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Gender parity: is the sector moving in the right direction?
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Gender parity: is the sector moving in the right direction?

This is the first of three articles celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) 2018 in the library and information sector. With a majority female workforce, it is arguably a sector to watch and in 2014 a CILIP and ARA Workforce Survey found a "significant gender pay gap” and that men were proportionately more likely to occupy management roles. 

Contributors to this article comment on whether the sector is moving in the right direction, ageism and confidence.

Two more articles in the series look at trolling, transparency and transformation and whistleblowing and the role of libraries in the campaign for equality

The articles take their lead from this year’s International Women’s Day campaign #PressforProgress. This year the focus of the day is a report by the World Economic Forum that says parity is over 200 years away according to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report.

Fourteen women from sectors including academia, public libraries, commercial sector information professionals and health, have contributed to this article. Contributors to all three articles include:

Mary Beard: Classicist, author and broadcaster
Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO Wikimedia UK 
Ciara Eastell: Chief Executive, Libraries Unlimited 
Gill Furniss MP: Former librarian, now Shadow Minister for Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection, and Chair of the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group.
Imrana Ghumra, Professional Advisor, Library and Knowledge Services, Health Education England and  Co-chair CILIP HLG Committee
Rita Marcella, Professor of Information Management, Robert Gordon University
Sue Wills: Library Service Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council,
Jess Haigh: Subject Librarian for the School of Education and Professional Development, University of Huddersfield
Adele Patrick: Co-founder Glasgow Women’s Library
Orit Kopel: Co-founder, Wikitribune 
Ceri Hughes: Head of Learning at KPMG
Kathryn Parry: Development Officer CILIP Cymru Wales
Naomi Korn: Managing Director of NKCC
Hannah Russell: Head of Operations and Engagement, for the House of Commons Library

The first article is a compilation of responses to various questions


The views of respondents were not unified about the momentum towards gender parity. However, the differences were usually based on the scope of their views – global, national, sectoral, local.

Mary Beard, one of the famous faces on CILIP’s 2017 support for libraries poster campaign gave her take on the big picture. She said: “It is really too early to say. At the moment it looks like things are moving in the right direction, but you never know when they might get stuck again. Governments need to keep it at the top of their agenda.”

Lucy Crompton-Reid: There is a renewed sense of momentum around gender equality at the moment and that can only be a good thing. Of course, much of the current focus has been driven by the metoo movement, but I think it’s important to be aware that the movement has been problematic for some people and painful for many. I have personally struggled with how we can turn this pain into a positive force for change, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we may have reached something of a tipping point; particularly in terms of sexual abuse, assault and harassment and society’s collective tolerance for, and lack of acknowledgement of, how widespread and insidious this has been. 

Some contributors see changes in the law as evidence of change that will accelerate transparency and momentum.

Ceri Hughes: “The requirement for organisations with more than 250 employees to publish its gender pay gap information by April 2018 has certainly led to an increased focus on this important issue. Greater transparency from our largest companies will lead to more conversations about difficult topics like inequality, inclusion and diversity at a senior level.”

Ciara Eastell: “Getting underneath the data will be an important first step in understanding what is happening within the workforce.  The new requirement on larger employers to make their gender pay information publicly available from April will give significantly increased scope for gaining more sophisticated insight.  I hope CILIP and other library bodies such as SCL will take the opportunity to review the available data and use the insight to provoke a sector-wide conversation about what factors contribute to a pay gap in our sector and what can be done to improve the position.”
However, some fear things may be going the wrong way in the information professions and elsewhere.

Gill Furniss: "The gender pay gap has stagnated for years, and whilst it is slowly closing, it has slowed or even widened in some areas. Jobs in ‘feminine’ industries such as cleaning and childcare have traditionally been less well remunerated than jobs in ‘masculine’ industries such as construction and technology. Entrenched gender assumptions can cause prejudice, and prejudice can cause discrimination. Then there is also the issue of role models, for if women do not see other women occupying managerial positions, they will be less likely to put themselves forward. This attitude is changing but it will take a very long time for these harmful practices to be fully reversed.
The large majority of information professionals and library workers are women. However, we know that few are in managerial positions, and we know that many information positions are voluntary. Women make up the majority of the voluntary industry. It is possible that more women, particularly older women, are overlooked for paid positions. Women also hold more part-time roles and so are less likely to progress to the top of their career. Politics is evolving and I welcome the widening discourse on tackling harassment in the workplace. But this too needs to happen at a faster pace so that women can feel like they are not imposters in their own places of work."

Rita Marcella: "I do believe that there has been complacency about career and pay equity and a belief in organisations that the existence of a policy is sufficient evidence of the good care of their staff – which it most definitely is not. Although policies may say this is possible often the reality of trying to balance both work and caring commitments simply becomes too great. Equally subtle (and not so subtle) discrimination still exists and there is a great deal of evidence to show that women are still finding it hard to break into previously male dominated environments or indeed that women’s jobs become somehow of lesser value."

