It’s 8 March, International Women’s Day 2017, a day that has a century-long history of fighting to give women equal rights and opportunities in the world. In 1975 It was adopted by the United Nations.
The theme for 2017 is #BeBoldForChange.
According to the International Women’s Day campaign,
“with more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.”
The rail industry is one that is very male-dominated, particularly in those roles that are not service-related.
According to the UK’s Network Rail, 16% of its workforce of 37,000 is currently female. To coincide with International Women’s Day 2017 the organisation has set itself the target of increasing that figure to 20% by 2020. It has long been recognised that girls need to be encouraged to consider STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – so that there is a strong and large pool of qualified women to fill STEM jobs.
In addition to a shift in attitudes, promoting women in STEM careers and highlighting women role models already in such careers is vital for girls so that they will consider such jobs as gender-neutral.
That said, it is vital that these jobs are well paid and continue to be well paid. According to a recent New York Times article, when women enter a certain profession that used to be male-dominated, pay drops. And women already earn less in jobs that require the same level of training. Claire Cain Miller writes,
“Consider the discrepancies in jobs requiring similar education and responsibility, or similar skills, but divided by gender. The median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27 percent higher than human resources managers (mostly women), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.”
Many women in the West in particular often feel or are told that the need for feminism is gone. And yes, women have the right to vote, something the women of the early 20th century campaigned for on this day. But we need a shift in attitudes. We need girls to aspire to the whole spectrum of jobs and careers out there, to feel that engineering and science and maths and technology are form them too. And then we, the adults, need to shift our attitudes too. We need to value work women do in our minds equally so that we value it equally in their pay.
This has a positive knock-on effect on men too. There are many jobs that are considered traditionally female that men do not consider as viable options for themselves. Jobs in (traditionally female) social care for example are increasing, while (traditionally male) manufacturing jobs are being lost to automation.
We will surely have the best-possible world when we have diverse workforces not just in jobs that are traditionally male, but also in those that are traditionally female, a world where men don’t feel they can’t do “women’s work” because it wouldn’t be “manly”.
In my mind therefore the solution is two-fold. Encouraging women into STEM careers, as Thales – the maker of the above video – do is great. But as a society we also need to encourage men into traditionally female roles so we, as humans, are all free to flourish and contribute as best we can to society from the fairest starting point possible.
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