Five Ideas... on tackling structural sexism within your union

Tuesday 09-12-2014 - 16:23

Daisy Sands is Head of Policy & Campaigns at the Fawcett Society. The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity for women’s equality and rights. They believe that as a society we will be stronger, healthier and happier when all people – women and men – enjoy full equality and respect (and we heartily agree).

We talked to Daisy about her work, and how the student movement can help to tackle gender inequality, she said: ‘There is still an 18 per cent pay gap in the UK. Women comprise 47 per cent of the workforce and yet only one in four (25 per cent) of senior managers are women. Why?

'We think a core reason is parental leave – by giving women more leave than men the current parental leave system reinforces the idea that women should be the main carers within the family. Another reason is the type of work women do - women make up 82 per cent of workers in the care and leisure industries whilst men make up 88per cent of workers in Science and Technology (Care and Leisure tends to be lower paid).

'It’s a bottom up issue. From the toys children are given to the media they consume – young boys are taught that their value is held in wealth and success, whilst young girls are taught that it their looks are more important. These values push women towards certain career choices and teaches them to have certain ambitions.'

Here are Daisy's five ideas for tackling structural sexism within your students’ union:

1)  Equal Parental leave

From April, parental leave will be ‘shared’, meaning that maternity leave can be shared out between two partners rather than it being only for the mother. This is a good step, but to further encourage equality we want to see fathers given a ‘use it or lose it’ component of leave (rather than having to take leave away from the mother).

2) Campaign Better

If your students’ union works on gender equality campaigns, think about how you campaign effectively. The internet has revolutionised the way we campaign, but it has also caused a flood of messages and petitions. We must be wary of ‘clicktivism’ – social media can be key to a campaign, but don’t underestimate the power of getting the people you’re targeting in a room and speaking to them about structural sexism face to face.

3) Raise awareness of the issues

You can raise awareness of sexism within your students’ unions through debates, talks, advice and support and mentoring schemes – acknowledgement is a key step towards tackling the problem.

4) Deal with Subconscious Discrimination

Subconscious discrimination means a hiring manager may be more likely to hire someone that they can see themselves in. If most hiring managers are white men, this inevitably leads to more white men being hired. We need to educate hiring managers and ensure that they check their own subconscious discrimination.

5) Implement an Equality and Diversity Policy

Ensure that your students’ union has an equality and diversity policy which includes quotas and a flexible working policy. Flexible working policies enable busy parents, generally mothers, to keep their careers going alongside their family responsibilities, whilst quotas for leadership teams help tackle subconscious discrimination. You can't overestimate the impact that seeing women in senior leadership roles will have on younger staff.

Implementing (or lobbying for) these policies will be a great step towards tackling any ingrained sexism that may exist within your organisation.'



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