world of work on the back of these movements?

I would encourage girls going into the workplace today to believe that the system that exists is not the best or only system that could be. I hope that they will have the confidence to see that if there is a need for change that they have the ability to create it.

The number of women at the top of FTSE 100 companies is endlessly quoted, but is that necessarily a definition of success for women? Would a better measure not be the number of women running their own companies, on their own terms, with their own definition of success, i.e. being able to pay their own bills, feel a sense of purpose and have a life outside of work.

Finally, what are you reading currently? Why?

Fantastically gifted women who changed the world – because I grew up not knowing about all the female scientists, mathematicians, artists, sportswomen and political activists that changed how we live and I am hungry to learn more about them. Each short biography is rewiring my brain and reshaping my view of history, and therefore of the present and of the future.

I am reading a stunning new children’s book of biographies called Young, Gifted and Black. As with women’s biographies for children, there have been very few children’s books celebrating the achievements of people from a range of ethnicities. It is vital to our understanding of the world around us that the achievements of all people are celebrated. The achievements of one particular group of society should not be valued more highly than others just because that group tends to run the publishing industry.

Diversify by June Sarpong – this well researched book focuses on the ways that we allbenefit from greater diversity and looks at the problems that arise from a lack of integration. I have given a copy of this book to every member of the team as it articulates what we are trying to do with the new community interest company and the reasons for doing it, with great clarity.

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Consent beyond the classroom: why we are responding to the Department For Education’s call for evidence.

  • February 20th, 2018
  • Blog

For many of us, memories of SRE (Sex and Relationship Education) are fleeting at best, and painfully awkward at worst. When I was in Year 8 (12/13) my school decided to solicit the help of a local sexual health charity to supplement their curriculum. Volunteers would dutifully reverse a large lilac bus (which, if my memory serves correctly, was filled almost entirely with cotton wool and prosthetic genitals) in to our school playground once a term. We would be ushered into a darkened classroom and sit through a PowerPoint presentation on STI symptoms which always made a nice change from double maths, before being loaded on to the bus and offered a free pregnancy test. We would troop off when the bell rang, bolstered by the perennial fear of Chlamydia and the knowledge that we could access emergency contraception in the car park of the local shopping centre every Wednesday (at a ‘discreet’ pop up clinic next to some bins, just in case you were wondering).

Whilst my school’s stance now makes excellent food for amusing party anecdotes and nostalgic reminiscing, I am all too painfully aware of how privileged we were to have access to any form of structured education at all. Prior to the passing of a government bill in 2017, teaching of SRE was not compulsory in the UK, and provision for its implementation remained at the discretion of  individual schools. As the government has set a deadline of September 2019 for the national implementation of a full SRE curriculum, discussions surrounding the direction it will take, and the content it will promote, are naturally rife. The Department for Education’s recent call for evidence on the necessity of teaching SRE at both primary and secondary level, felt symptomatic of a shift in education culture, and of wider dialogues surrounding questions of consent and survivor empowerment in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

At GenPol we care very deeply about sexuality education. We are only too aware that the issue of SRE teaching demands a considered and holistic approach because of its inherently personal nature. The government’s new proposed curriculum will need to address some fairly gigantic gaps that, sadly, no number of lilac buses can fill. We see consent-focused, intersectional sex and relationship education as a vital tool in the combat to end violence against women and girls and towards the LGBTQ+ community. It is for that reason that we have consecrated so much of our working time (including a separate research program and a very successful conference last summer) to researching the sort of forms a new SRE curriculum could take. Thursday the 1st of March will also mark the launch of GenPol’s first policy paper on the topic of sex and relationship provisions, where we will put forward a number of recommendations about directions curriculum reform should take.

It is for these reasons (and countless personal ones) that the GenPol team decided to respond to the Department For Education’s call. Our recommendations touched on a number of issues surrounding the implementation of an SRE curriculum, notably that:

– SRE should be informed by a sex-positive ethos, including a focus on reproductive sexual rights and the complexities of sexual pleasure. This means providing honest, accurate and empowering information regarding sex and sexuality, as well as bodies, gender, contraception and of course STDs (graphic PowerPoints optional, everyone!)

-Teaching needs to actively incorporate the concept of sexual consent- then and only then will it help us to end a culture of violence and abuse. The new curriculum should incorporate conscious attempts to highlight (and dismantle) harmful gender stereotypes, explicitly teaching women that their needs are equal to those of men’s and inviting all students to reflect on the risks associated with oppressive gendered norms.

– Take into account the needs of LGBT+ community and other culturally marginalised groups. This is a gap we must fill urgently: LGBT+ themes should be integrated in classroom discussions and textbooks, and teachers should be trained to intervene in discriminatory situations.

