Intersectional Perspectives on Working in Higher Education – Diversity, Collegiality, Productivity and Technology

Work Futures Research Centre panel discussion, 2nd November 2016

The managerial university is characterized by norms and standards, in particular performance auditing, which disrupt those of the classic humanist university. At the same time it offers opportunities for underrepresented groups – women, ethnic minorities through initiatives such as Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter. Some institutions are becoming more aware of the potential impact of competing pressures and job insecurity on the well-being of staff; for example, the University of Southampton holds an annual well-being day and has signed the Mindful Employer Charter. This is certainly welcome in the context of the demands to demonstrate research and teaching excellence (REF and TEF) and insecurities associated with the EU referendum. The panel discussion reflected on different aspects of working conditions and careers Higher Education: Diversity, Collegiality, Productivity in the context of fixed-term contracts and technology.

from left to right: Fiona Harvey, Eric Silverman, Bruce Marfalane, Kalwant

from left to right: Fiona Harvey, Eric Silverman, Bruce Macfarlane, Kalwant Bhopal

Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, Southampton Education School, discussed the experiences of Black and minority ethnic (BME) academics who consider moving overseas for career opportunities. Although the proportion of BME academics has increased, they are still under represented among senior managerial positions and the top academic pay spine range. According to the ECU Statistical Report 2015, 93% of professors and 92% of other academic staff where white. The barriers that BME academics face in UK higher education, motivates their decisions for overseas higher education migration. Bhopal presented research funded by the Equality Challenge Unit which indicates that BME academics were significantly more likely than White academics to have ever considered moving overseas. Bhopal concluded that significant change is needed in the UK higher education sector in order to retain BME academics. This requires greater visibility of BME staff in academic and decision making roles, transparency in recruitment and progression, recognition and appreciation of diversity (including curricula), networking, mentoring and training as well as acknowledging and addressing institutional racism. The Race Equality Charter underpins such initiatives.

In his presentation Bruce Macfarlane, Professor of Higher Education, Co-Director of CHES, Southampton Education School focused on collegiality. He distinguished three types of collegiality: Structural collegiality which refers to shared governance – which is reduced through the corporatization of the managerial university. Cultural collegiality which is based on a sense of shared values and undermined by an increasing division between teaching and research, increase of temporary jobs and a division between managers and academics. Behavioural collegiality which concerns the relationship between academics is undermined by the emphasis on audits and targets. In consequence, academic citizenship increasingly becomes performative. Macfarlane reminded the audience that nostalgia would be mistaken given that the classic humanist university was a domain of white middle class men and thus hardly diverse. Continuities persist – a recent study by Macfarlane indicates that younger staff members as well as women felt had a much more critical view on the fairness and available support than older staff members as well as men.

The situation of researcher on fixed term contracts was addressed by Eric Silverman, Senior Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Computing, School of Computing, Teesside University. The working conditions of many early-career researchers in the UK and elsewhere are defined by the stress and uncertainty of life on successive fixed-term contracts. Only a small number of PhD graduates in the UK end up in a permanent position and over two thirds of researchers are on short-term contracts. Senior academics are under pressure to prepare bids, hiring post-docs to carry out the research if successful. Employing Agent-Based Modelling, Silverman and his colleagues have studied the connection between research funding systems and the career structures they produce. Their preliminary results suggest that our current system is neither efficient in terms of return on investment, nor effective in producing a supportive working environment for postdocs.

New Technologies increase opportunities for flexible work – but they might also negatively affect work-place balance. Fiona Harvey, ILIad and UCU Equality Officer, discussed to what extent academics are willing to embrace the digital workplace and what barriers they face. Multimedia offer tremendous opportunities, but require access to devices and software as well as web literacy. Gender differences in engaging with technologies exist and universities do not necessarily make use of the most suitable systems or support staff to use them effectively. Furthermore, staff and students need to be aware how smartphones and other mobile devices result in workplace surveillance and invade privacy.

The event was followed by a lively conversation and was organized by Dr Silke Roth and Dr Rebecca Taylor who belong to the Steering Group of the Work Futures Research Centre and serve as WFRC Co-Directors in Semester 1, 2016/17. The event was supported by the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre and School of Social Sciences.

Local work futures in Southampton and Hampshire

Presentation Pauline Leonard

Presentation Pauline Leonard

by Rebekah Luff, Suzanne Reimer, Silke Roth and Charlie Walker

A key dimension of projects and events organised by the Work Futures Research Centre at the University of Southampton has been an ongoing engagement with different user groups in relation to employment change, seeking to shape policy and research agendas and to disseminate research findings. 2015, for example, saw the organisation of a policy dialogue event, Gender equality at work, held in June at Portcullis House, Westminster. The symposium was a follow up to a March 2013 panel discussion (also held at the House of Commons) interrogating the ways in which policy interventions might operate to make a difference to gender inequalities in waged labour.

