Women in Public Life Blog

What is a blog? It's short for web log; effectively an online diary commenting on interesting issue relating to particular topics.

If you’re interested to share your experiences with us, or would like to write a blog to be published here, please e-mail private.office@assembly.wales or call 0300 200 6233

Self-esteem and the Media

29.03.16 by Candice Boyes

International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March, a day aimed at supporting, inspiring and encouraging women across the globe. Yet many women lack confidence, based largely on the way that they look.

A worrying number of women admit to having self-esteem issues linked to appearance, with 92% of teenage girls admitting they would like to change something about the way they look, with body weight ranking the highest. A big part of this insecurity seems to come from comparing ourselves to others.

While the women that surround us in our friendship groups, family, and social surroundings are by their nature a diverse representation of females, women are much less diversely portrayed in the media. According to beauty brand Dove’s National Report on Self Esteem 98% of girls feel there is an immense pressure from external sources to look a certain way.

Use of social media is ever-growing, and self-esteem issues relating to appearance seem to have increased as a result of this. The survey conducted by Dove in collaboration with Twitter last year revealed some shocking statistics on the issue:

·         8 out of 10 women encounter negative comments on social media that critique women's looks

·         Women are 50% more likely to say something negative about themselves than positive on social media

·         82% of women surveyed feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic

·         4 out of every 5 negative tweets Twitter identified about beauty and body image are women talking about themselves

In January this year, a Welsh teenager posted a ‘selfie’ of her face half made-up with makeup, and half make-up free, to show the difference cosmetics can make in altering appearance.

While this move was aimed as a positive step to help empower women, the reactions to the photo were not all positive, with many posting cruel comments about 19 year old Maisie Beech’s appearance.

The issue of self-esteem and confidence has been considered by the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM’s Women in Public Life campaign. As part of a series of lectures featuring inspirational female role models from traditionally male dominated sectors, Janet Street-Porter gave an address in 2013 on “Women in the media: a fair representation?”, which discussed the way women are portrayed (and judged) in the media today.

Street-Porter quoted a statistic from a UK survey conducted by the Future Foundations think tank which found that 1 in 4 girls surveyed reported having low self-esteem, and spoke of how unrealistic expectations are created by the media’s portrayal of women:

I think the problem that we have at the moment, is that every aspect of the media focusses on women’s appearance… it passes on this anxiety that you’re not living up to some ‘perfect woman’. None of us are perfect! But when you read the pages of women’s magazines, dedicated to offering us images we can’t possibly live up to, the sum result of that has been this deep-seated lack of confidence in young women.”

How can we challenge this?

March 2016 saw the annual Women Making a Difference Wales Women’s Summit, hosted by Dame Rosemary, which brought together more than 100 women from a cross section of communities, backgrounds and experiences to take part in a variety of workshop sessions.

The Summit featured a session on Women in the Media, which discussed themes such as “How do women in Wales feel they’re portrayed in the media?” and considered ideas on how to improve this.

Across the board, there are many individuals promoting diversity and self-esteem in the media. One example is Australian model Meaghan Kausman who, on discovering a swimwear brand had drastically photo-shopped images of her body to make her appear slimmer, took to Instagram to post the original versions alongside the altered versions of the photos. She said:

They drastically altered my body, thinning out my stomach and thighs in an attempt to box me in to the cultural ideal of beauty. My body is a size (US)8, not a size 4”.

Also this month, Lindsey Swift from Barnsley was mocked when she went jogging. In response, she posted an open letter on Facebook to the van-driver who heckled her, which went viral – and included the line:

Let me make one thing very clear, I am not ashamed of my body.”

While there is no quick or easy solution to improving self-esteem, it’s an important battle to keep fighting. The Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM is not standing for election in May 2016 and so wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on what the Women in Public Life campaign has achieved and ensure that it has a sustainable future. The campaign has aimed to leave women more confident and ensure that they have the skills and networks to make the next significant steps in their careers. In particular it has sought to encourage young women to grow up thinking that they can do anything they want and that they are not inhibited by our social constructs.

Get involved in this discussion and share your thoughts and experiences with us by tweeting @WomenofWales

The Gender Pay Gap

25.02.16 by Candice Boyes

The gender pay gap – does it still exist? If so, why, and what can we do about it?


Many are unaware that a significant disparity still exists when it comes to what men and women in the UK earn.

While it is important to recognise the positive changes that have been made in progressing towards gender equality, it is still questionable as to why any inequality exists at all between the sexes in this modern age.

According to the most recent figures published by the ONS[1], men working full-time still consistently earn more than women, with men earning an overall average of £567 per week (in April 2015) compared to just £471 for women.

This is largely unchanged compared to the previous year, with the size of the gap between men and women's pay for full-time workers stated as 9.4% in April 2015, compared with 9.6% in 2014. Although there has been slight decrease in the gap over the years, things have not improved as dramatically as some may believe, with pay difference between the genders remaining fairly steady between 1997 and 2015 at around £100.


 

The gap widens even further when it comes to senior positions and high earning roles – in the top level pay bands, ONS statistics (supplemented by the TUC analysis), reveal that the highest paid men are paid an eye-watering 54.9 per cent more than their female counterparts.

Why does this gap exist?

