Intersectional Views Of Gender Equality In The UK
From child marriages and unequal access to education, to subtle sexism and unequal wages, gender inequality certainly persists all around the world. Like a chameleon, it takes many shapes and forms, but one thing is for certain, it needs to end. I was born in Nigeria, where men still hold a tight monopoly on cultural and political power. My family and I moved from Lagos to Luton when I was 11. The wheels of gender equality are in motion in the UK but there is evidently still a long way to go -- "subtle" and institutional bias persist, women still get paid 18 per cent less than men and only 25 per cent of UK STEM graduates are female.
I recently learned of an incident in London, where at a work meeting, a manager complained that a member of her team was "always pregnant". A woman's personal decision was discussed and judged in a professional setting as an inconvenience because of a workplace culture which permits and possibly promotes that rhetoric. Apparently fellow colleagues even laughed in response to the comment. This is just one of several practical instances which show that in the UK there is still bias in the way we think about women, our roles in society and the choices that we make. Tackling this will involve modifying mind-sets and ideologies through tailored trainings and initiatives.
We must recognise the idiosyncrasy of experiences and opportunities of diverse British women. The overall gender pay gap may be narrowing but the pace and direction significantly differs for different ethnic groups. In the full-time labour market, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have a 26 per cent gender pay gap, while Chinese women hold a -5.6 per cent 'reverse pay gap' with white British men. At university, I held an event where Professor Gloria Agyemang spoke on the realities of working as one of the very few female black lecturers in the UK. There is empirical evidence that science faculties not only offer men higher starting salaries but also view males as better qualified than female candidates and therefore invest more in the development of male candidates. These biases are mirrored across industries.
Statistically, being an ethnic minority is an extra layer of institutional disadvantage. Firms need to recognize that truly championing diversity goes beyond altruism. It is also a business strength synonymous with innovative ideas and economic prosperity. Hiring more women to achieve quotas or to look good is not enough. Committing to intersectional diversity of backgrounds and experiences will only enrich business output and culture in the long run.
Young people are more likely to identify and engage with role models of similar backgrounds. It is infinitely vital that girls in the UK see more women flourishing in male-dominated industries, so they know those jobs are open to them and they can aspire accordingly. As a Girls20 ambassador, I will be launching a project later this year focused on encouraging girls in my community towards professional leadership and entrepreneurship. I hope to offer girls free mentorship and workshops involving role models of varying ethnic backgrounds. Representation matters.
Women's experiences are not homogenous and trying to approach gender issues as such will only be counterproductive. Ignoring intersectionality is like building a house on sand rather than on a solid foundation -- when strong winds blow, such a house would not be able to stand. As we work towards 50/50 in politics, finance, education, STEM and so on, let us also ensure that our 50 will be representative of the diversity of women in our contemporary society.