– Curricula need to take a more intersectional approach. This entails addressing the ways in which people of colour and disabled people are too often excluded form conversations surrounding sexuality education. They should address, with conscious sensitivity, questions of sexual assault, fetishism and sexual stereotyping, and include voices of non-white, religiously and culturally diverse people. GenPol insists on the inclusion of strategies to support survivors of sexual assault, which should unequivocally challenge the insidious culture of victim-blaming and allow survivors to feel safe in the class-room.

-We also strongly recommend that national RSE curricula and individual schools’ programmes should be publicly available online, and schools’ personnel should be trained to address parents’ queries, in order to promote a culture of transparency and equality.

It is important to stress that implanting a positive, empowering SRE curricula for our young people is an ongoing task, that will require ongoing cooperation between schools, practitioners, researchers and consultants. Memories of teachers, slideshows, buses and core values transmitted between the four walls of the classroom are for life, and do not stop when the school bell rings out at the end of the day. GenPol would therefore like to warmly invite all those who wish to get involved in our other forthcoming research and advocacy initiatives on this topic to please get in touch (all contact information can be found on our site).

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Juggle Jobs Recruiting – ‘having it all’ thanks to flexible work

  • January 19th, 2018
  • Blog

Frustrated with the lack of women in senior level positions, former recruiter Romanie Thomas founded Juggle Jobs, an online platform matching businesses with professionals looking for flex time employment. With the majority of these professional platform users being women, Juggle Jobs contributes to closing the gender pay- and power gaps.

 After a decade in recruitment, Romanie Thomas experienced ongoing frustration regarding a recurring request from her clients: More and more clients, especially in technology and other stereotypically “male” fields, were looking to increase the number of women in their senior level positions, and were hence requesting shortlists of qualified female professionals. At first, Romanie accepted that this task would always pose a challenge to recruiters.

Keen to make a more long-lasting contribution to gender equality, however, Romanie started to explore the reasons for the lack of available women. It became evident that, due to the disproportionate amount of care work women still engage in, most women were looking for flexible working arrangements. Unfortunately, this used to be largely incompatible with senior positions. In fact, employment data shows that this dynamic is one of the main reasons for the persisting gender pay gap.

Startled by the situation, Romanie set out to find a solution as, she explains, women should in fact hold 50% of all business leadership positions. In conversation with her clients, she found out that a lot of firms were indeed interested in reviewing workplace policies and practices in order to retain qualified women and to recruit more diverse teams.

Flexible working

 The solution to the companies’ requests for more women in senior positions seemed to be to offer more flexible working schedules that would facilitate the combination of work- and family life. Accordingly, Romanie founded Juggle Jobs, a recruitment platform focused on flexible working. The online platform matches businesses with mid- to senior-level professionals who would like to work on a flexible basis.

Historically, flexible working has meant part-time work. Juggle Jobs defines it in broader terms: having the freedom to set your own schedule. Specifically, they offer three types of flexible working options: Part-time, i.e. 2-4 days per week, usually incorporating working from home (“tele-working”), Full time with flex hours, i.e. 5 days per week with flexibility to arrive or leave early or late, and Portfolio Style, i.e. 1-4 days per month, usually on-site.

Another popular type of flexible work is job-sharing. Under “normal” part-time, employees partially fill one post each within an organisation. Job-sharing means that two employees share the same post (50% each). The practical implications of this include the concerned employees sharing working space and equipment, and their working time not overlapping. Flexible working arrangement might also include leave arrangements, such as generous parental or family leave.

Dr Heejung Chung, reader of sociology and social policy at the University of Kent, confirms that Romanie’s approach is likely to tackle gender-related workplace issues such as the gender pay gap. In her research, she found that women who were able to use flexible working options were only half as likely to reduce their working hours after the birth of their child. Indeed, if given flexible working options many women would stay in work and maintain their hours and pay after having children.

Juggle Jobs

 Importantly though, Juggle Jobs does not only focus on women. “90% of flexible working requests come from women which is why we are geared towards women”, Romanie explains, “but there is an increasing number of men who would also like to work more flexibly, often to spend more time with their families.” Indeed, according to the 2017 Modern Families Index report, almost 70% of men would like to work more flexibly, and 47% say they would like a less stressful job, reflecting the challenge they face in achieving a good work-life balance. It seems like women’s more urgent request for more flexible workplaces is only a driving force to an employment landscape undergoing fundamental changes as a whole.

Next to recruitment, Juggle Jobs also offers support and guidance to companies that are transitioning to more flexible workplace practices as “the majority of companies are open to the idea of flexible working, but struggle with the implementation”. Juggle Jobs consults mainly organizations in the professional services: law, accounting, and management consulting firms. Their clients are increasingly asking for a more diverse workforce, and their response is to offer more flexible workplace options. Romanie needs her clients to be committed to the cause though: “We only work with companies who support the idea, and not companies who would just like to employ one token flexible worker.”

