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Equality Myths Around Women - Great Advancement

By Elaine Sihera

Some say political correctness has never had it so good, with women being the main beneficiaries. One women believes the reality of being a woman in the workplace is a much different reality.

The greatest myth pervading current intelligent thought is that women in Britain are now doing well; that they could not have it better. After all, they are getting more qualifications, more training, even more access to employment and, above all, getting the breaks in management. In fact, some say, political correctness has never had it so good, with women being the main beneficiaries. Aren't more men losing out now and complaining much more? Well, that's what those in power and the commercial gatekeepers would like us to believe, but the reality is quite another matter.

Women are doing dismally, and I am sure it is not just confined to the UK, any inroads made being extremely relative. They will continue to do badly until they have the two keys to change their lives: money and power. Women are very much still being fed with the crumbs of wishful thinking, being constantly flattered with the jewels of sharing those golden opportunities and being dangled with the eternal carrot of better things to come, with little chance of them ever materialising as men consolidate their position in other subtle ways. That is why, 10 years down the line, there are still only 10.3% female directors on the FTSE 100 companies boards. In fact, 47% of boards have only 1 female member and 24% of companies still have no women board executives at all! Taken together, 70% of FTSE 100 companies in the UK have just one, or no, female directors on boards averaging 12 members each (down 1% from last year).

Undoubtedly, women are continually being discriminated against in the workplace. Though they are utilised in vast numbers at the lowest levels in organisations, they are not making the break into the decision making areas which are still dominated by their male colleagues. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, women managers are actually down to 11% from 12.5% in the last decade. That does not show women doing very well at all. In fact, it shows a significant decline in their fortunes after the initial flurry of activity. Again, 82% of all part-time workers in the UK are women (who earn 60% of the average male hourly full-time rate), a personal preference that will guarantee their pay lags behind that of men for decades to come. And, as if that weren't bad enough, women in full-time work now earn an average of 86.4% of men's pay. For manual work, this average drops dramatically to 65%.

Entrenched Discrimination

All these elements do not suggest that women are doing any better. The gaps and demarcations, if not worse, are as entrenched as ever, as men, ostrich-like in their reaction to irreversible demographic trends, protect their positions against what they perceive to be a female onslaught on what is 'rightfully' theirs. In fact, one former BBC executive wrote an article in the Times a few months ago bemoaning the crop of new female executives at the BBC. Yet no one saw the need to write a similar article when men were wall to wall in the senior positions. It was just accepted as automatic and right. Women are trickling into key positions, for sure, but 'trickle' is the operative word. It has to become a sort of flood before real change begins significantly, both in perception and reality.

Sadly, and strangely, the most vociferous of people who think women still have to 'merit' their positions are actually top women who have managed to find openings for themselves. From the pinnacle of their success they arrogantly survey the masses of women beneath them and amazingly conclude that their unfortunate sisters are actually doing very well, indeed, and should shut up about the non-existent equal opportunities. For them, too many women being 'allowed' in presents both a threat to their position and a 'dilution' of the standards of the role.

Elaine Sihera (Ms Cyprah - and ) is an expert author, public speaker, media contributor and columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University. Elaine is a CONFIDENCE guru and a consultant for Diversity Management, Personal Empowerment and Relationships.

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