So why is there a gap in pay? There are many differing views on this.

Some believe that those involved in recruitment or promotion can favour men over women for various reasons. These can range from an old-fashioned view of men being “more capable”, or being viewed as traditionally being the breadwinners in the home unit, through to concerns over family commitments which are considered ‘female’, (such as childcare and maternity issues).

Many women feel they have to decide between having children and having a successful career, whereas studies by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) show that most men do not feel they have to make such a choice.

The report showed that while nearly half of successful female managers had chosen to defer having children because of the perceived impact on their career, only 28% of male managers had felt the same need.

Some studies suggest that fewer women apply for high-achieving roles due to an inherent lack of confidence in their own abilities – this is generally known as the “Confidence Gap”.

The Institute of Leadership and Management conducted a survey in 2011 into how confident various managers felt within their chosen professional field.

There was a noticeable difference in the responses when broken down by gender – less than a third of male respondents reported any self-doubt regarding their abilities at work, whereas a huge 50% of female respondents admitted doubting their own performance.

The same lack of confidence can prevent women from even applying for senior positions – an internal staff survey conducted by Hewlett-Packard (although not hard-and-fast data) showed some surprising results:

“Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”

There are lots of different theories on what causes the lack of confidence in females compared to males in the workplace. These include:

Biological – Testosterone (which men have around ten times more of than women) can fuel the types of risk-taking behaviour that is often attributed to confidence. A study by Cambridge University found strong links between high testosterone levels and risk-taking behaviour in high-rolling stock traders in London.

Gender Conditioning – Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, describes the difference in treatment between boys and girls during their formative years in her publication ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’:

“When we observed in grade school classrooms, we saw that boys got eight times more criticism than girls for their conduct”.

This early exposure, she feels, makes it easier for boys to take criticism and set-backs in their stride, and not let it knock their confidence levels. She also believes that girls and boys get different patterns of feedback, which could impact how they process negative feedback:

“Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort, while girls come to see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.”

So how can we close the gap?

One way to help close the pay gap could be to improve the confidence of women in the workplace, through various means.

This could include methods such as: employers offering training to improve abilities and skills, (which should result in increased confidence in abilities), or providing training courses directly focussed on confidence based skills, (such as Assertiveness training), or possibly guiding and building women’s confidence through having a career coach or mentor scheme in place.

Another option would be to have organisational-wide training on equalities and discrimination, in order to quash any gender-based misconceptions at the recruitment or development stage of career progression, or to offer contractual reassurance and flexibility to staff with regards to maternity/paternity leave and childcare concerns.

Others feel having gender quotas or stacked panels could be an option in the short term, in order to demonstrate what women are capable of in a professional capacity – at least until the balance is redressed on more impartial grounds.

Whatever the solution, the fact that this inequality in pay levels still exists is a real problem, which should not be dismissed by employers or the female workforce themselves. Worldwide, women continue to contribute to social, economic, cultural and political achievement. We have much to celebrate today, but progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places. On 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Pledge for Parity. Everyone - men and women - can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly. What will you pledge this International Women’s Day?

[1] The ONS headline estimates of the gender pay gap are for hourly earnings excluding overtime. The ONS uses median, rather than mean, earnings because the median is not affected by extreme values, such as changes in the earnings of small numbers of very high earners.



Women's Equality Now: Devolution

Wales has long celebrated its achievements in bringing gender equality into public and political life; The National Assembly was the first devolved government to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in 2003. However the picture isn't quite so rosy today, with the gender balance slipping back in the Senedd and in local governments, with women only accounting for around 30% of public appointments in Wales.

So what did devolution deliver for women in Wales, and perhaps more importantly, what didn't it deliver and why?

Devolution achieved a great deal in terms of increasing women's representation in the Assembly and changing some policies.

The Diary of a Mentee...

We recently published a blog by Mentee, Rhian Bowen Davies, who is currently taking part in the Presiding Officer’s Women in Public Life Development Scheme, to read about her personal journey into public life.

Parliament Week 2015 is all about celebrating the people who decide to make a change to benefit society in some way. The Mentors and Mentees on the scheme have both decided to make a contribution to society by encouraging more women to participate in public life through offering support and advice (Mentors) and by taking the plunge to become active members of civic life (Mentees).

Sharon Lovell is a Mentee on the scheme and has kindly sent us some personal diary entries from before and during her participation on the scheme to give us an account of her experiences.

To learn more about the scheme, take a look at the Development Scheme page.

My experience on the Women in Public Life Scheme

To coincide with Parliament Week, we are featuring the personal experiences of two Mentees who are participating on the Women in Public Life Development Scheme.

One of the themes Parliament Week 2015 is focussing on is the contribution of “changemakers” to society.

Changemakers can be anyone who has decided to make a difference to their community, a group of people large or small and the Mentees on the WiPL Scheme have certainly pledged to make a difference in Wales by participating in public life.

Read on to learn about Rhian Bowen Davies's experience...

@WomenofWales

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WomenofWales VIDEO: #POSenedd celebrates #POWiPL achievements and considers what remains to be done to fight gender inequality https://t.co/Qtq5GAiVCK
WomenofWales As #POWiPL comes to a close the conversation doesn’t have to! Keep following as @wmaduk take over @womenofWales from summer 2016
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