An oversight of gender equality within politics, the workplace and academia in the UK

Dr Meghan Campbell is a senior lecturer in Law at the University of Birmingham. Her research explores how the international human rights system can best respond to gender inequality and poverty. She is also the Deputy Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

Dr Meghan Campbell structured her talk by covering three specific issues that need addressing to work towards a gender-sensitive parliament, these being the balance between caring and work responsibilities, the language of parliament and the issue of sexual harassment. Dr Campbell begins by stating the importance of a focus on the experiences of women in political space and the barriers within parliament to women’s full equality, stating that equality is multidimensional and it is, therefore, necessary to look beyond quantitative outcomes. Furthermore, she also asserts how vital it is to understand parliament fundamentally as a workplace. As such, it needs to be an inclusive and safe workplace for all employees. However, Dr Campbell argues that many of parliament’s practices and accepted use of language are divorced from the roles and experiences of women. In particular, the existence of caring responsibilities for employees and sexual harassment in the workplace are not widely recognised or addressed. The dual role of parliament as a legislative body, however, and a workplace, provide an avenue whereby a more gender-sensitive parliament can exist. This process, Dr Campbell argues, requires the adoption of an intersectional perspective where the experiences of all women, including women of colour, women from different socioeconomic backgrounds and women from different age ranges are mainstreamed.

With this awareness established, Dr Campbell firstly notes the importance of a work-life balance in ensuring that caring responsibilities can be met but highlights how elusive this is in parliament. She states that parliament must be designed with recognition of the time-consuming nature of caring relationships, but also recognition of their inherent social value to both men, women and wider society. Highlighting specific changes that could be made, Dr Campbell states that voting in parliament should be prohibited after 7pm, allowing MPs to fully participate with their families during the evenings. Additionally, the parliamentary calendar could be coordinated more closely with the school calendar, to allow MPs to balance family duties and work responsibilities. Lastly, providing all parliamentary employees with maternity leave should be a major focus of changes made to increase gender equality as the current provision of maternity leave is exclusionary and limited only to cabinet members. Moreover, a normalisation of paternity leave, where men are encouraged to take leave extends caring responsibilities to men and would help to promote greater equality by reframing assumed gender roles. Similarly, Dr Campbell asserts the need for caring requirements to become more accepted within parliament, calling for a safe environment for women to express milk and breastfeed without judgement and for greater provision of childcare that aligns to MPs working hours. Combining these changes would help to create an attractive workplace for women, reducing many of the barriers to women’s engagement in political careers.

Dr Campbell’s second area of focus is the language used within parliament, emphasising the proliferation of gendered language where male pronouns are the norm. Indeed, language has an important role in shaping gendered behaviours and relations as those excluded by language are therefore less visible and denied full existence in that space.

Lastly, Dr Campbell covers the issue of sexual harassment, arguing that it is necessary to bring a human rights lens to thinking about sexual harassment to create a culture where it is condemned. Within the context of parliament, Dr Campbell highlights how the power imbalance between MPs and other employees such as clerks creates another barrier for victims in coming forward. Furthermore, MPs are currently not seen as employees and are therefore excluded from legislation around sexual harassment, therefore, further laws must be inclusive of different types of working relationships. Moreover, Dr Campbell argues that internal accountability procedures must be strengthened, firstly by ensuring adequate human and financial resources, secondly through creating a culture that encourages the reporting of sexual harassment, and thirdly through having procedures in place to protect against the backlash that women often face when reporting sexual harassment. Ultimately, procedures to counter sexual harassment must be meaningful rather than tokenistic to ensure proper accountability can be demonstrated when dealing with sexual harassment cases.

In summarisation, the working patterns of parliament are based on a male breadwinner model and are divorced from the value of caring relationships. Women in parliament should not be forced to conform to this norm or gendered language, but also, they should be safe going to work without the risk of sexual harassment. Attention to parliament as a workplace provides an inroad to identifying typical workplace policies that could be applied to parliament to ensure an inclusive space for all.

Professor Karen Ann Mumford is from the Department of Management at the University of York. She specialises in labour economics, applied micro and macroeconomics and women in economics and has won several awards for her research.

Professor Mumford centred her talk around evidence of gender inequality specifically in academic economics, looking at data as a way of informing policy changes. Initially, Professor Mumford demonstrated the underrepresentation of women in academic economics as in 1996 less than 15% of the academic workforce in the field of economics were women, compared to 25% in 2016. This pattern is followed internationally, with women dominating the job rank of lecturer far more than of professor. In the UK, there is a particularly significant difference between the proportion of female and male professors. Indeed, Professor Mumford outlined her research that finds men 10.4% more likely to become professors than women, even after controlling for differences in educational background, demographics, individual productivity measures, workplace characteristics and the labour market.