Another major event hosted by the Work Futures Research Group in 2015 sought to turn a more locally-focused lens onto patterns of employment change. A key aim was to bring together academics and practitioners at an explicitly interdisciplinary workshop entitled Work, gender and generation. Held at the University of Southampton on 8th May 2015, four panels explored the local context of transformations in work and employment. An opening session investigated employment and training opportunities for young men and women across the local labour market, whilst a second panel reflected upon the specific employment contexts of the creative industries.  A third panel considered the experiences and labour market status of social care staff, with a particular focus on youth training in and for the sector. The final session of the day examined aspects of a specific labour market transition from military to civilian work.

Participants included academics working on youth training and skills development; local college educators who run apprenticeship programmes; creative industry academics and researchers based in both universities and local authorities; academic analysts of the social care sector; and career advisors working for military charities.

Cross-cutting themes included ways in which divisions of labour at times may appear to shift whilst at other times they remain robust. For example, although certain factors have led to the increased involvement of strongly qualified male migrant workers in social care, the current workforce as a whole is most likely to be young and female, with relatively lower qualification and education levels. A further point of connection across the panels was an interest in the decision-making processes of individuals as they move into and through different parts of the labour market.

From a policy perspective, panellists and audience participants underscored the importance of understanding job transitions in a holistic fashion. That is, if interventions to support education and training do not connect with labour market policies, young people will be left with ‘training’ or ‘education’ but without jobs; or alternatively they may achieve entry into low paid work but will be left without the possibility of career development. Examples of mentoring and support programmes, both formal and informal, were cited as important within the creative industries and also were emphasised by those working for military charities.

As a result of the workshop, Rebekah Luff and Charlie Walker are pursuing their cognate interests in employment in the social care sector and the development of apprenticeships with a research bid to the charity Abbeyfield, which, if successful, will allow them to examine the impact of apprenticeships on social care provision and the prospects of social care employees within the Southampton area.

The event was organized by Rebekah Luff, Suzanne Reimer, Silke Roth and Charlie Walker.

The search for the “Holy Grail” of Leadership

By Edgar Meyer


Prof Edgar Meyer

Much is said about the challenges we face in today’s working environment. Globalisation, pervasive technology, environmental issues, and social challenges are all adding complexity to our working lives. In addition, in the recent past we have witnessed an increasing number of corporate scandals that perpetuate questions on the viability of the macro-economic ideals of free markets and capitalism. Organisational failures have brought with them a decrease in organisational trust indices and blame is often assigned to the leaders of these organisations. Because of the visibility of such corporate failures (or the failures of the individuals at the helm of the organisations), leadership has remained a key focal point in the search for answers to these challenges.

With this focus on leaders and leadership, the popular literature for (aspiring) managers is not short of snappy, well-rehearsed articles that enticingly promise to enlighten the reader about the “Top 10 Leadership Qualities” needed to survive and succeed in 21st century organisations. This is complemented by a multitude of books recounting the experiences of ‘leaders’. These individual accounts often reach the bestseller lists of highly regarded broadsheets, recounting stories of achieving success in sports, politics, or social activism. Often these are engrossing narratives of personal journeys littered with failures, detours, and life’s lessons, ultimately culminating in some measure of success. The aim of these books is, one might assume, to inspire, share one’s lessons learnt, and deliver some tangible advice on how ‘leadership’ can be enacted. There is nothing wrong with such literature; but there are inherent assumptions: namely that ‘leadership’, as a construct, can be clearly captured and the skills, knowledge, and behaviours described can be emulated by anyone. Besides this (arguably dangerous) assumption, these texts often ignore the rich history of research on leadership over the last century (in the western world) that tried to identify what constitutes good leadership and what makes a good leader. This rich (research) history may be described as the search for the ‘Holy Grail’ by researchers in this field. The ‘Holy Grail’ stands for the potential of leadership. Practitioners and researchers alike are unable to articulate the potential power of the Grail – implicitly the assumption is that the ‘Holy Grail’ holds the secret to becoming a successful leader and creating sustainable environments.

In this search, many attempts have been made to describe and define leadership in a variety of ways – some of which are still relevant. For instance, early ideas of “The Great Man” suggest that leaders are born with particular traits that predispose them to becoming leaders. Much effort was exerted to define those traits. As expected, no conclusion has been reached and little consistent evidence exists that point to particular traits as predictors for good leadership. Indeed, more recent work suggests that traditional trait research linking leadership capabilities with personality traits such as extroversion were lacking sophistication and are not applicable to today’s complex environment. The popular book ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ (i) makes a compelling argument about the way in which we are now thinking about leadership traits.

