“I operate within a very male dominated environment. An environment that, at entry level, had and still has approximately 66 per cent females. The higher up the career ladder I went, the more that complement became inverted.
The stark reality is that despite statistics and several studies clearly demonstrating that women have had a bigger and deeper need in the last few decades to get a better education, combined with the often natural talent of multitasking, laser-like focus, and a whole host of other well researched and substantiated qualities, we really have had to fight and compromise greatly to attain some modicum of equality. At a certain usually mid point area, we often encounter glass cliffs and ceilings. No matter what we do or how well we do it, we are often squeezed into the square box and out on the chill shelf. That is the harsh reality for many women that I have encountered,” Connie Smith-Young, managing director, Tricor Caribbean.
In his guest column dated October 8th, Peter Webster compares feminism to Nazism, quoting Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda to substantiate his claim that there has been an over correction caused by a “biased” and “one-sided” movement for gender equity that has had “unnatural consequences.” Mr Webster argues that the glass ceiling is a thing of the past and that women are the new rulers, much to the detriment of men who have subsequently become marginalized.
It goes without saying that the status of women has indeed improved over time; Barbados’ respectable ranking of 60 among 189 nations in the UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index reveals that we have a lot to be proud of. There is also overwhelming evidence of the sociological challenges affecting Barbadian men. But to assume that the former is the cause of the latter and that “the pendulum has swung too far” is both inaccurate and illogical.
Women have a very long way to go before they can begin to experience gender equality – over 200 years, according to the World Economic Forum. Analyses of academic and professional outcomes for both men and women yield irrefutable evidence of this fact.
According to the UNDP, the average Barbadian female is expected to attend school for 16.7 years, while her male counterpart is expected to attend for 13.9 years. Globally, there has been a significant shift in the male to female ratio for attendance in higher education since the 1970s – 66 per cent of the 2017-2018 on-campus registrants at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, and 70 per cent of the 2017 graduates from the Barbados Community College were female. Women are also consistently the top performers in national exams.
One of the reasons that have been suggested for this disparity is that many males may feel that they have more alternatives to college than females; women often feel that they have no other choice but to pursue traditional means of upward mobility, working much harder than their male counterparts in order to reap equal or inferior professional and economic benefits.
But if academic success is measured in terms of financial rewards, then women are trailing men considerably.
According to the UNDP, the estimated Gross National Income per capita for Barbadian men is $18,384 while that for women is only $13,509 (2017). Data also shows disproportionate under-use of educated women in the workforce, usually due to additional responsibilities at home as well as discrimination and cultural prejudices.
According to the Caribbean Development Bank, the rate of poverty in female-headed households is 19.4 per cent, compared with 11.5 per cent in male-headed households (2016).
Despite a low unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent among females and 8.6 per cent among males, labour force participation among women is much lower than that of males.
According to The Barbados Statistical Service Continuous Household Labour Force Survey for April to June 2018, the Labour Force participation rate currently stands at 70.3 per cent participation among males and 59.8 per cent among females. There are also higher rates of women working part-time, thus resulting in ineligibility for benefits and financial insecurity for female-headed households (IDB, 2012).
Women who participate in the labour force often pursue stereotypically nurturing and caretaking careers in teaching, psychology or nursing. Enrolment rates by faculty at the University of the West Indies reveal clear divisions along traditional gender lines. During the 2018-2019 academic year, 78 per cent of those enrolled in the Humanities and Education faculty were female, compared to only 46 per cent of those enrolled in the Science and Technology faculty; this is despite significantly higher female enrolment numbers. At Barbados Community College, despite the 2:1 female to male enrolment ratio, there are disproportionately more males in the Computer Science and Technology faculty.
Professionally, there are significantly fewer numbers of females in senior positions across most sectors. Despite the fact that there are more females admitted to the Bar than males, according to Chambers and Partners – the most renowned legal ranking service in the world – only four of the 13 top lawyers in Barbados are female. The gap between Barbadian women’s academic achievements and their career performance and earnings is evident across most sectors.
This trend is even evident in the traditionally female teaching profession. According to the Caribbean Development Bank, there are more women than men among teachers at primary (80 per cent female in 2011) and secondary schools (62 per cent female in 2011), but fewer women than men among the academic staff at UWI (43 per cent female in 2011).
“Most secondary school principals and senior academic staff at UWI are men. The percentage of men among teaching and academic staff increases with the transition from primary to secondary to tertiary education and with the level of seniority of staff position.” (CDB, 2016)
Barbados is ranked 98 out of 193 countries for the proportion of women in Parliament, with women occupying 20 per cent of the 30 seats in the Lower House and 38.1 per cent of the 21 seats in the Upper House. But despite a relatively high level of political representation, there is still a significant gender gap in political empowerment.
According to the World Economic Forum, Barbados ranks at number 82 among 130 countries for the gender gap in political empowerment; this sub-index incorporates the ratio of women to men in minister-level positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions, including the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.
Female talent is one of the most underutilized business resources; the disempowerment of women in the workplace has negative implications for families, communities, women, companies and, ultimately, our entire economy.
According to the UNDP, increased participation of women in leadership positions leads to higher levels of corporate philanthropy; empirical studies have also proven that improving gender parity in the workforce results in significant economic dividends.
Numbers alone cannot measure women’s experience in the workforce. Depictions of harassment, discrimination and ignorance provide specks of information behind a very much hidden story. If there is anything that we learned in 2017-2018 it is that sexual harassment is a major global issue. Locally, sexually inappropriate behaviour by men towards female colleagues and employees is undeniably prevalent especially in the informal labour force and is rarely addressed due to cultural acceptance, fear or self-blame on the part of victims and the inaction of employers.
Just last year, a senator made a public statement during the debate of the draft legislation of the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, 2017, that it was understandable that women who dress scantily receive catcalls – an assertion that was not only offensive given the legislative context but also given his public stature.
A major oversight in myopic reports on the improving status of women in the workforce that draw a connection to the marginalization of men is that the suggested correlation does not indicate causation— it is fallacious to argue that improving the status of women in business will result in the marginalization of men. Having said that, it is important to re-emphasize— suggestions of female domination are illusory at best and extremely dangerous at their worst.
Today, October 11 is the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child, aptly themed With Her: A Skilled Girl Force. Let us join UN Women in their support of girls and women taking charge of their own future.
Daphne Ewing-Chow is a freelance writer and editor and provides her services to a large number of international organizations and companies. She has a Master’s Degree in International Economic Policy from Columbia University and is passionate about issues surrounding regional development. She can be contacted at [email protected] and her work can be viewed on instagram: daphne_ewingchow_writer.