You are here:

Keynote conversation on gender equality launched in London

This worldwide conversation forms part of the University of London’s Leading Women campaign, the keynote lecture was delivered by Shauna Olney.

Written by Binda Rai |

Panel discussion at the 1895 Charter Lecture 2018 in London
‘.....our young men and women expect to be treated equally, and they expect to have equal opportunities when they come into the world of work.....'

‘Globally, progress for women at work has stalled, and there are signs that it may even be reversing. Despite common assumptions, the gender gaps in the world of work remain stubborn, and show no sign of being overcome,’ said Shauna Olney, Chief of the Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations.

‘Women continue to have fewer jobs than men; they work in a more limited range of jobs – often reflecting gender stereotypes; their jobs tend to be lower paid with poor working conditions; and they have limited scope for voice and representation, ’explained Shauna Olney. Noting that women’s educational achievements have been impressive, she examined to what extent educated women were getting the jobs and the pay they deserve. She was speaking at the launch of the University of London’s ‘worldwide conversation’, which took place at Senate House in London on Wednesday 19 September 2018.

This worldwide conversation forms part of the University of London’s Leading Women campaign, which celebrates 150 years since the University opened up Special examinations for Women in 1868, and ten years later, opened up full degrees for women. In both instances, the University of London was the first to do so in the UK.

In referring to research conducted by the ILO, for its centenary celebrations next year, Shauna noted that, the majority of women, in all regions, want to work at paid jobs, yet there remains a significant gap between women’s aspirations and labour market realities. Employment for women stands at 1.3 billion, compared to 2 billion for men, and the global employment gender gap has closed by only 0.6% in 20 years. Progress has stagnated and there are indications that the situation is getting worse.

Shauna attributed this trend, in part, to the lack of value given to care work responsibilities, generally associated with women, as well as the time poverty of women, who perform over 75% of unpaid care work She noted that, in 2018, over 600 million women, compared to about 40 million men, were either unavailable for employment or not seeking a job, due to unpaid care work responsibilities. People, mainly women, spend 16.4 billion hours per day doing care work; this is equivalent to 2 billion people working 8 hours a day for no remuneration, and is equivalent to 9% of global GDP.

Shauna challenged the audience at the ‘worldwide conversation’, and asked them to ‘think about their own spheres of influence’ and ‘ensure that the efforts of the first women admitted to the University of London, and of the ILO labour feminists in 1919, who helped shape the ILO Constitution and the first ILO treaties, were not in vain’.

Shauna’s Keynote Lecture, the second annual University of London 1858 Charter Lecture, 2018, was dedicated to the subject to women in education and the world of work. The lecture was followed by a panel discussion, addressing two key questions:  

Question One: Given that women have been shown to be just as professionally ambitious as men, and given that there is a rapidly growing percentage of women gaining degrees and higher education qualifications, why, then, are we still not seeing the same representative sample of women in leadership roles around the world?

Question Two: What is a modern university’s responsibility with regards to gender equality? And how, through a fulfilment of this responsibility, can a modern university’s focus on gender equality become impactful within a wider society?

Each panel member was a leader in their respective fields, and the panel was chaired by The Hon. Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, the first Asian woman appointed to the UK High Court. The panel included contributions from:

  • Francesca Lagerberg, Global Leader – Network Capabilities, Grant Thornton International
  • Isabel Fernandez-Mateo, Adecco Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, London Business School
  • Kuljit Bhogal, Barrister, Cornerstone Barristers
  • Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society
  • Stella Dadzie, Writer and Historian
  • Dr Mary Stiasny OBE, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), University of London.

The Panel’s discussion ranged widely from the dismissal of ‘female traits’ as ‘soft skills’ to the essential challenge of early years education in encouraging a healthy view of gender equality. Contributions called for employers to recognise that the issue was not about ‘fixing the woman’ so that she was employable but recognising that fundamental and unacceptable barriers to equality and participation remain. Tackling these should be seen as building vital infrastructure in society rather than optional. The Panel also recognised that such conversations around the world will have different emphases, but all would have to tackle the value ascribed to work in the home with dependents, as well as the value of paid care jobs.

Summing up the conversation, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb said that despite the hard-won right to higher education and the flourishing of women in many fields of endeavour, we should still all feel uncomfortable about the level of progress.  ‘In answer to the first question… it is to do with the value given to all the work women do, and with the opportunities they get to rise to leadership roles. And it’s not just about pushing people to apply, because when they apply, they’ve got to be applying into a structure which facilitates them succeeding, if they are the best person for the role.’

Regarding the second question, and the role of universities, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb noted that it must be ‘to push women through, but also to model, as a university, how the world should treat women, in how they receive women, and give them their place. Proper funding for education is vital for this country and elsewhere, and expansion of opportunity for greater numbers of students has to be met by sufficient staff. These must have adequate security of tenure, for them to be able to function properly, and for there to be equality of opportunity for advancement amongst teaching staff.’

Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb summed up how the younger generation has different ideas about equality. She said that ‘our young men and women expect to be treated equally, and they expect to have equal opportunities when they come into the world of work…They may well push for this, and they won’t be content with what women have had to be satisfied with in the past.’

Dr Mary Stiasny OBE, who hosted the ‘conversation’, said:

I am delighted to note that this “worldwide conversation”, launching in London, is a continuation of the University of London’s tradition of opening up access to higher education for all. This year’s 150th anniversary celebration of the University’s “Special Examinations for Women” is a perfect backdrop for our “worldwide conversation”, which I know will continue to further the University’s access agenda for women by enabling key local issues surrounding gender inequality to be heard on a world stage.

She added: ‘Presently we have around 20 of these “worldwide conversations” taking place over the next two months, in countries ranging from Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Lebanon, Ghana, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Russia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Moreover, I hope that the London conversation will encourage even more participation around the world, and engage many of our 50,000 students on our distance and flexible learning programmes, and alumni from our global network, to take part.’

Watch the video: University of London’s ‘worldwide conversation, held at the University of London, Senate House, on Wednesday 19 September 2018.