The search for good leadership led us, as researchers, to look at the context and the situational factors in which leadership takes place. The focus shifted towards a leader’s ability to read a situation, understand their followers, and act accordingly. This work aimed to define clear paths through leadership challenges and support leaders in behaving in the ‘right’ way. Whilst this part of the search for the ‘Holy Grail’ brought us closer to understanding leadership dynamics, it only highlighted further clues on the hunt for the ultimate notion of perfect leadership. The search continued and seemed to reach a pinnacle when Charismatic and Transformational Leadership was proclaimed as the model of leadership that addresses the challenges faced by leaders in organisations. It was commensurate with the hero that leads from the front and ‘walks the talk’. It focuses on influencing, motivation, and reasoned arguments. It is possibly the most widely cited and adopted leadership approach.

However, the search didn’t end here as time has shown that being a heroic leader with charisma does not provide consistent success for organisations or in leadership. More so, a realisation set in that all of the ideas surrounding leadership have assumed a causal relationship between a leader’s actions and follower responses. The latter are seen, in most leadership ideas, as a passive recipient of leadership.

So where are we now in this search for the ‘Holy Grail’? We are continuing to seek new insights. Much of the current leadership debate surrounds the identification of the role of the follower. There is talk about the idea that leadership is a co-construction and that followers actively participate in leadership. There is a refocusing on the role of the leader as a servant to his/her followers (servant leadership). Most prominent amongst the newer ideas is the role of authenticity in leadership. Authenticity is talked about in terms of a moral stance, transparency, and self-awareness. It is an exciting idea that is gathering momentum and evidence is emerging that leaders who are considered to be authentic are likely to inspire trust and commitment in their followers.

However, not unlike the legend of the Holy Grail, it seems the search is not over yet. There are many more facets that we have not discussed that are likely to prolong this search for the ‘Holy Grail’. For instance, the jury is still out on the debate whether leaders are born or made. There is no comprehensive unified definition, as different people understand leadership differently, captured most appropriately in implicit leadership theory. What about culture? Most of the search has taken place in the Western Hemisphere. Little coherent evidence is available that suggests any relevance of our leadership ideas to the rest of the world. And so the search continues – or should the search be abandoned? Indeed, is it necessary, possible, or desirable to find the ‘perfect’ leadership style? The answer to this question eludes many of us who work in this field and only time will tell if there is a ‘Holy Grail’ of leadership or whether we accept the fact that there may be some overarching principles of good leadership but no comprehensive explanatory theory that describes the intricacies of the leader-follower dyad in every context.


(i) Cain, S (2012), Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’, Penguin Books, London

Making a Difference – or Maintaining Global Inequalities? Perspectives on International Aid Work

Crossing the Congo

Crossing the Congo (c) Julien Harneis

Aid work – that is work for humanitarian and development agencies is attractive to men and women in all stages of life, after school or university, in mid-life or in retirement. Involvement in development and humanitarian relief promises meaningful and challenging work and provides opportunities for ‘making a difference’.

Aid work encompasses a wide range of paid and unpaid work. Many aidworkers start out as volunteers in order to gain overseas experience, to prove themselves in challenging conditions and to develop networks that are highly important in a sector that is characterised by short contracts and high turnover. Aid work requires mobility and flexibility, since positions frequently need to be filled at very short notice. This requires compromises both from the perspective of the organisation which might not find the ideal candidate and from the applicant who might have wished to find work in an East African country but finds herself in the Middle East – or vice versa. The necessity to hire the best available candidate thus opens up opportunities for newcomers to ‘Aidland’. I use this shorthand term to cover the wide range of work opportunities in aid organisations including volunteers, consultants, staff on longer and shorter contracts, working in their own country or abroad, in head, regional or field offices.

International aid worker meeting

International aid worker meeting (c) USAID

Aidworkers are boundary-crossers not only geographically, but also with respect to transferring skills from the private sector to aid organisations, for example work experience in commercial logistics, management or public relations. This influx of professionals is part of the professionalisation of aidwork. However, Aidland has always encompassed a wide variety of skilled professionals – medics, engineers and nutritionists to name just a few. Professionalisation also refers to a variety of codes and standards that were developed and introduced in the last two decades and more recently integrated in the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS).

The population of humanitarian aidworkers is continually growing. Parallel to the proliferation of humanitarian crises and growing budgets, a number of humanitarian studies programmes have been established and a veritable gap year industry has emerged which provides newcomers to aid work with field experience. At the same time, lives of aid workers are increasingly at risk as the number of aidworkers who have been kidnapped or killed in recent years has steadily grown. Moreover, people working in aid give up job security and risk de-skilling, mobility affects the family planning and can jeopardize relationships, furthermore diseases and attacks can make the work dangerous.

