Video courtesy of STV Scotland Tonight 19.01.18
Last week, I spent time with a friend who had worked a full professional life, but recently retired. When asking her about her travel plans, she admitted that while she would like to go abroad, she no longer had the money – her pension simply wasn’t enough for the life she’d envisioned for herself. She is not alone. The insurer Aegon found British women have pension savings of just £24,900 – far less than £73,600 men accumulate.
While there will be gender based disparities in pension provision globally, the UK’s gap is one of the largest gaps in Europe. Certainly, the new legal requirement for employers to set up pensions has been a boon. Now 69% of women in full-time employment have a pension – nearing the 70% rate of men. But women have to do much more to ensure they’ll have sufficient savings for the longer lives they lead on average, and the greater share of sharing responsibilities they shoulder. It’s not surprising a greater number of women live out their retirement in poverty than men – especially when they’ve prioritised their children and others first.
What can 7 year old school children teach us about how well our early attempt at gender equality are succeeding? A great deal, actually. I just caught the two part series on BBCiPlayer of ‘Can our Kids Go Gender Free?’ where Dr Javid Abdelmoneim both examines and experiments with the gendered way both teachers and parents interact with young children. Setting up a provocative experiment with a class of seven year olds, over a period of 6 weeks, he aimed to create a gender-neutral zone in the class. I was completely in dispair to see how many of the young girls struggled with the same issues InclusIQ sees in the workplace amongst grown women: a lack of self-belief, a propensity to underestimate their scores on tests compared to their more favourable actual results and all-consuming focus on their looks – characteristics I would like to have thought did not start so young.
Seeing difference that young is enough to make you blame genetics. However, Professor Gina Rippon explained male and female brains, and even their muscles at that age are fundamentally the same. Behavioural differences between the sexes are not hard-wired at birth, but plastic and moulded by our exposure to the clothes they wear, the toys they play with, and even the adjectives people use to describe babies i.e. ‘cute’ versus ‘strong’.
I welled up when a bright little girl referred to herself as ‘ugly’ and the tearful joy and relief another showed when surpassing the physical strength she predicted she’d have. In fact, just as we see in the workplace, she and several other girls outperformed many of the boys on that test – who worryingly then lashed out with anger as their primary reaction at being bested. Similarly, boys are losing out too as they didn’t have the emotional vocabulary to describe how they felt about negative issues. To this point, one of the outcomes of this experiment was less aggression and fighting in the class amongst the boys. Clearly a win for families, schools and the boys themselves as they grow into adulthood.
As adults we think we are blameless in socialising our children along gender lines with ‘Pink princesses are what my daughter wants!’, the documentary was enlightening in how much we as well-intentioned parents and teachers collude and then perpetuate gender stereotypes. And it starts at birth. Indeed, when buying baby gifts this year for expectant friends, not knowing the gender of child limits your options. To that point, we were delighted to hear about John Lewis’ move to remove gender labels from a wide range of their range of children’s clothing. While the change has met to mixed reviews from the public, it certainly makes shopping for clothes in a way that avoids stereotypes an easier task!
About InclusIQ Ltd
InclusIQ Ltd makes diversity an integral part of everyday leadership. We believe aiming for a perfect balance of diverse skills and perspectives creates more engaged and enjoyable teams. We provide inclusive leadership solutions designed to rewire inbuilt biases for a fairer, smarter and more competitive workplace.
Dr. Doyle-Morris talks about why diversity of thought is vital for organisations
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