Gender equality: what do we really want?

By Emma Brooks

A recent study by the LSE shows that “having more women in the boardroom improves a company’s governance but can actually have a negative effect on its bottom line.” The research shows that women have a more productive effect on a company, for example by improving decision-making and by setting the example in the office with good attendance records. This, in turn, motivates their fellow male workers. However the odd thing in this recent piece of research is that it shows that having more women in high positions within a company, can often be counterproductive.

The study seems to link this to an increase in monitoring within companies, which can have a bad effect. Although the study concludes that this does not mean that the number of women in the boardroom should be reduced, once can nevertheless not help but feel that this might be the underlining message. This of course brings us back to question of whether or not men and women will ever be equal in the workplace. I know this may sound as a bit of a cliché article, but it is actually a very interesting question and an interesting phenomenon to observe. Things have really come a long way in terms of gender equality, and men and women are more and more on a similar level these days. From stay at home dads, to male nurses, police-women, women bus drivers… the anti-stereotypes are endless, without counting the trends of “metrosexual men” and who knows what else to prove to us that men and women are really not that different anymore.

But have we really reached that much of a parity? Do women get the same salaries as men do for the same job? Not really… Can they progress within the workplace and achieve the same type of career that men can? And are the same jobs really available to both men and women? Classic example: the world of politics. Although nowadays there are many women involved in politics how many of them have a position of influence? Hilary Clinton is a successful politician, despite the fact that she didn’t make it into office as president of the United States. Ségolène Royal failed her attempt at being president of France, also lost the leadership of her political party and is now more or less waiting for the next presidential election to try again. And how many of you, as female students of political science, can say you truly believe you will one day reach the same position of influence as a man in the political world? Instead, all we ever hear about is who between Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama has the best sense of fashion. Who pulled off the best outfit, which is one that can dress best? Is that really only what being first lady is about?

Although I know quite a few women in high profiling jobs, with successful careers, I still think we are long way from total equality between men and women in life. Certain traditions and prejudices still remain, which make it impossible for women to progress as they would like to. For example in Switzerland it is very difficult for working mums because the Swiss still place traditional values on the family and the wife staying at home. Therefore Swiss mums have to battle it out for nannies and daycare so that they can keep their jobs. And yet on the other hand, we also have countries like Sweden which has one of the highest gender equality rates in the world.

The question is, is this really what we are striving for, or are we just trying to do our best in life? Would things be dramatically different if men and women were on an equal level all round? And how far are we to take this issue? Do we really want men to stop holding doors open for us just for the sake of equality, in order to prove that we can do it to?

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