So what attracts people to aid work? According to the interviews with aid workers that I conducted between 2004 and 2013, there is a whole range of motives. There is the desire to ‘make a difference’ and to ‘give something back’ by helping those who are in need and less privileged. However, equally important is the fact that aid work is perceived as ‘challenging’, respondents sought out difficult assignments that allowed them to learn and grow. Given the predominance of fixed-term positions and limited career opportunities within aid organisations, frequent job changes are as much a structural requirement of pursuing a career in Aidland as well as a preference of people working in aid who are interested in new challenges and experiences. Lastly, working overseas, thus getting to know a range of countries (and conflict areas) off the tourist circuit and working in international and inter-cultural teams is a further attractive aspect. Respondents from high(er) income countries described the encounters with team members and with the recipients of aid interventions as ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ and contrasted it with everyday life and careers in their home countries. Aid work thus offers opportunities for self-realization and personal growth that were missed in ‘normal life’.

This contrast between Aidland and ‘normal life’ is much more prominent for aidworkers from high(er) income countries who represent a small minority of the aid worker population but the vast majority of those in leadership positions. Thus, while aidworkers are engaged in addressing the symptoms of global inequality, these inequalities are reflected within aid organisations in which international and national staff are differently positioned. For example, language skills, job experiences and academic training play a different role for national and international staff. Language skills are of great importance in the context of international teams and thus offer access to jobs. (Native) speakers of English can expect that team members will speak English or that an interpreter is at hand, they can be engaged in capacity building without speaking the local language. The careers of national staff of international aid organisations are often based on language skills (often English, even in organisations such as Medecins sans frontiers/Doctors without Borders). The salaries for international and national staff differ significantly. Furthermore, (university) educated national staff find themselves supervised by international staff who have no prior experience or training for this particular position and confronted with a lack of career opportunities in aid organisations.

Not surprisingly, some national staff members embark on international careers. However, the ‘brain drain’, that is leaving the home country for an overseas career, is often only temporary and undertaken with the intension to gain political and international capital necessary to improve the living conditions in the country of origin. Aidworkers from high(er) income countries in contrast seek to make ‘a difference’ by leaving their country of origin and implementing programmes in other countries.

Another speech

Another speech (c) Julien Harneis

The situation might change as some aid organisations have realised that more career opportunities need to be given to national staff and ActionAid and Oxfam have already or consider to move head offices to Asia and Africa, Medecins sans Frontieres has opened branch offices in Brazil and South Africa and the international NGO EveryChild transformed to a network of national NGOs. Furthermore, the newly established Humanitarian Leadership Academy seeks to empower communities to become more resilient. A shift towards national staff – also related to increasing risk for aid personnel and shrinking aid budgets – may limit job opportunities for recent graduates of humanitarian studies programmes. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to engage in global social justice – for example through (social) work and advocacy for migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers or trade politics of high-income countries.

Silke Roth is a sociologist and author of The Paradoxes of Aid Work. Passionate Professionals (Routledge 2015).

Social Care staff in the UK: Driving quality or political stagnation?

Dr Rebekah Luff

Dr Rebekah Luff

The adult social care sector provides care for adults with a range of support needs including those with physical or learning disabilities and older adults, many of whom have dementia. These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society as well as being groups of people who are more likely to have significant healthcare as well as social care needs. As the election approaches, it is noticeable that while healthcare is a key policy and funding area, social care is far less prominent and it is useful to examine some of the reasons and implications for this. The adult social care workforce in England in huge, in 2013 it consisted of an estimated 1.45 million people which is on a par with the NHS England’s staff of about 1.3 million. A key difference between health and social care is that social care funding is means tested and even those who meet the financial criteria may not have the high level of care need that is required to access publicly funded support. Not only is the source of adult social care funding split between public and private, but the provision is hugely fragmented. While the majority of healthcare workers are employed through the NHS, social care staff are employed by one of the 17,300 mainly private organisations or through the direct payments of users. Despite the obvious overlaps and interdependence in their roles, the NHS and social care have been uneasy bedfellows since the inception of the NHS.