Impact on Employees

The benefits of flexible working seem to be plenty both for employer and employee. Whilst employers attract and retain a larger and more diverse pool of qualified workers, employees are given an option to combine care responsibilities and a career. Overall, the increased freedom resulting from more flexibility has been found to increase workers’ productivity.

Romanie admits that there might also be downsides to flexible working: “It might sometimes get a little lonely, and there is still stigma surrounding flex-workers.” Nevertheless, the demand for more flexible jobs is constantly increasing. Juggle Jobs has experiences a consistent growth of 30% in monthly revenue, and has been listed as recruiter.com’s top 10 tech start-ups globally. Clients, both female and male, seem overwhelmingly satisfied by the sudden possibility of “having it all”: “Flexible working does have its challenges but getting it right means that I was able to work at a senior position for an exciting company whilst still spending time with my family” (Natasha Natt, lawyer).

Find out more and join Juggle today: https://www.juggle.jobs/

Antonia Sudkämper
Research Associate

Women in publishing: addressing the glass ceiling

  • January 2nd, 2018
  • Blog

Industry data averages- a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Publishing is often viewed as a rare example of an industry dominated by women.

A 2015 survey with 3,415 respondents across 8 review journals and 34 publishers of different sizes in the US showed that women make up 78.2% of the industry overall (Diversity Baseline Survey from Lee & Low Books). A smaller survey, with 425 respondents, published around the same time, estimated that 77% of the publishing working force in the UK is composed of women (Publishing Industry Salary Survey from Publishers Weekly).

Interestingly however, a different story emerges when breaking down the data by department. While women dominate in editorial departments with 84% representation, this trend dies out at a higher level (only 59% of women occupy executive positions). By inspecting the data further, we find only 2 women CEOs across the top 30 major publishers listed in the Publishers Weekly “The World’s 54 Largest Publishers, 2017”. This trend has been consolidated by recent management changes in large corporate publishers, where women CEOs are being replaced by men. Such statistics translate into an embarrassing pay gap for the industry where men are earning on average 15.7% more than women (2017 bookcareers.com Salary Survey for the UK). The pay gap is a reflection of the fact that men in the industry tend to occupy more senior roles than women, as salaries are roughly the same for men and women with similar roles.

It is intriguing that the pattern of women dominance at the editorial level is not replicated in positi power, even though women are the backbone of the industry. This trend has been also been highlighted by Lee & Low Books as symptomatic of a reality where ‘males still ascend to positions of power more often, even in female-dominated industries’.

The glass ceiling for women in the publishing

The reasons keeping women from reaching the top of the publishing industry are not clear-cut, however some facts do prevail. Firstly, and perhaps more obviously, women still do not have sufficient support to balance career progress and caring responsibilities. This issue not only holds off (or stops) a woman’s career, but can also generate (un)conscious bias from employers in hiring and/or promoting women. While this is a problem across several industries, it is surprising that the move towards digital tools seen in publishing has not been accompanied by a reform in the working environment, which remains very office-centred. Changes are long overdue and flexibility is absolutely vital for women to thrive in the industry.

Other arguments for explaining the disparity in gender statistics between editorial and executive departments have focused on the inner workings of the publishing industry. Specifically, with the corporatization of publishing, management roles have become increasingly finance-oriented, meaning that the skills from editorial departments are not necessarily transferrable to a management role. However, even if we ignore the pool of talented women driving the industry from below, it is hard to justify the fact that there are only 2 women CEOs across 30 key corporate publishers. Are women less capable to make executive decisions? Do women lack the confidence to pursue such roles?

This does not seem to be the case in independent publishing, which is blooming with female leaders setting up their own publishing houses. In addition, major corporate publishing houses have seen a number of women taking leading roles back in the 50s with Helen Meyer, as President of Dell Publishing, and Phyllis Grann, as President and CEO of Penguin Putnam, and then again in the 90s with Marjorie Scardino, appointed CEO of Pearson, and Jane Friedman, the first and only Global CEO of HarperCollins. Where are the women leaders in corporate publishing now? To answer this question, the publishing industry can no longer sit comfortably on its gender averages and needs to take a long, hard look at its own glass ceiling.

