Graduating straight into a glass ceiling

Gender Equality. These are the words playing on the lips of an ever-increasing amount of Oxford students. Indeed, as a former committee chair of OUSU’s Women’s Campaign and now newly-elected Women’s Campaign Officer, I have had the pleasure of watching and participating in this fourth wave feminist movement, which, thanks to social media, among other things, has burgeoned into a mainstream aspect of Oxford student culture. Events over the past year ranging from WomCam’s whiteboard campaign, ‘Who Needs Feminism’, to the launch of ‘It Happens Here’, landed the university in the press numerous times and involved hundreds of participants of all genders.

Are we ‘there yet’? Of course not. I would like to see improvements in the finals gap (men are in fact 1.6 times more likely to achieve a first at Oxford than women) and in STEM applications for women. I would like to tackle ‘lad culture’ and the harmful pressures and ‘initiations’ of Freshers Week. I would like to see greater female representation in JCRs and I would like to diminish the shocking figure which states that 1 in 7 women will be sexually assaulted whilst at university. Yet I am largely positive about the changing attitudes of many of my university peers and departments and I feel increasingly more confident in my environment as a female student.

Imagine then, a world in which the bursary awarded to my male peer was inexplicably 22.5% more generous than mine; where only 18% of my JCR committee consisted of women; where (maybe you can see where I’m going with this…) I was asked in my admissions interview if I was engaged or planning on starting a family (?)

Sadly, this is the reality of the real world. The aforementioned statistics and scenarios correspond respectively to the current workplace gender pay gap (which, new statistics show is in fact augmenting), the representation of women in UK parliament (a figure which is lower than that of global representation in parliament!) and the prevalence of inappropriate and unlawful gendered questions or assumptions at workplace interviews (70% of recruitment agencies have had their clients request that they do not hire women who are pregnant or who are of childbearing age and 30,000 women are fired in the UK each year for being pregnant). These are not figures from a former era. These are the figures of today. Not only is the progress towards gender equality in the workplace seeming slow; in some cases it is slowing down or even stagnant.

I even had the joy of experiencing some of these delightful discrepancies myself. I recently interned at a prominent, ‘big-name’ company in London and was shocked at the extremely outdated demographic. Initially encouraged by the observation that women occupied almost every position, a quick trip to the boardroom meeting luckily relieved me of my naïve optimism, as I was instantly overwhelmed by a large homogenous pile of XY chromosomes. It was okay for women to occupy every position, it seemed, as long as they daren’t aim for the top.

I am under no illusions about the extant imperfections of my own university environment and neither am I blind to the fact that women have made some significant progress in the workplace over the last few decades. But it can only be frustrating to go from being fastened in a bedrock of academic ambition and support, to an archaic world where women are not being given equal opportunity. Yet the students of today will make up the workforce of tomorrow and it is my hope that they will carry their attitudes with them.

FEATURED PHOTO/ Tulane Public Relations