Social care, while being similar in size to healthcare and providing support for many of the same adults, lacks both the political and media clout of the NHS. In the run up to the elections, the NHS is a key battle ground, with future NHS spending set out in party manifestos; in contrast the budget plans for social care have not been stated in clear terms. There has however been renewed discussion across the political spectrum regarding health and social care integration, including integrated budgets. Recent news stories have revealed that part of hospital bed shortages is linked to wards being unable to discharge patients back into the community as there is inadequate social care for them. The public are rightly angry that money is being wasted and patient care is at risk due to failures of the wider system. This is a prime example of two interconnected systems that should be working together, struggling to do so. Improved links between health and social care have been on the agenda for decades, but coherent, national integration requires additional funding. An NHS transfer of £900 million was intended to support integration, but in the context of a 3% fall in social care funding since 2008/09 while the need for social care continued to grow, in reality it has mainly been used to plug funding gaps to keep basic social care provision afloat. Any talk of integration or improvements to social care, without a transparent funding plan that allows for the increasing needs of an ageing population, looks like little more than well-meaning rhetoric.

Problems occur in both social care and healthcare, but these are often portrayed and responded to differently, leading to diverging political outcomes. Cast your mind back to the last time you heard about either care homes or homecare staff in the news. National stories have revolved around poor quality care and abuse scandals, care staff being underpaid or not receiving the national minimum wage and care being delivered by staff in 15 minute time-slots. The NHS has similarly received very negative press and there are of course some very prominent recent scandals. The difference is though, that when care home or homecare abuses occur, often individual care staff are disciplined (or convicted) and individual care providers are inspected and sanctioned. The wider policy and funding context is not put under the same scrutiny of a public review as the NHS was in the Francis Enquiry.

To give a less extreme example, I was part of a research team studying quality of sleep in care homes. One of the findings was that residents were spending an average of over 11 hours in bed at night and that bedtimes and getting up times were often not a choice but a compromise. A very simple way of looking at this would be to say care staff are not enabling choice in relation to a basic care need. However, a closer look revealed that resident bedtimes revolved around staff shift patterns with more day staff being available than night staff so residents who needed help went to bed when the day staff were there and didn’t get up again until they returned. So it could be argued that the care home management are responsible as they set the staffing levels and shift patterns? Well yes and no. Care homes’ fees, including those paid by the council are set using staffing cost calculations. These allow for lower numbers of care staff ‘at night’ and ‘night’ is typically 12 hours long. Increasing the daytime shift(s) has an associated cost which would increase fees. Therefore an important element of care is neither in the control of residents or care staff, but subject to organisational structures which are in turn constrained by wider funding policies.

It is perhaps telling that the social care sector has still struggled to recruit and retain staff during the recession. Too many care staff are being paid too little, while being expected to be better trained for an increasingly difficult job. Given the projected increase in both health and social care demand this is no time for political stagnation, but promising words are not yet being met with adequate action. Meanwhile, the focus on ‘bad apples’ in social care is avoiding the structural deficiencies that are letting down too many of our social care staff and those that they care for.

Dr Rebekah Luff is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Research Methods and her research interests includes social care for older adults.

Self-employment and the feminist future – the women’s cooperative WeiberWirtschaft

Dr Silke Roth

Dr Silke Roth

Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, there has been a significant increase of women’s self-employment. However, women are still under represented among the self-employed. Obstacles to female entrepreneurship include lack of capital and affordable office space, in particular for small organizations. The women’s cooperative WeiberWirtschaft (women’s economy) was founded to address these problems and enable women to become economically independent. The idea to create a cooperative emerged in the 1980s when a small group of recent graduates and post-graduated discussed the idea of a feminist economy and money cycle. Based on a lot of un-paid voluntary work and significant negotiation skills with a variety of stakeholders the idea of a self-organized center for women founders became reality. Over the course of twenty-five years, the cooperative raised the necessary funds to buy, renovate and extend a historic building (the former socialist cosmetics factory VEB Kosmetik) offering social housing in addition to workplaces. In 2014, the cooperative houses 60 enterprises comprising 150 workplaces.  Furthermore, a number of services were established that support the women entrepreneurs, including day care facilities, micro-credit services, a conference center and a mediation unit. In addition, in 2006 the Center for Women Establishing New Businesses’ (GZ) was founded as subsidiary organization. It provides information, consultation and networking opportunities, has so far been contacted by 10.000 women and is supported through the European Social Fund.

The WeiberWirtschaft (WW) is an unusual feminist organization as it is primarily an economic organization rather than a cultural or political organization. Furthermore, it represents a ‘real utopia’, a concept that refers to organizations which are guided by the moral principles of equality, democracy and sustainability. The organizational structure of the cooperative and the low membership shares ensure equality and democracy. Each member – no matter how many shares she owns – has the same voice. Sustainability was a guiding criteria during the renovation and extension of the building. Furthermore, the cooperation engages in intersectional feminist practices: local democratic practices, cooperation between state and community, as well as democratic practices in the transnational context.

What factors and paradoxes contributed to the success of WW and how does this project reflect and inspire feminist transformations?

