In December 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was added to the statute books which enabled women to join professions such as veterinary, law and accountancy which they had formerly been prohibited from entering. It was a major win for women and the time considering, that World War I had only recently ended which brought an amalgamation of economic problems. In celebration of the centenary of the beginnings of equal opportunities legislation, the University of Reading held a symposium and invited an array of speakers from different disciplinaries.
I was fortunate enough to watch the 3 pm talk where Professors Grace James, Thérèse Callus, Marina Della Giusta and Henley Business Schools own Clare Collins, engaged with the topic of women and equality in different parts of our society.
Professor Grace Jones began the symposium with two things every woman will be acquainted with once in their lives, and that is harassment and the gender pay gap. Specifically, she revealed that the gender pay gap is currently at 17% and is shockingly estimated to take between 30 to 60 years to be closed. She aptly announces that she is “disappointed and furious” a phrase which everyone in the room could resonate with. With this sense of anger in the air the talk moved to Professor Thérèse Callus who, like Professor Grace Jones, comes from the School of Law. She uses her expertise to express how divorce is specifically disadvantageous to women, so much so that on average divorced fathers have their income increase by 23% whereas mothers have theirs decrease by a third. The statistics paint a dire future for women who leave relationships and hope to rebuild their life yet are met with such a drastic hurdle.
We then had the privilege to listen to our own Professor Claire Collins who discussed how the lack of women in leadership positions, especially within business, is detrimental to society. Not only this but that when there are female leaders who possess the identical characteristics with their male counterparts they’re seen as having negative attributes. She effortlessly points out that even when women hold the same abilities, they are still at a disadvantage due to pure prejudice. However, Claire finishes on an uplifting note with a quote from Sheryl Sandberg. “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders”. Although we aren’t there yet, there will be a time where women are considered the ‘normal’ in not just leadership roles but every role.
Unfortunately, Professor Marina Della Giusta was short on time as she closed off the symposium however her quick talk was very poignant in my eyes. She discusses how stereotypes and prejudices are so deeply engrained in society that it is hard to avoid them, and we need to actively think about why we have these pre-conditioned beliefs. Questioning stereotypes and prejudices are the first step to dismantling them all together.
Although all the speakers were remarkable and engaging there was a mist of disappointment in the air at the fact that women still face large hurdles to be equal to men even in a developed country. However, Professor Claire Collins and her colleagues remind us that it is talks like these which raise awareness of the current issue’s women face. It is also heart-warming to note that there was a good handful of men in the room receptive to all four speakers which Professor Claire Collins points out is crucial for events like these. It is exceptionally important that men get engaged with this topic in order to become an ally and support women in their trials and tribulations to gain true equality. After all, by working together change can happen far quicker than if women fight alone.
By Verity Head