Additionally, Professor Mumford compares her research to that of Blackbee’s in 1999 which formulated the gender pay gap for women in academic economics. Blackbee found a 9.4% pay gap in favour of men, statistically coming predominantly because women were earning less as lecturers than men. Replicating this study, Professor Mumford and her colleagues found that the pay gap had increased to 10.3%, with this gap now being driven by a significant difference between the earnings of male professors in comparison to female professors, with a 14% pay gap amongst professors. Consequently, academic economics has become a far more favourable workplace for men than for women, with men being much more likely to be promoted to professor, whilst also enjoying significantly greater earnings after such promotions.

Professor Abby Day is from the Sociology Department and the Goldsmiths University of London. Her work focuses on building capacity and representing the sociology of religion both inside and outside universities, nationally and internationally through teaching, research, publishing, and supervision. She also leads the BA religion programme at Goldsmiths University.

Asserting the importance of recognising religion as a major social and personal force, Professor Day highlights the need to understand religion and its interconnection with issues of diversity and gender equality. Indeed, drawing from her research and practice that centres around the representation of religion and its sociological importance, Professor Day brings her own gendered experience of academic research. Combing personal experiences with those expressed by other female academics who participated in the Dialogue Society’s panel discussion on women in academia, Professor Day begins by highlighting several recurring themes. Firstly, that women’s academic careers often follow non-standard trajectories, and include struggles to gain visibility for their contributions. This impacts the dissemination of knowledge as women’s contributions are not fully engaged with. Quoting her fellow academic from our panel discussion, Dr Christine Callender, Professor Day frames the female academic experience, particularly for women of colour, in terms of a ‘game of snakes and ladders’. Indeed, black academic women account for only 1% of all professors in the UK, but beyond extreme underrepresentation, black women experience frequent bullying and harassment from colleagues and find that career progression is often halted by achievement or promotion from one institution not always being recognised in another. This results in an atypical career trajectory that limits progression to senior positions. Furthermore, Dr Callender highlighted how women less frequently put themselves forward for promotion in comparison to men, with reports showing that women typically attempt promotion only if they meet all the criteria whereas men attempt promotion regardless of meeting a majority of requirements. Professor Day relates this finding to the differences in the socialisation of men and women in wider society.

Similarly, Professor Day exemplifies the personal experiences that Professor Eileen Barker contributed to our previous panel discussion on women in academia, highlighting her nonstandard career trajectory, but also gendered experiences within academia. In particular, recognition of a lack of female academics at LSE resulted in greater strain being placed on women, including Professor Barker, to participate in many more committees. Furthermore, knowledge about pay bands within academia both Professor Day and Professor Barker stated were unknown to them but well known among their male colleagues, contributing to the lack of women requesting and being granted pay rises.

Going on to focus on issues revealed through her research, Professor Day emphasises a need to continue the move to decolonise teaching curriculum that typically represents a small set of identity categories, namely being white, middle-class men. Within the study of religion, Professor Day argues that not only are women underrepresented but the value of their roles in religion is also misunderstood. Indeed, much of our historical understanding of religion was formed from the male perspective, making invisible the realities and unpaid contributions of women in performing religion. This marginalisation of women’s contributions is central also to the experience of women in academia. Indeed, women publish less and receive fewer grants than men do. Data shows that many more funding applications are submitted by men than women, revealing structural inequality as Professor Day highlights that funding applications typically relate to seniority, and require an extra time commitment that further excludes women with caring responsibilities. Lastly, in the workplace women often are expected to take on pastoral roles, despite the continued unequal distribution of caring responsibilities between men and women in the home environment. Subsequently, Professor Day asserts that more attention should be rewarded to the work of female scholars, with their theories and ideas gaining more dissemination, to facilitates a process of female re-writing of the dominant masculinised narratives within academia.

Dr Meghan Campbell

Dr Meghan Campbell

Senior lecturer in Law, Birmingham University

Dr Meghan Campbell is a senior lecturer in Law at the University of Birmingham. Her research explores how the international human rights system can best respond to gender inequality and poverty. She is also the Deputy Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

Prof Abby Day

Prof Abby Day

Goldsmiths, University of London

Prof Karen Ann Mumford CBE

Prof Karen Ann Mumford CBE

Department of Management, University of York

Professor Karen Ann Mumford is from the Department of Management at the University of York. She specialises in labour economics, applied micro and macroeconomics, and women in economics and has won several awards for her research.

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