One of the most important lessons that WW offers is the readiness to cooperate with diverse groups and individuals – or at least to consider it. Social movements, including women’s movements are not always willing to reach out to potential allies and often engage in exclusionary solidarity. The openness to negotiate and to seek support from a range of stakeholders does not mean selling out – the tightrope walk and compromises were (and continue to be) embedded in extensive discussion processes.

Weiberwirtschaft building

Courtyard of the WeiberWirtschaft building in Berlin, Germany

Independence plays a decisive role for assuring the integrity of the organization. In my opinion the extensive volunteer work of the founders and other members of the WW is crucial in this respect. The importance of voluntary work for an organization that creates income opportunities for women may seem paradoxical. WW has been very successful in creating jobs – primarily through the creation of affordable offices and work spaces, but also because some of the volunteer service rendered in the administration of the cooperative could be converted into paid jobs. The pivotal role of volunteering assured that the WeiberWirtschaft has not been co-opted and remained independent and true to herself. Moreover, the boundary between paid work and volunteering is extremely thin as the full-time staff have also put a lot of volunteer service in the WeiberWirtschaft. The volunteers have invested a lot – not only time but also money – but they have also gained a lot. Not just an internationally prominent cooperative, but they have also learned a lot, gained skills and experience and thus qualified themselves. The founding of WW documents realism and vision, wit and humor, but also the lust for power and creating an organization. WW is a “learning organization”, members engage critically with themselves and their environment and are very good at finding resources and the support of experts.

One of the most important lessons is certainly that success is not a zero sum ​​game, but that different groups can benefit if one of them is successful. For example, media attention for WW is good for the tenants. Furthermore, the founders’ center does not only benefit the tenants of WW, but women’s companies worldwide. This demonstrates that economic efficiency does not automatically imply competition.

The WeiberWirtschaft is embedded in the transformations of German, European and global women’s movements. The European Union and the United Nations women’s conferences presented transnational opportunity structures that could be used for the implementation of women’s policy demands. An affinity between (liberal) feminism and neoliberalism has been noted: In a tricky way, the demands of women’s movements for self-determination, self-reliance, individual freedom and autonomy are compatible with the logic of globalized markets. What does that mean? Neoliberalism involves the transfer of tasks that were previously the responsibility of the state to private sector or civil society. In addition, neoliberalism is characterized by an emphasis on personal responsibility and efficiency. These features coincide with feminist demands for self-determination and open up possibilities for women’s NGOs and gender consultants. These changes have been described as a shift from state to market feminism. While it is a welcome development that the expertise and services of feminists are paid adequately, the reliance on project and performance-bound funding encompasses the risk of co-optation and depoliticization. As a feminist organization and ‘real utopia’ WeiberWirtschaft is well positioned to practice system-criticism and represent an alternative to lack of solidarity of emancipation interests.

I am anxious to see if and how the WeiberWirtschaft will return to their original idea, the feminist money economy, and to make the earned surplus available to — for example — feminist projects, single mothers, and to people and businesses in the Global South. This would mean that WW would leave market feminism behind and represent an alternative to neoliberal practices, not only by enabling women to become economically independent, but also through the redistribution of resources and re-evaluation of different forms of paid and unpaid work.

Silke Roth is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Southampton, her research interests include feminist organizations and coalition building. She has observed the formation of the WeiberWirtschaft for over 25 years and is a shareholder of the cooperative. 

Femininity, interactive service work and social mobility: reflections from Russia

Dr Charlie Walker

Dr Charlie Walker

In their recent book Shopgirls, Cox and Hobley illustrate that the connection between retail and qualities traditionally associated with femininity developed in conjunction with women’s gradual entrance into the service sector labour market from the late 19th Century. Alongside their association with femininity, customer-facing forms of service sector employment have also had a historical association with glamour, and in turn, with possibilities of social mobility. This is despite the fact that, as Cox and Hobley document, workers in the retail sector experienced dire working and living conditions well into the 20th Century.

In the early 21st Century, while conditions have improved, this contradiction continues. As Valery Walkerdine has argued, in a context in which working-class people are increasingly denigrated as flawed workers and flawed consumers, service sector employment, alongside the expansion of previously inaccessible educational opportunities, ‘appear to offer possibilities and lifestyles which are tied up with what is traditionally regarded as middle-class status’ (2003: 240). However, in reality, low pay and non-standard contracts continue to be the norm for many in service sector employment. Thus, what has been seen as the cultural feminisation of the economy, with a growing number of jobs that require workers to be customer-focused, communicative, caring, and flexible – qualities traditionally associated, rightly or wrongly, with femininity – should not be assumed to have brought greater gender equality. Indeed, as Lisa Adkins has argued, since women appear to ‘embody’ rather than ‘perform’ femininity, they are less likely to be rewarded for it, and instead, may more easily be positioned as ‘gendered workers’.

