In the quest for equality, why are women NOT represented at the other end of the spectrum?

Through The Camera Lens Series: #andme part 2

By now, we are all familiar with the arguments regarding the lack of female representation at C-Level management and executive positions. Some of us are even familiar with the studies that show having female representation or a significant proportion of female representation in the boardroom enhances productivity, collegiality and even profit. 

Women for many years have been fighting for a seat at the board table and let’s be honest, we females have been lacking in that space for decades. Things are a changing and female groups, think tanks, lobbyists and powerful representatives are redressing the balance. Corporations are being accountable to female presence on the decision-making table. Truth be told, one get a sense, corporations revel in advertising the fact that they, above others in their sector, are redressing the balance. 

These female groups mentioned above are very robust, vocal and compelling with what they want, what they believe is required and are adamant that eventually their needs shall be met – i.e. female representation (at least 50%) present at the boardroom table. In fact, I would go as far as to say – but please correct me if I’m wrong – that dispensations, concessions or even a form of discrimination should be granted in order to make this happen. 

OK, I get it. I support it and have often question why there is a lack of representation at executive level management. There are many answers to this question, but I will not cover them in this article. 

Now, let’s look at gender equality across the board. What about the lack of representation at the bottom of the corporate, industrial, public sector or governmental ladder. Here are some stats to add to this statement. This was taken from a study in The Boston Globe, done in 2016. Chart: The percentage of men in each profession as well as a debate and study from The Agenda by Steve Paikin - Singing the Masculinity Blues. USA and Canadian figures. 
Some industries really are male dominated. Credit: Elaine Pringle-Schwitter

Now, let’s look at gender equality across the board. What about the lack of representation at the bottom of the corporate, industrial, public sector or governmental ladder. Here are some stats to add to this statement. This was taken from a study in The Boston Globe, done in 2016. Chart: The percentage of men in each profession as well as a debate and study from The Agenda by Steve Paikin – Singing the Masculinity Blues. USA and Canadian figures. 

NO.Job TitlePercentage Males in this Role
1Power Plant Operators, Distributors and Dispatchers99%
2Sewer Cleaner99.8%
3Construction Workers96.5%
4Crane and Tower Operators99.2%
5Electrical Power line Installers97%
6Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant Operators94.8%
7Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians98%
8Pest Control Workers97.4%
9Garbage/ Waste Collectors  93%
11Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians and Mechanics99.5%
12Brickmasons, Bockmasons and Stonemasons99.5%
13Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Steamfitters 98.6%
14Mining Machine Operators98.5%
16Structural Iron and Steel Workers98%

Where are the female voices that occupy the stages to highlight this disparity in representation in the work place? Why are the lobbyists and flag-bearers not championing this inequality to redress the balance? Why the silence? Have a quiet word with yourselves, where no one is listening or are able to challenge you; and be honest. Be truly honest with the answer to this question. Shall I start? I believe, no one (female) cares to be represented at the other end of the spectrum. Granted, vital roles and tasks are being carried out at that level to help with the everyday functions of a society, but such roles do not have that adulation or joie de vivre that comes with a C-Level position. Unfortunately, such roles don’t get the kind of perks or recognition we care to publicly cherish. So my conclusion to this is that there is a need for status, approbation, grandeur, control even and therefore a major fight is presented in the female corner for it. So that begs the question, what does gender equality really mean?

As part of my series of #Andme the real gender equality that is being sought, I had a conversation with Ruedi and his coworker Nils. I could have spoken with Ruedi for hours. There was a lot more to our conversation than what has been drafted here in this article. However, his succinct points and thoughts are captured below. 

Ruedi is a construction worker and I wanted to know about his day-to-day activities, work colleagues and the gender mix in his work place; the role he undertakes and his view (as well as his colleagues) on equality in the workplace at his level. They knew or thought it was obvious why women were not visible or represented in their or similar line of work; and importantly, why women were not complaining at the fact. They even questioned the legitimacy of my enquiry and interview. To Ruedi and even Nils, it was a ‘non-article’ a ‘non-story’. Everybody knows and nobody cares. On this gender equality journey we are all on, is that right? Is this truly fair? Why are we women not lobbying to be fully represented at the lower end of the career ladder as much as the top? The thing that surprised me about it all was that it was a known fact to the men in these positions and they, similarly to women, understand the need for women to be represented at the top level. 

With my discussion with Ruedi, I wasn’t getting a further understanding of the gender equality debate, instead I got a sense of them being programmed – perhaps from birth – to ‘look after women’ therefore “if they want representation at the top, let them have it” – his quote. But he and others in his camp were ok with them NOT being represented in his world and line of work. I wasn’t sure if this was a Swiss trait, a sense of protecting the women. So, I discussed this with British counterparts in a similar field on my recent visit to the UK. Elliot – a road repair merchant – had a similar attitude. He felt such work was way too dangerous for women and in turn dangerous for him and his colleagues and it would be better if they were not represented at that level. He shrugged his shoulders to indicate ‘yes’ for women to have representation at the top level. Interesting. 

This subject was taking a turn for the difference. I thought there would be bitterness about the disparity between women voicing the need to be represented at the top and their silence for representation at the bottom. It was clear – no, women shouldn’t be represented at our level for safety reasons and yes, if women feel the need to be represented at the top, then that must be so. Was that bit for my benefit because they were being interviewed and photographed by a woman? I don’t know and I don’t want to guess. Let’s just take their word for it. 

What another eye opener for me! In my quest to highlight gender inequalities at the other end of the spectrum, I found myself with admiration for the men in those positions rather than, dare I say it, pity. 

Despite the fact of the blatant and obvious lack of representation of women, they were content and even as so far as to say protective and felt that their jobs were far too dangerous to have women involved at their level. Is this a generational thing? And that perhaps men of tomorrow will think and behave differently. I don’t think it was the ‘manage the little lady’ syndrome I was witnessing. It was fear. Genuine fear. Fear for themselves and fear for any women who would be involved in such, sometimes treacherous, work.  

In some ways it adds to the complexity of reaching the utopia of gender equality. When men, whether it is in their DNA or not, still feel a need to protect women or be the protector and the one that put themselves in harms way even when the very group they are protecting are not requesting equality of responsibilities and risk; but rather demanding positions in the higher echelons of society, industry, law and politics. Is it really fair to only fight for equality at one end of the spectrum? 

Equality means making a deal to have equal outcomes right? Favourable and adverse. Take the rewards with the punishments. Spoils with losses. Perks with parallel obligations, ergo real equality. This is one for further discussion, but a very interesting and unexpected outcome. How complicated the quest for equality is. 

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Elaine Pringle Schwitter
Elaine Pringle Schwitter

A dual British/Swiss citizen, Elaine is an award winning photojournalist and a cinematographer whose photographs have been published in numerous major newspapers and magazines. She has spent two decades in the corporate world at senior management level and now works with MTN Press on collaborations in the Swiss Region.

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