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Union policy research in the 21st century

Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category

Taking female advance seriously: the Deutsche Telekom route

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German telecoms operator Deutsche Telekom is to introduce a formal quota for the number of women in management positions in the company (hat-tip: UNI).

By 2015, the company expects that 30% of its upper and middle management positions worldwide will be filled by women. It says that it is the first quoted blue chip company in Germany to introduce such a quota, which it aims to achieve by systematic targets covering the recruitment of university graduates; selection processes; talent pools; and participation in executive development programmes. In this way, the company is seeking to build on its existing work-life balance policies. Policies which promote the participation of women in such programmes are frequent, these days; but the setting of a specific, very public quota and an equally public target date for its achievement are indeed rare.

Of course, definitions are key and it is not clear from the report whether the company is focusing on executive positions (where it is clear that improvements are needed since none of the eight current members of its management board, and only two of the twenty members of its supervisory board, are women) or both executive and management levels together. Certainly the background research that the company cited as laying behind its move is focused on the executive level, although the press release is quite clear that the focus of the policy is also on middle management and, potentially, the sorts of people represented in the UK by Prospect; the initiatives being described as to how the quota will be accomplished also seem to mark out the policy as encompassing management at lower than board levels. At the same time, however, it is not clear how far down the organisational hierarchy ‘middle’ management goes.

It is also not quite clear what impact the ‘worldwide’ base for the policy will have since it may well be that the rather poor example of the German boards is not replicated elsewhere, making the target less of an advance than it might seem. Statistics here need to be be a little clearer, too.

For comparison, a recent membership survey by the Connect sector of Prospect found that 17% of our members in one company who occupied second line management and professional positions and above were women. The picture in Deutsche Telekom will, of course, be different, although its intention to double both its intake of female graduates and the representation of women in executive development programmes might indicate that it is not too far away. An improvement of the representation of women on this sort of scale within five years would be evidently welcome.

UNI’s comment that advances in equal opportunities are associated with trade union representation is correct – as is its approach that equal opportunities need to be taken seriously throughout an organisation. An extension of the active promotion of women at all levels of the management and professional hierarchy on the basis to which Deutsche Telekom is committing itself would no doubt be a welcome application of ‘trickle down’ theory.


Written by Calvin

19/03/2010 at 10:57 am

Posted in Equality, Telecoms companies

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International Women’s Day

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8 March is International Women’s Day (loading very slowly, today) – a day adopted by the United Nations in 1975 to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. The banner under which events are taking place this year is ‘Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Progress For All‘ and they include an event at the TUC tonight promising ‘a night of comedy, music, poetry, politics and campaigning‘. LabourList is also commemorating the event with a day of women-only blogging, under a female guest editor following Rowenna Davis’s turn in the hot seat last year.

Justice for Colombia, to which Prospect is affiliated, is holding a one hour vigil at the Colombian Embassy today at 4pm to mark International Women’s Day and protest against the ongoing detention of human rights defender Liliany Obando, while Prospect members can download an excellent newsletter celebrating the achievements of women in Prospect.

For as long as inequality remains, we need to be reminded of why, so such special days as these continue to be useful. But, as Michael Foot said:

Describe the challenges by all means, but don’t confuse analysis with action. The one must lead to the other if it is to be useful to people. (Hat-tip: Roger Darlington)

Making International Women’s Day useful to women across the globe via practical action will, I suspect, continue to be a source of challenge for the organisers of such events, and policy-makers more generally, for some time to come.

Written by Calvin

08/03/2010 at 1:33 pm

Long Walk to Freedom

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela from imprisonment, following the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations nine days previously.

The BBC website has a number of videos celebrating the occasion, while the Nelson Mandela Foundation celebrates the anniversary with a number of cartoons. The South Afrian parliament, which will open today for business at the time of Mandela’s release, has also resolved to ‘succeed in refining the role of parliament in society and the role of society in parliament’ as a means of paying tribute to Mandela. There’s also a newly-produced YouTube video with an archive ITN interview with Mandela and with footage of a 20th anniversary dinner filmed by Zindzi Mandela.

The programme of the Foundation itself calls for a celebration of the anniversary:

With a renewed commitment to working hard for South Africa’s democratic future

– and, we might add, from the perspective of the UK in election year, with a re-dedication to continuing that long walk until we achieve freedom for all people without regard to the colour of their skin.

Written by Calvin

11/02/2010 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Equality, Politics

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How much is your job worth?

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The new economics foundation has today published a provocative document looking at the real value to society of a range of different professions in the attempt to explore issues around how our pay relates to ‘worth’ as well as the inter-relationship between the work that we do and the impact on wider society.