The demand for and utilisation of the feminine in service sector employment are central not only to western economies, but also, to emerging economies such as those of Eastern Europe and the BRIC countries. In China, for example, Eileen Otis’s work explores the ways in which women and their bodies have been used as a vehicle for the mobilisation of global corporate capital as the public face of high-class hotels for international businessmen. My own research has explored a similar context in Russia, where images of women also indicate a shift towards a more ‘emphasized’ version of femininity in line with the building of post-Soviet capitalism. My interest, however, has predominantly been in questions of social inequality and social mobility – what sorts of prospects do new forms of interactive service work hold out for working-class young women in contemporary Russia?

I recently published the results of a study conducted in the rapidly developing metropolis of St. Petersburg, which involved interviews with thirty-four young women who were either training for or already working in various forms of interactive service work such as hospitality, tourism and the beauty industry. It was immediately apparent that the young women in the study were very attracted to the work roles they had chosen, and that they distinguished these roles strongly from older forms of employment in, for example, manufacturing. The attraction of service sector roles was rooted in part in their substantive content, including the possibilities it offered the young women to engage in communication-based work, and in what they regarded as creative tasks, as opposed to the ‘monotony’ of employment in the industrial sector, where many of their parents had worked. In addition, employment in hospitality and tourism, and the newer parts of the beauty industry, often held out forms of symbolic capital through their connection with the West, either in the form of western-standard hotels or possibilities for future travel, or simply western-sounding job titles such as menedzher and vizazhist. Finally, the attraction of service work stemmed from its aesthetic dimension, namely, the requirement to perform an idealised version of middle-class femininity, which held out significant appeal for working-class young women.

Newspaper advertisements for a sales manager and various forms of manual labour draw on different (albeit tongue-in-cheek in the latter case) constructions of femininity

Newspaper advertisements for a sales manager and various forms of manual labour draw on different (albeit tongue-in-cheek in the latter case) constructions of femininity

However, taken together, these factors only made up a symbolic form of social mobility. In material terms, none of the young women in the study expected to earn more than they would have done had they chosen to work in industry, and all expected to earn significantly less than their boyfriends and future husbands. This was a realistic reflection of a gender pay gap that, according to Rosstat, stood at 37% in 2008.

Thus, the contradiction between notions of social mobility and the reality of poor prospects in feminised forms of service work appears especially stark in some of the newer contexts of global capitalism. In all of its contexts, though, it is important to unpack the significance of employment shifts that appear to favour a particular gendered worker.

The expansion of service sector employment has been at the heart of the apparent cultural feminisation of the economy, which has often underpinned discourses proclaiming that ‘the future is female’, and that men, or at least working-class men, are becoming increasingly ‘redundant’, as deindustrialising economies offer fewer jobs requiring skills associated with masculinity.
However, as the experience of the young women in the St. Petersburg study indicates, it is crucial not to mistake shifts in the gendered performances demanded by employers with shifts in gender equality.

Charlie Walker’s article ‘“I Don’t Really Like Tedious, Monotonous Work”: Working-class Young Women, Service Sector Employment and Social Mobility in Contemporary Russia’ appears in the journal Sociology

Migrant Workers in the UK – it’s time to talk

If the people who study elections are to be believed the UK Independence Party may take a second parliamentary seat in the Rochester by-election on 20th November. Mark Reckless, the UKIP candidate has made much in his campaign of the need to ‘get a grip’ on migration into the UK and has perpetuated ideas that migrant workers are a drain on the British economy and welfare state. A report in the Independent quoted Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader and MEP as saying that Britain was the “cheap labour economy of the European Union” as a result of “uncontrolled” levels of migration.

Against this recent research analyses by Professor Christian Dustmann and Dr Tommaso Frattini from UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration show that skilled migrant workers from the EU have boosted the British economy by some £20bn over the past decade. This reflects earlier research conducted by Pauline Leonard and Derek McGhee of the Work Futures Research Centre, University of Southampton which revealed the economic benefits brought by EU migrants from the Accession States to the Solent Region.

So what is the truth about migrant workers in the UK – are they a drain or a gain?

We know from data provided by the Office for National Statistics that there have been recent rises in migration into the UK, and that much of this has come in the form of people from the recession-hit European countries Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, and Poland. Net migration from the EU has reportedly reached its highest level since 1964.  (The Guardian, Thursday 27 February 2014)



But are these people really “all on benefits” and “taking British jobs” ?

