06 March, 2016

Gender inequalities and success

I attended an interesting talk recently by academic Kate Hoskins.

It was all about successful women in academia -- specifically, what makes them successful and what are the barriers to success experienced by women. Hoskins interviewed a cohort of female UK professors in her quest to find answers to these questions. She also had a particular interest (due to her own non-traditional route into academia) in successful women who come from working class backgrounds.

Amongst the women who Hoskins interviewed, almost all became successful, not alone, but with the help of either a sponsor (someone influential in the field who had recognised their potential, picked them up and actively made opportunities for them) or a mentor (someone who had been assigned as a mentor to that person and thereby supported them, gave them advice, etc.). Several of the women also attributed their success simply to being in the right place at the right time.

The talk was thought provoking and got me musing quite a bit around the subject. What about people who succeed in the absence of a mentor or sponsor? Do men also become successful through the support of sponsors and mentors? What effect does part-time working have on success?

Other things that Hoskins touched on were:

  • The effect that one's schooling can have on success. Those who are educated privately have a far higher chance of becoming successful. Did grammar schools give opportunities (or a leg up) to those who showed promise in a way that today's comprehensive system does not?
  • How should we deal with the fact that women feel less confident about seeking out promotion than men? 
  • Being middle class gives you privilege and opportunities, which, on the face of it, is a good thing. But there is a flip side. A child who comes from a middle class background will very much feel the weight of expectation to do well and to succeed. But what if their aspirations are different from those of their parents? Or what if they have no desire to become successful?  In that case, this weight of expectation may become disabling rather than enabling.

All big, important questions, which, I'm sure you will agree, are very interesting to consider...

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