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More than our bodies

On International Women's Day employment law specialist Kiran Daurka discusses gender bias in the workplace and the fight for equality

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Kiran is an experienced specialist employment lawyer with a particular interest in equality and discrimination cases and in advising whistleblowers.  You can follow Kiran on twitter @KDaurka

And so it is, daughters continue the campaign against gender bias in the workplace started by their mothers and grandmothers. The trite observation that equality laws brought to instruct decades ago remain a necessary tool in the struggle for parity. 

Over the years, the language of gender equality has evolved, even if the underlying misconceptions have barely moved. More recently, we are hearing about the “motherhood penalty” or the “mummy track”, which serve to signify the structural barriers to women from their thirties onwards who hit the glass ceiling unable to advance their careers further, whilst their male peers continue to rise. 

These phrases, whilst captivating, do not tell the full story. The barriers that prevent women from reaching their full potential at work do not just affect mothers, they affect women whether with or without children.  The myth that women will become side-tracked and distracted from the business at hand in accordance with their hormonal and biological cycles is partially linked to the preconception that a woman’s primary work is to raise her children. A woman who does not have children may be labelled pejoratively as cold or unfeeling.   There remains an underlying assumption that a woman is driven by her physiology, which is in essence bound up in emotion rendering her “irrational”. A woman of colour is treated as afflicted even deeper by her inability to engage in rationality, given her untamed nature.  

The irrationalisation of women starts early, with girls being encouraged to nurture pink things made of plastic, whilst boys forage and climb. At school, she is encouraged to delve into softer subjects, whilst her male counterpart relishes in science lab explosions and the wonders of the galaxy.  Her career choices remain largely limited to the caring professions, whilst he aspires to reach the top of his mountain across all disciplines.  As her biological clock sounds loudly at her employer, he is fast-tracked, lunched and mentored.  She is praised and recognised, but capped.  And as legend has it, she will soon turn to her nature and her true vocation will take her over. In the meantime, she is frocked, heeled and sexualised.

In her thirties, there is an expectation that she will be side-tracked, so she is side-tracked reducing her ability to progress. Or, she is removed altogether alongside her messy caring arrangements which are perceived to have bled into her working environment.  There remains little expectation that men will take a dual-role, despite the introduction of Shared Parental Leave rights.

From next year, we should start to see growth in the reporting of the gender pay gap within larger employers. Current statistics predict that the average pay gap is at around the 14% mark. The disparity is likely to be far larger within certain sectors and within particular salary brackets.  

So it is, we will hand the mantle to our daughters and sons to close the gap and re-contextualise what it is to be a woman or a man. And whilst bleeding and birthing are part of our physiology, we are each more than just our bodies. 

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