The campaigns for equality have not stopped since the first suffragist demonstrators demanded voting rights. In the second feminist movement post world war, women worked hard to position themselves as equal in business as well as socially developing the ideology that women did not have to depend on men and had a right to a career.
Similarly, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst’s great-granddaughter led a march on 6 March to highlight the inequality still facing women. It commemorated women that trekked long distances to protect their children from warzones and young girls that often put their education on hold to walk miles every day to find clean water.
And while the reasons for gender inequality are varied and numerous across the globe, arguably the biggest struggle that women face is the fact that they allegedly have a different psychological make-up. Neuroscience research on sex difference is currently a controversial field, frequently accused of purveying a “neurosexism” that functions to naturalise gender inequalities.
But whether or not men or from Mars and women are from Venus, would understanding the differences in the neuroscience of both genders help business in 2016?
According to cognitive psychologist and business neuroscientist Lynda Shaw, whilst we know there are differences between the brains of both genders and that these may mark subtle differences in the workforce, it is the pay gap and the mounting pressure on women that is truly creating issues facing women in 2016.
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“There are minute physical differences between the brains of the genders,” she said. “For instance, women are more likely to have greater emotional intelligence and empathy because of having a larger limbic system. Similarly, the prefrontal cortex is larger in women and they are less likely to take risk in business. Both men and women are bullied in the workplace but women are more likely to take it personally and for it have a semi or permanent effect on their confidence because their larger limbic system means they are more likely to be in touch with emotions and are more vulnerable.
“However, ultimately there is no convincing differences between the brains of men or women that mean that one is better suited to a specific career than the other. Simply put, the plasticity of the brain means we know that women and men are equally able to perform in any career.
“The issue that remains is the imbalance of how women are treated. Companies are reluctant to hire young women because of the implications of maternity leave and women still earn less for doing the same job and this ultimately means that they are not valued as highly. That is the most important thing to consider, how women are valued.”
Even ten years ago women’s worth differed from men in the workplace. The idea of women working in engineering and science fields was still an uphill battle. Today the world economy would collapse without women working. Yet in 2010 International Labour Organisation found that in 83 countries, women earn 10-30 per cent less than men and it would take another 75 years for women to get paid equally around the globe.
In comparison there is better news in the UK. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the gender pay gap has fallen to under ten per cent for the first time ever. In fact, women in full-time work are seeing their wages grow at more than twice the rate of men.
In her 20s a woman has to be more driven because ultimately they have less time to climb the career ladder and build their accomplishments if they are to take time out to have children. It is estimated that women in Britain lose nine per cent of their wage after their first child and 16 per cent after their second child.
Shaw claimed that whilst gender pay gap is the most obvious problem, stress and anxiety levels are increasing amongst women. “Whilst women want and rightly expect equal pay and working conditions, what we are not noticing is that women are also overwhelmed in what of society expects of her and what she expects of herself. Now she has to the best in the office as well as a super mum, house organiser and expert wife.”
Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme:Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit– designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.By Shané Schutte
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