Comment: Gender equality at work | Alliance Trust

THE phenomenon of the glass ceiling blocking women from senior business and financial jobs globally has been well-aired, but is far from resolved. There are plenty of exceptions to prove the rule, including the female heads of some mega companies, as well as the IMF and the Federal Reserve.

Martin Flanagan. Picture: Fiona Hanson/PA

But such exceptions do not debunk what still remains a statistically persuasive argument that female workers are often disadvantaged, ranging from pay to promotion.

Contrasting stories this week show that sex equality in the worldwide workplace is still a work in progress, looking like a case of one step forward, half a step backwards, in trying to address a significant cultural ­problem.

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On a positive note, British telecoms giant Vodafone became one of the first multinationals to introduce a global minimum level of maternity pay: 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, plus full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after their return to work.

The company already offers a greater number of weeks of full pay to women on maternity leave in the UK, but the move is most useful for the many countries round the world who offer much less help to working women after they have had babies.

It is standardising a minimum threshold globally from a very big multinational, and as such will send ripples out.

But, as Vodafone is to be welcomed for a sensitive cultural change at the workplace, we have the more unsettling research into sexual equality across three-score countries.

Andreas Schleicher, head of education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, says new research shows teenage girls’ perceptions that they are poor at science and maths has had two unfortunate effects.

It makes far fewer of them consider becoming scientists, engineers or technologists compared to boys. Schleicher says this is contributing directly to the abiding pay differential between men and women.

The findings echo recent research by the Confederation of British Industry and Brunel University, which showed that more than half of the UK’s primary school teachers felt science was getting squeezed out as less of an educational priority over the past five years.

One in three teachers said they lacked confidence when teaching science. While these facts would affect male as well as female pupils, if one gender was significantly less inclined to take up science and maths later into their education anyway it would be unlikely to change their minds.

So we have Vodafone’s sensitivity to cultural issues surrounding maternity; various research suggesting cultural stereotypes of male engineers, scientists and construction workers and female “soft” professions like retail, fashion and media. In terms of gender equality and real change it still looks to be more a marathon than a sprint.

Volatility is the fund managers’ friend

Dundee-based Alliance Trust boss Katherine Garrett-Cox said yesterday that she welcomed market volatility, as long as it is transient. Many fund managers agree with her.

Why? When the investment waters foam whiter, it allows investment managers to buy into asset potential at a reduced entrance fee; or, conversely, unwind previously taken positions that have not panned out in calm conditions under the cover of the ­volatility.