More data to assess the publishing industry is required

The data described above might only be the tip of the iceberg. Publishing is made of several sectors, which means that averages are not necessarily representative of the industry. For example, in scholarly publishing women are underrepresented across all stages of the publication process with only 37% as authors, 28% as editors and 26% as peer reviewers, as reported in Helmer et al. 2015 (https://elifesciences.org/articles/21718). This is symptomatic of a bigger global issue in fields such as science, in which only 28% of researchers are women (UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030). In some sectors of book publishing, women authors have been also been shown to be underrepresented (2016 VIDA count) and have faced gender barriers, famously exemplified by Joanne Rolling who was encouraged by her editor to use the acronym J. K. to hide her gender identity. Contrastingly, women are overrepresented in sectors such as children’s books, which has attracted a number of criticisms, namely that this gender imbalance leads to a predominance of children’s books tailored for girls. This has been correlated with the lack of interest that young boys seem to have when it comes to reading (Jonathan Emmett’s blog Cool not Cute and Porter Anderson’s post here).

This glimpse of data makes it clear that the discussion of gender balance in publishing is far from over and additional statistics are required to understand where the industry needs to be reformed. Importantly, these changes will need to address diversity issues that go way beyond gender. Even though this post specifically addresses women in publishing, data has shown that the publishing industry suffers from a massive diversity problem in terms of race, sexual orientation and disability. Lee & Low reported that 80% of publishing staff are white, 88.2% heterosexual and 7.6% identify as having a disability. The implications of these statistics in terms of the books that get published calls for a major reform of the industry, and a need to chip away at a firmly-established glass ceiling.

Carolina Feijao
Research Associate

Supporting women in business: Spotlight on AmaElla

  • December 18th, 2017
  • Blog

Shining a light on women in business

At GenPol we are committed to backing female entrepreneurs, and sharing success stories of women in business. In the run up to Christmas we feel it is more important than ever to give a platform to women striving to make the business world a fairer and more ethical place, especially when we are looking to get our stockings filled, and New Year’s resolutions drawn up.  To kick-start the series, we want to introduce AmaElla  an ethical, environmentally sustainable lingerie brand that is close to our hearts. It’s co-run by one of our non-executive directors, Lara, and her friend and now business partner, Julie.

AmaElla is a social enterprise whose mission is to encourage ethical behaviour in fashion through sustainable and ethical sourcing. Their core values are of quality, sustainability, customer centricity, and honesty. As a reaction to the exploitation of factory workers, suppliers and consumers, Lara and Julie have created a brand where people and the planet are at the heart of what they do. Frustrated by how difficult it was to find attractive lingerie made from organic cotton, the pair took it upon themselves to turn cotton “from drab to fab”.

You can sleep well at night

By choosing AmaElla lingerie and nightwear the idea is that you can sleep well at night, both thanks to the purity of the fabric on the skin—free from toxic chemicals—but also in the knowledge that the items you are wearing have been responsibly sourced.

Central to AmaElla‘s mission is the knowledge that our skin is our largest organ and taking good care of it will benefit our health.Toxic chemicals on our clothes have been associated with problems in women’s hormonal health and even with increasing the likelihood of developing breast cancer. As a result, AmaElla only uses certified organic cotton and materials free from toxic chemicals. Every material has been tested for harmful substances by independent organisations such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).

Moreover, as a social enterprise, AmaElla meets the social criteria based on the key norms of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN guiding principles, including: traceability of production, prohibition of child labour and slavery, the living wage, respecting women’s rights and ensuring all employees are treated with respect and dignity. These are values that are key to making the working world a fairer and more equal environment, and that we, at GenPol, strive to promote and uphold in our own research and consulting services.

All items are made by women who are paid a living wage and whose working conditions are closely monitored to ensure they are treated fairly and respectfully.

They don’t cost the earth

While AmaElla’s prices may be higher than many high street brands to ensure ethical integrity and quality, AmaElla pride themselves on not literally costing the earth. Fashion is, after all, the second most polluting industry in the world— second only to oil—and non-organic/conventional cotton is the dirtiest crop out there. However, despite its environmental impact, non-organic cotton is one of the most commonly used natural fibres, in nearly 40% of our clothing and using 25% of all fertilisers globally.

AmaElla’s commitment to using 100% organic cotton means that its organic farming uses traditional and new scientific knowledge to grow crops in a way that develops healthy, fertile soil, conserves biodiversity and protects natural resources, minimising the use of non-renewable and off-farm inputs.

Ultimately, by selecting the finest organic cotton, premium trims, and attractive prints, AmaElla ensures that its lingerie and nightwear line is anything but ordinary. Created with the consumer in mind it wants women to feel bold, healthy, beautiful and confident in their skin

A Fantastic Festive Offer!

In a bid to support AmaElla’s great work, we are running a special pre-Christmas offer! From the 18th to the 22nd of December AmaElla are kindly offering of a 15% discount off the whole range to any shoppers who used the code ‘GenPol17’. Simply like our Facebook page, and head over to their online shop (you will be asked to provide the code at the checkout).  All of us at GenPol are proud to support and shine a spotlight on the incredible work being done by these women, and we wish them (and you) a very happy Christmas!

Emmanuela Wroth
Research Associate

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