Sex roles persist at work and home

Barrie Clement reports from the British Psychological Society
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The Independent Online
Ambitious women should concentrate on improving their skills and education, while their male colleagues would be better off playing golf with the boss, according to an equal opportunities specialist.

Dr Tuvia Melamed said that while such advice risked reinforcing sexual stereotypes, that was the way men and women got on in organisations.

Despite 20 years of sex discrimination legislation and the era of the so-called new man, certain opportunities for social contact were still not open to women, Dr Melamed told the British Psychological Society's occupational psychology conference at Warwick University.

"Men can play sport with their bosses in a way that is not open to women. Some golf clubs simply don't have female members," said Dr Melamed, an occupational psychologist at Central Lancashire University.

All the talk of "new men" was simply perpetuating a myth, he said. There are new politically correct titles but in reality there has not been much progress."

Women still performed most domestic duties as they always did, said Dr Melamed. If you ask a woman how much of the housework she does, she will invariably answer 90 per cent. If you ask her male partner, he would probably say he did 50 per cent.

Dr Melamed came to his conclusions after studying 500 male and female middle managers in a range of organisations. He found that the average salary for women was £13,500, while their male colleagues earned £18,000.

The studyfound 40 per cent of the difference could be explained by personality characteristics, differences in general education and job-specific qualifications, but 60 per cent could only be explained by simple sex discrimination.

It was important that legislation was given more teeth, Dr Melamed said. The provision of maternity and paternity leave should be the same so men and women took equal responsibility for children. He conceded, however, that in his home country of Israel, when a measure was introduced for the 1.5 million working population, only a handful of men took advantage of it.

Another study found that some women police officers have to behave more like men than their male colleagues in order to win promotion and keep their jobs.

So entrenched is the male ethos in the service, that females engage in "stereotypical male-like behaviour" so they can feel they are fitting in.

Penny Dick, of Teesside Business School, and Rashmi Biswas of Sheffield Hallam University, believe the phenomenon may serve to reinforce beliefs about male-dominated police departments in general and female "high fliers" in particular.

One of the perceived male characteristics is total commitment to the job to the virtual exclusion of all else. "That works against the interests of both men and women in the service, who want to give a reasonable amount of time to their families. Such t o tal commitment does not necessary mean the people concerned are particularly good at their jobs," said Miss Dick.

According to stereotypes policemen were athletic, streetwise, decisive and "led from the front". Women in the force were incapable, disorganised and lacking in ambition. More positive characteristics associated with women including being good at defusingpotentially violent situations, and considerate and caring.

The paper by Miss Dick and Miss Biswas, presented to the Conference, disclosed that in one unnamed force there were no women above the rank of superintendent. Just six per cent of superintendents were female and there were no women chief inspectors. Fou r per cent of inspectors and three per cent of sergeants were female, while 13 per cent of constables were women.

Miss Biswas said the male-dominated image of the service deterred women from applying to join.