Seeing as today is International Women's Day, I thought it might be an idea to write about one of the big issues that is often raised as an example of where there is clear evidence that women are still not equal to men; that of the top levels of politics and business.
There is no doubt that women are grossly under-represented in these areas. There is also no doubt (at least for the non sexist of us) that women are equally capable of performing these roles just as well as men. So, are women being held back and kept from taking their place amongst the elite because of an inherently sexist attitude amongst those who decide who progresses and who doesn't? I'm not so sure. I think it has little to do with any deliberate desire to favour men over women and more to do with outdated and unfair working practices that, unintentionally, favour men purely because men are more often than not in a better placed decision to make the sacrifices that politics and big business demand for progression.
Men and women are different so lets not pretend otherwise. There is an overriding natural instinct amongst women to mother and it is an instinct which wins out time and time again against the demand from employers. It is fortunate for men that for them, there doesn't exist, at least not on the same levels and not for most men, the same burning desire to stay with their children. That is not to say that all men would rather be at work than with their child but that in circumstances where a couple is faced with the decision that either the mother or father has to work, it will frequently be the mother's preference to stay at home and that desire will be stronger for a woman than a man. I accept there are exceptions but those that argue they are anything more are deluded.
This means that men are at an advantage in the workplace. Their employment is usually unbroken with long spells of leave, they are available for overtime at short notice and have a degree of flexibility should they need to travel, entertain or attend out of hours meetings. I know this is a generalisation, but it's very very hard to get to the top without providing your employer with those 'qualities'. Whilst some may think politicians do very little, the reality is that, as with senior businesspeople, a senior politicians life is pretty much dominated by the job and it requires just as much sacrifice as in the business world.
So this isn't intentional sexism and the more intelligent and reasonable feminists know this and they advocate what I advocate: genuine, family friendly reform of working practices. A business that requires it's senior people to work more than 60 hours a week and make other such unreasonable demands is not a well run business, in spite of what the balance sheet may say. It is not well run because it is, without thinking, placing it's senior positions out of the reach of half of it's workforce: it's women. Amongst those women could be the best candidates and they will never be in with a chance because the sacrifices are too great and they shouldn't be.
Clearly, this isn't a plan of how to counter the problem but rather an expression of desire that the problem be addressed on the right terms. It's not so much a women's issue but a family one. It is in everyone's benefit for it be addressed.