Uncertainty and change in work, economy and society are core issues for us here at the WFRC and so these debates and questions about migrant workers fall clearly within our remit. Earlier this year we learnt about the TUC’s campaign, begun in the South West, which attempted to stand up to the ‘tidal wave of hysteria’ about migration and provide information to bridge the gap between public perception around these issues and the reality. Inspired by their ‘Truth, Lies & Migrants’ campaign we decided to convene our own panel of experts to look at interdisciplinary research, policy and evidence about migration, population patterns and employment in the UK. This idea has grown into a half day symposium on the theme of ‘Migrant Work Futures’ to be held on Tuesday 25th November at Westgate Hall, Southampton. We are delighted to have a stellar line up of academics who are researching and contributing to debates on migration and work who will speak alongside representatives from the Trade Union Congress. We will hear evidence and perspectives from Political Science, Geography and Social Science, learn about the TUC campaign, and, we hope, have a contribution from a local MEP. But most of all we will have a lively and informed debate about Migrant Work Futures based on scholarship and science rather than hyperbole and tabloid headlines.

This event is free but prior booking is required:

Eventbrite - Migrants Work Futures

We look forward to seeing you on 25th November.


Qualifications, Skills & Gender

Author: Dr Suzanne Reimer, University of Southampton
Dr Suzanne Reimer

Dr Suzanne Reimer

In early September, the BBC news website ran a story with the headline ‘Women may take best jobs by 2020.’ Reporting on evidence from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), the BBC claimed that “men could struggle to get highly skilled jobs because women are increasing skills and qualifications at higher rates.” (BBC News: Women may take best jobs by 2020, say researchers).

Phrased like that, that the acquisition of qualifications appears as a zero-sum game in which women’s apparent attainment directly hampers the position of men. This representation is potentially damaging for gender equality campaigning, given the extent to which it promotes antagonistic relations between men and women and implies that any improvements in the labour market position of women will be at the direct expense of men.

It is important to evaluate more of the detail contained within the August 2014 UKCES report. This document—in fact produced to compare UK skill levels with those of other countries—had extrapolated from historical trends in order to make predictions about future UK qualification levels. These projections appeared to reveal clear gender differences. Although in 2012 the proportion of men and women with relatively low qualification levels (GCSE or below) was similar, it was predicted that by 2020 this gap would widen. That is, a lower proportion of women but a higher proportion of men would fall into the ‘low qualifications group’ by 2020. In the middle qualifications group (from A-level to undergraduate degree completion) women also were predicted to outpace men by gaining higher levels of qualification. Interestingly, gender differences were reversed for qualifications at postgraduate levels and above: here a growing proportion of men (and a greater proportion of men than women) were predicted to achieve higher level qualifications by 2020. On the basis of this evidence, then, gender divisions are by no means uniform: not all women are increasing their qualification levels relative to (all) men. By extension, the labour market positions achieved by women on the basis of qualifications will also be highly varied.

One of the limitations of the UKCES analysis is that formal qualifications are used as a proxy for skill more broadly. Yet as feminist researchers consistently have identified, the idea of ‘skill’ itself is highly gendered: skills are differently valued depending upon whether they are possessed by men or women. Both now and historically, work done by women often hasn’t been considered to be ‘skilled’. At some times, in some places and in some sectors, formal qualifications may have advanced women’s labour market position, but in other circumstances inequalities persist even when women possess equivalent levels of qualification relative to male contemporaries. For example, the dominance of men in the UK design sector (particularly at senior levels) has endured despite a growing number of women enrolled on undergraduate and postgraduate design courses through the last two decades, as well as some level of expansion in the number of women in junior design posts.

It is important to consider the specificities of skill definition within individual labour market sectors. Within creative industries such as design, formal qualifications may be seen to be important, but design skills also are judged informally. Employers assess job applicants’ abilities in ways beyond simply their level of qualification. Informal evaluation—such as the extent to which employers perceive and assess applicants’ ‘fit’ within an existing work force—clearly can have negative implications for gender as well as ethnic diversity across many jobs. However creative ‘skills’ are often constructed as in some way inherent—as deriving from innate capabilities. In arenas where intrinsic or bodily ability is perceived to form a central part of skill, the potential aptitude of different bodies can be evaluated unequally. For example, in product design, the capacity to construct a physical prototype, to manipulate materials or even to use a hammer is often coded as essentially masculine, and a stereotyped separation of gender boundaries emerges.

The second half of the September BBC news report did in fact allude to the potential disconnection between formal qualification and evaluated ‘skill’: it notes that “… for many women their higher qualifications are not leading to better pay and jobs”. This latter point might more appropriately have been placed as the headline: why is it that women’s qualifications are undervalued and what challenges might be made to this state of affairs?

Dr Suzanne Reimer’s work on gender, design and skill recently was presented at the Third European Colloquium on Culture, Creativity and Economy, Amsterdam, October 2014.