Sue Wills: "I would like transparency about how organisations determine what work is of equal value in terms of effort, skill or decision-making and publish all employees’ salaries because I think that will encourage the debate initiated by the BBC when they did just that. I also think that will reward the best employers because the best candidates will gravitate to those organisations, success build success.

I would like CILIP to encourage that debate because my perception is that those of us leading and managing public sector library services are slowly falling behind our colleagues in other sectors. I hope I am wrong."

As Sue says, success builds success and this can be achieved locally in some places.

Adele Patrick: There is a palpable momentum that has been accelerating in recent years that is evidenced in the huge upsurge of young women wanting to be involved in the life of the library, the scale of enquiries and appetite for events and programming around gender topics and feminist activism, the growth in social media activity around our work and sister projects. GWL is being asked to keynote at conferences in the museums, archives and library sector and we are finding our own work receiving unprecedented levels of recognition. We read this as evidence of a groundswell of feminism, a new ‘wave’ that suggests a rejection of complacency and of course this has a complex interplay with the upsurge in political posturing that is antithetical to equalities and feminism. 

Momentum is apparent in changes in democratic representation.

Hannah Russell: The House of Commons now has 208 female MPs, a record high of 32 per cent, following the 2017 general election. In terms of Parliament’s staff, women make up 44 per cent of the overall workforce of the House of Commons. There are still more men working at a senior grade; less than 40 per cent of director-level staff are women – so there is still progress to be made.

Perception problems 

However, some contributors said that previous (recent) experience, and more revelations of inequality, made it hard to trust their feelings on the way things are going.

Kathryn Parry: I think there is a growing momentum.. I don’t see there being great risks for reversal. I must add though that this is what I want to believe… and as information professionals know, filter bubbles can build a false sense of awareness. We all know when it comes down to the crunch - I’m referring to recent elections results - illusions can be shattered.

Ciara Eastell: Before the gender pay issue emerged nationally, I would have strongly rejected ideas that women are paid less in library roles than men but I’m increasingly wondering if this is the case and am intrigued to see the results.  The key will be to marshal the results and involve men and women across the sector in an informed discussion about what the issues are and what we might do to make the library profession a career choice for the widest range of potential candidates.


Comments from two women leaders in the public libraries suggests that gender parity may be linked to ageism.

Sue Wills: I am really worried about prejudice towards older workers that now seems to be part of our culture. It really is about the right person for the job. In the past we have fought for equality of opportunity and we have made some headway – but not enough. With regard to ageism we are right at the beginning of that struggle. I have just read an article that reflects my experience and many other women I speak to. It pointed out that just as we were freed from the family responsibilities that slowed our career progress when we were younger when we raced back into the workforce we saw our careers stalled by a reduced tolerance for aging women at work.

The issue is being addressed in some quarters. 

Ciara Eastell: As a public service mutual, our staff have much greater opportunities to shape the organisation and I’m anticipating that our own gender pay data will prompt a discussion with our workforce on what more we can do to reduce the gap.  Being free of local authority bureaucracy means that we can be much more agile in trying out different approaches and responding to staff ideas.  For example, one of our managers is currently progressing her interest in how we can become a ‘menopause friendly’ organisation, key when over 85% of our workforce are women and over 50% are over 50.


Orit Kopel: While we were recruiting journalists for WikiTribune I noticed a worrying practice: women requested lower salaries compared to their male equivalents. Moreover, women tended to accept the salary offer immediately with gracious gratitude, while male candidates almost always attempted to negotiate for better conditions. With employers who are less sensitive to gender equality, this common practice - rooted deeply in the distorted messages we women receive from childhood regarding our abilities and minimized position in the work sphere  - may easily lead to gender salary gaps. The route for change is combined: women must be encouraged from young age to evaluate their own skills better and demand their rightful place in the work sphere, at least to the extent that men naturally do with similar skills; and employers must be aware and sensitive to this damaging practice and ensure gender equality at all levels of employment. 

Naomi Korn: I have always ensured that I promote and provide opportunities for women based on their potential and/or ability, rather than their confidence levels. In my experience, women who are very capable can be less confident than less competent men who might be more self assured. 

Women often lack the confidence to discuss money and also demonstrate low self esteem relative to their ability. These factors, often combined with maternity leave and time away from the workplace, plus the largely patriarchal work space results in an immediate gender imbalance.  self esteem imbalances mean that men can be more willing to accept new challenges than women. Women  will often think no before yes. Perceptions of what is acceptable for women invariably favours men being assertive rather than women.

Ciara Eastell: I feel that there’s huge talent in the library workforce…But what I also often see is a lack of confidence in recognising and celebrating our achievements….

There’s a responsibility on all of us (particularly those of us at senior levels) to encourage and support our colleagues (whether men or women) – telling them how great they are and encouraging them to put themselves forward for opportunities.  

Headline image Librarian Bomber by Hafuboti Cropped and re-sized. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons 


Contributor: Information Professional
Published:  6 March 2018




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