Who is complacent? Women or organisations?
I recently watched “Made in Dagenham” , a movie made about the women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham factory who downed tools in 1968, in protest that they were classed as unskilled workers, while male colleagues doing the same job were thought to be skilled and therefore paid much more for their efforts.
The three-week strike brought production at the factory, which was the centre of the UK car industry at the time, to a halt. The dispute was finally resolved only when Barbara Castle, the Minister for Employment was brought in to negotiate a settlement.
The Ford machinist ladies returned to work after agreeing to be paid not parity with their male colleagues, but 92 per cent of male machinists’ wages. This strike accelerated the introduction of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, which made it illegal to have different pay scales for men and women.
Are women dissatisfied enough?
This prompted me think of Vineet Nayar’s slightly contentious HBR article, “Are women dissatisfied enough?” He suggests that perhaps we women are a tad too complacent and not dissatisfied enough to “force” the changes we want to see in our lives today. Referencing the US Civil Rights Movement, the Egyptian Revolution and Indian Independence, he suggests that “The difference between a change and a revolution is a function of the extent of dissatisfaction.”
In a historical perspective post World War II economic models were created specifically to accommodate men returning from the traumas of a global war and to increase the birth rate. This model was therefore based on a nuclear family containing an economic provider and a child raiser, with women therefore discouraged from entering the workforce. After heroic war efforts on the home front, the seeds of dissatisfaction with this way of life were sown by women in the 60s and 70s, resulting in certain amount of bra burning, shortening of skirts, free love and general cultural unrest. Economies were relatively buoyant at the time and these demands were met, as we saw in Dagenham. The long-term result of these movements was that more women entered education and thereafter embarked on career routes.
Generally, those male centric business models in many cases prevail today. In some areas, limited meaningful changes have actually been made to organizational structures to marry the inevitable outcome of the increased number of educated women in our societies and the resulting demands made by a two career family.
What sort of protests?
However , I’m not sure what Vineet had in mind, but the point is that women shouldn’t have to occupy the cafeteria to get a promotion, or pitch tents in the car park to lead high visibility projects. As Gene Marks astutely points out in Why Most Women Won’t be CEOs they would certainly need a babysitter before they could even think about chaining themselves to the revolving doors of their corporate headquarters to make a point. For many women the strongest form of protest is via a silent revolution, of voting with their feet. They simply leave. Why? Because unlike both the men and women in India, Egypt and Louisiana what’s on offer doesn’t interest them enough and isn’t attractive enough to channel their energies. They choose to do other things. And this is where organisational complacency kicks in, as generally male leaders sit back and simply watch a brain drain. Truthfully many men would also leave, but they are equally tied by the same limiting model in their allocated role as the “ provider”.
So I asked 3 women what would need to happen to make them take some form of decisive and extreme industrial action, petitioning the board or walking out on strike.
- Suzanna, London solicitor “Nothing probably – a crime against humanity“
- Fabienne, advertising executive, Belgium “ Perhaps some sort of physical abuse which had been tolerated by senior management – but if I’m honest only if there was a group”
- Martha, Pharmaceutical Researcher, Italy “ Closure of the offices perhaps and as part of a general protest“
We know that organisations tend only to adapt to demands made by both men and men for change in the workplace, when their bottom lines are impacted. Whether these changes will follow the retirement of baby boomers raised by post war “stay at home” Mums, or the discrediting of “ crony capitalism” with yet another financial crisis, ( I never thought I would hear myself quote Sarah Palin ..heaven help me).
But it will happen eventually.
So what would prompt you to take industrial action?