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Closing the Gender Gap

RhiannonBy Rhiannon Watts

CHELTENHAM LITERATURE FESTIVAL 2016

Misogyny doesn’t disappear; it mutates

This quote was the starting point for the evening’s debate and was an idea explored throughout by the each of the speakers.

Despite it being 46 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act, the average salary of a woman is still 20% less than that of a man. This highlights the undeniable fact that legislation is only the first step in effecting change and that the fight for equality is far from over. Disparity in pay can be attributed to a number of causes including the disproportionately of the care burden, employer attitudes, harmful gender stereotyping and outright breaches of law. However, the discussion also revealed the influence of wider societal views on the workplace. For example the role of the media in its portrayal of women, the significance of openly misogynistic people in positions of power, a recent example being Donald Trump, and the way in which these things normalise the mistreatment of women. 

All three speakers, Miriam González Durántez, a lawyer working with the Inspiring Women campaign, Eleanor Mills, Chair of Women in Journalism and Sayeh Ghanbari an EY partner, all emphasised the limitations young women face as a result of traditional gender roles. Not only are leadership roles overwhelmingly dominated by men, but admin and support roles are most commonly associated with women. Heartbreakingly, research has shown that these kind of stereotypes begin to manifest as young as six years old, leading to a lack of confidence in young girls and early acceptance that they are not as capable as their male counter-parts. The Inspiring Women campaign works tirelessly with the media and primary schools to break through the limitations imposed by gender norms. This is done through workshops with children and their teachers and by encouraging women in leadership roles to speak out about the gender pay gap.

Another interesting potential remedy to the gender pay gap was raised by Sayeh Ghanbari, who recently piloted a reverse mentoring scheme. This is a system whereby the minority, in this case a woman, although it could be used with ethnic minorities, mentors a colleague belonging to the majority group. The pair discuss practices that are appropriate for the workplace, and work together to establish methods of creating an environment in which all feel comfortable, equal and able to progress. So far reception of this programme has been positive and many employers report excellent results. Each of the speakers also highlighted the importance of women supporting each other in the workplace and challenging inequality when they see it.