Author Archives: Pauline Leonard

Out with the old…?

Pauline LeonardThis month’s Work Thought blog post is provided by WFRC Chair Professor Pauline Leonard.


As we leave the trappings of seasonal celebrations behind us and tip headlong into another ‘new’ year, I find myself pausing to think:  just what was achieved last year in terms of improving issues of gender equality at work?  In many ways I feel it can be viewed as really quite a productive time: the period immediately after our publicpolicy@southampton event on ‘Gender Equality at Work: How far have we come and how far have we got to go?’  held at the House of Commons on the eve of International Women’s Day 2013 saw the publication of several high profile policy reviews, well covered in the national media, which pushed gender workplace equality thoroughly into the public eye.  So far so good-but did the reports contain any hope of positive change?

The Fawcett Society’s excellent report ‘The Changing Labour Market: delivering for women, delivering for growth’ openly questioned the current Government’s plans for growth. In short, it argued, this is leaving women behind: 60% of ‘new’ private sector jobs have gone to men, whilst almost 3 times as many women as men have become long term unemployed in the last couple of years. Even more worrying is their warning that the worst is yet to come: although women have already borne the brunt of cuts to the public sector workforce, some 75% of these are still to emerge.

No good news there then! Then, there was the House of Commons’ own report produced by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on ‘Women in the Workplace’. This noted the fundamental right of all of us to reach our full potential at work, and acknowledged the sheer waste in individual, social and economic terms if this does not happen. The use of ‘if’ here is of course somewhat whimsical: ‘that’ would be a more accurate conjunction. For of course, as the report goes on to confirm, after 40 years of legislation, equality of pay has not been achieved, as the gendered stereotypes governing jobs, childcare, opaque pay agreements and domination of men at senior levels continue to describe the UK’s labour market.

So, same old, same old! The Institute of Public Policy Research exploration of the promises of gender equality in their report ‘Great Expectations’ argued for a rather different approach. The chapter on women in work-entitled ‘False Promises’- intelligently suggested that the usual measurements of equality-employment rates, average pay and advancement to senior positions-are misleading. Rather, what needs to be tackled are the underlying causes of women’s disadvantage, particularly the poor quality of work at the bottom of the labour market and the impact of women’s primary responsibility for care on their employment prospects.

These are only three reports of many which appeared last year: the Centre for Women’s Democracy produced another eye-popping expose of ‘Sex and Power’ and the ways that the UK is run by men; the European Institute for Gender Equality produced an Index which revealed how work operates to the detriment of women across the labour markets of Europe, and the Women’s Resource Centre raised serious questions about the Government’s commitment to women’s equality here in the UK. Further, the relentless findings of the year’s many reports were joined by a continuous stream of evidence about discrimination produced across the media, both mass and social.

On reflection then, it was certainly a noisy year! And from this I draw some glimmers of hope for 2014. My new year’s resolution?  Keep the pressure on! The Work Futures Research Centre will be contributing to this with their sponsorship of Professor Curt Rice as one of two high profile speakers at the prestigious Campbell Lecture  on March 19th  2014. Curt Rice is a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study. From 2009–2013, he served as the elected Vice Rector for Research and Development (prorektor for forskning og utvikling) at the University of Tromsø, where he is a professor of linguistics.  He tells us that his talk will argue that the core challenge to improving gender balance is finding ways to overcome implicit bias. We can’t wait to hear more…

You can book your place at the Campbell Lecture here.


‘The Internship’ : Precarious Work Futures #2


Copyright Elite Daily- The Internship 2013 Movie PosterThe smiling faces of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson currently decorating the sides of many local buses are advertising a new film called ‘The Internship’. Their cheerful demeanor informs us that the film is a comedy-but the rising number of internships appearing in the UK and European youth labour markets is far from a laughing matter.

The fact is that internships – short periods of often unpaid work- are rapidly becoming a structural feature of the transition into work for young people. How much this development has been driven by the recessionary economic climate is unclear, but internships are now being offered by an ever increasing number and range of employers. And as the number of paid opportunities for young people shrinks, these forms of employment are highly sought after, being seen as an important route onto the career ladder. An auction held recently at Westminster School of elite internships revealed how anxious parents are even prepared to pay high sums of money in order to secure this sort of occupational advantage for their children.

Copyright Ross Perlin Intern Nation PBYet the evidence also suggests that internships are highly diverse in terms of the experiences and benefits they offer to young people. Recruitment practices vary, as do employment conditions, benefits and rewards, occupational progressions and payment expectations. As such, Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, describes internship as ‘a many-headed monster’.  Whilst some organisations have been documented as providing highly-desirable and structured schemes with clear training  and career benefits for young people, at least a fifth of internships are unpaid, with smaller organisations the least likely to provide wages.


