Breaking out of the vicious circle

In the run-up to International Women's Day there's always talk about wage gaps and glass ceilings. Just last week we reported in SUR in English that a study had found that women earned 24 per cent less than men in Andalucía.

Of course people are quick to point out that these figures do not mean that employers are paying a woman 24 per cent less than her male colleagues doing the same job. In fact the gap is there not because someone somewhere thinks that a woman's work is worth less than a man's, but because there are more women in lower-paid jobs than men. And of course more men than women in top executive roles.

So, why is this? Company bosses will quite rightly argue that it's not their fault if women employees choose to take a reduction in hours and salary to be able to spend more time with their children. They would love to have more female candidates for top jobs, but point out that in reality many women do not pursue promotion because of family commitments.

However, a father also has the right to reduce his hours and salary when he has small children, so why is it the mother who chooses this option in the majority of cases?

The first reason is that it's still what's expected in society, despite the presence of equality in school text books and government policy for years. Now women can do any job outside the home, but the responsibility of managing a household and bringing up children is also mainly on their shoulders. A man announcing that he's going to put the brakes on his career so that he can do the school run and have time to cook dinner for his family, is still rare, and making decisions that go against the grain of society requires that extra confidence and courage.

But there's another more practical reason: of course the mother should be the one to reduce her hours - she earns less than her husband. Exactly.

Not until we break this vicious circle, not until 'juggling' work and family is a task for both parents equally, will more women be able to crack that glass ceiling. It exists, but society as a whole, including the women in it, is responsible for keeping it there.