The report compares six professions and ten ‘myths’ about pay and work and, while it won’t surprise (given its stated purpose to ‘shatter some myths about work and value’) that nef’s methodology delivers some justification for Adair Turner’s views of the ‘socially useless’ nature of large swathes of banking activity, nor that cleaners and waste recycling workers are engaged in work that is far more socially useful, the report nevertheless produces some highly interesting points for policy-makers. Its central conclusion, that:

We urgently need to align incentives with the social and environmental value that are generated by the workforce,

is one that (with an appropriate grammatical correction!) needs further promulgation in a world in which pay is set at one end of the market by peers and, at the other, by a race to the bottom driven by the need to make savings on outsourced contracts, whether in the public or the private sector, and where work is dominated by vulnerable workers rather than ones which share a belief that they are ‘masters of the universe’.

The difficulty that remains is that, in a privatised, globalised world, where issues including wages have been handed over to the frequently distorting hand of neo-liberalist perspectives, reining market-induced excess back in again demands intervention and regulation and will increasingly demand internationally-co-ordinated action. Difficult things to achieve in practice and ones that are likely to require clear and concerted explanations if they are to be ‘popular’ in action, and not just on paper in individual opinion polls.

Nevertheless, the report is a timely one in that, in a post-crisis world, priorities will have to be set for public finances; having a framework for why public services need to be maintained, why there is a need for a commission to explore high wages and why decisions have been made over taxation policy, to name but three examples, is an essential first step in setting out why such priorities have been set – and indeed, why they are important. It is also likely to require a government that has confidence about its decisions.

Written by Calvin

14/12/2009 at 4:56 pm

Equal Pay Day 2009

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… Is today. Or, perhaps, it’s Unequal Pay Day since 30 October is when women stop getting paid this year.

The Fawcett Society, which works for gender equality in the UK, has launched the initiative on the basis that, with an equal pay gap of 17.1% at the full-time level, this is the point in the year when women are effectively working for their employers for free compared to their male counterparts who will get paid right the way through until 31 December. The equivalent of 62 working days without pay.

You can find out more about the Fawcett Society campaign here, while Connect reps can access Connect’s equal pay pages – including the submission on equal pay audits about which I blogged a couple of days agohere. A group of leading campaigners, including the TUC’s Brendan Barber, has also written to The Guardian seeking a number of initiatives designed to deliver justice in the workplace for women.

With the EHRC consultation on equal pay audits, there is the opportunity to make real strides for equal pay in 2010 and beyond – should it be bold enough to recommend that the government take decisive action via mandatory pay audits. It is clear to us that the voluntary approach will not deliver the real action required to ensure that the equal pay gap is closed and, in this context, the government’s reluctance to take that step is hard to understand. The forthcoming Equalities Bill offers the opportunity to address this and we would urge the government to use it to make a start on extending the pay calendar for women by introducing equal pay audits.

Written by Calvin

30/10/2009 at 12:05 pm

UK slips in gender gap league

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A report published today by the World Economic Forum (link is to press release) shows the UK slipping to 15th place in a table of 134 countries on the issue of gender equality. This continues a process of gentle decline which has seen the UK slip from 9th in 2006 to 11th, 13th and now 15th.

The Forum’s gender gap index assesses how well countries are dividing resources and opportunities between men and women, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities, and combines individual assessments within four overall sub-indices: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

The UK ranks top (or, rather, equal top) in terms of the indices on educational attainment, but 22nd on political empowerment, 35th on economic participation and opportunity, and 72nd on health and survival (largely owing to a rather low-looking ‘healthy life expectancy’ of 72 for women and 69 for men).

Income falls within the economic  participation and opportunity sub-index, and here the UK ranks 20th with women’s estimated earned income, in terms of purchasing power parity, standing at 70% of that of men. This is actually the UK’s best result within this index but survey figures on wage equality for similar work show a figure of just 64%  – and the UK ranks 78th, its lowest level within this whole sub-index (just for comparison, Uzbekistan ranked top on this measure).

Nordic countries, headed by Iceland, filled the first four places – the same four countries as in 2008 (albeit in a different order). New Zealand filled fifth place, as it did in 2008, while South Africa jumped from 22nd to 6th, as a result predominantly of improvements in women’s participation in the labour force and in the representation of women both in the South African parliament and the government.

The individual component figures in the survey can always be challenged, but the survey acts as a useful check on the UK’s general progress towards gender equality – or, in this case, its lack thereof. The result on pay equality is particularly poor and chimes with recent research in the UK which shows that the gender pay gap remains, in the words of the Women and Work Commission, ‘stubbornly persistent‘ despite a reducing trend. At the same time, however, it does provide an opportunity to address the factors which might provide for the step-change required for women to break through the gap which remains.

Perhaps Proposals for promoting greater transparency in the private sector, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission consultation on improving gender equality in the workplace which closes tomorrow, might provide some way forward. As far as Connect is concerned, and as we argued in our submission to the consultation, mandatory pay audits are the way forward since they lead to structured and agreed action being taken towards a closing of the gap, with subsequent publication being the trigger both for accountability and for action.

Written by Calvin

27/10/2009 at 5:47 pm