In addition, it appears that access to internships is unequal, strongly affected by education, social class, ethnicity, personal/family wealth. The most sought-after internships are often accessed through privileged contacts and a recent Cabinet Office (2009) report likened internship recruitment to an ‘informal economy’, where privileged access routes and non/low payment, render take-up unsustainable for young people without the necessary social networks and/or financial support.  In a development of Paul Willis’s findings on how working class kids end up with working class jobs, internships may have become a key mechanism for middle class kids to get middle class jobs, potentially also reproducing divisions of ethnicity, gender and place.


Copytight: intern serves coffeeIt would thus appear that there is somewhat of a paradox here: on the one hand internships can make a valuable contribution to (some) young men and women, the organisations they spend time in as well as the national economy which is of course benefiting hugely from all their hard work. On the other hand, internships can be highly discriminating, offering much needed work experience to the privileged few, or may be exploitative for the young people within them, with an absence of support and protection.


The problem is exacerbated by the fact that our knowledge of internships is scanty and unsystematic. With youth employment high on the policy agenda, now is the time for the issue to be investigated and questioned thoroughly.


See also: Precarious work futures? #1


Gender Equality at Work … an Unfinished Job

This has been a busy few weeks for those of us interested in issues of Gender Equality at Work. First, a report produced by Women’s Aid and the Fawcett Society in May showed that current government spending cuts have hit women disproportionately hard and are threatening to reverse any gains in gender equality which have been achieved over the last few years.  A key factor here is that the Coalition’s austerity measures have cut public sector jobs –the very jobs which are largely occupied by women. This has an effect on both women’s incomes and their pensions.  As Vivienne Hays, Chief Executive of the Women’s Resource Centre argues, “austerity should not be an excuse for discrimination”. Later in May, Harriet Harman’s Commission on the experience of older women in the workplace revealed how, of all presenters over the age of 50 on British TV, only 18% are women: fewer than one in five. Whilst 39% of TV presenters as a whole are women, the vast majority of these are under 50. Once women hit the age of 50, a combination of ageism and sexism ensures their careers are on the decline.  This is in spite of the fact that a BBC survey last year found that audiences would welcome more middle and older age women on television, providing positive role models and greater gender equality (Guardian 16 May 2013 p9). In June, we celebrated the centenary of the suffragette Emily Davison’s death. Exactly a century ago, she was knocked down by the King’s horse in the Epsom Derby as she attempted to draw attention to the Votes for Women Campaign. Fifty five years later, a group of women workers at the Ford Dagenham plant, infuriated by the pay structure which blatantly favoured male workers, made history by going on strike and marching to Whitehall. Their action resulted in the women agreeing to return to work and the conception of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Now, in 2013, despite many improvements in gender equality in the workplace, there is still a 15% pay gap on full time hours, and this almost doubles in part time roles, many of which are filled by women. As the Fawcett Society argues, it is as if from 7th November to the end of the year, women work for nothing! Such issues of Gender Equality at Work are the focus of the PublicPolicy@Southampton Policy Commission currently being conducted by Susan Halford and myself. After our successful seminar at the House of Commons on International Women’s Day on the 8th March, we are in the process of interviewing a range of influential stakeholders including Kay Carberry, the Assistant General Secretary of the TUC and Scarlet Harris, Women’s Equality Officer at the TUC; Sarah Jackson and Liz Gardiner of Working Families, Baroness Margaret Prosser and Helen Sachdev of the Barclay’s Bank. The interviews will inform a Policy Briefing which will be disseminated later in the year in which the key question : ‘Gender Equality at Work : where are we now and how far have we still to go?’ will be addressed. Keep checking for further updates!

Changing Organisational Space: Green? Or Lean and Mean?


“As organisations strive towards creating a greener workspace, managers must take great care how they explain to staff the reasoning behind the changes. Too often, what’s intended to be ‘green’ is instead views as ‘mean’”, Professor Pauline Leonard.

A recent study at the University of Southampton’s Work Futures Research Centre was published in the leading government and public service media platforms: the Public Servant and Government Today.

The research project ‘Making the Workplace Work’, funded by the British Council for Offices, aims to contribute to sociological understanding of organizational environmentalism through a focus on the workplace and changes in workspace. Lead by Professor Pauline Leonard, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the WFRC, the research findings was published in the following articles:

Going Green? Look out for the backlash, Public Servant, Edition December 2012

Stop presenting sustainability as a ConGovernment Today, Featured Article, 27th November 2012.

he recent dynamism in the design of workspace is frequently constructed by developers and managers as motivated by a desire to improve sustainability. These claims are reflected in the growing currency of ‘greenspeak’ in organizational discourses and policies at local, national and global levels, as well as a developing academic interest in organizational environmentalism. This article explores the extent to which the increase in an environmental rhetoric has been accompanied by a meaningful shift in organizational practices. Drawing on a new empirical study exploring the place of sustainability within workspace transformation, the study engages with Lefebvre and Foucault to argue that ‘green’ has frequently become bound up with ‘lean’ and ‘mean’ within organizational discourses and imaginations. This has important policy implications for organizations as well as broader theoretical implications for organizational environmental sociology.

Further information:

Changing Organisational Space: Green? Or Lean and Mean? Sociology published online 16 May 2012