Are men now under threat in the workplace? If you were to listen last week to a group of advertising executives at J Walter Thompson, you might believe so. The men claim they were made redundant for being “white, male, straight, and British”, and are said to have approached lawyers about the possibility of bringing a discrimination case against the company.
The men claim they lost their jobs shortly after Jo Wallace, the company’s creative director, made a speech announcing her intention to “obliterate” the company’s reputation as a “Knightsbridge boys’ club”, in a case that has ridiculously raised parallels to the TV drama Mad Men.
The men are not alone in their fears: according to a 2015 study by Eurofound, 1.1 per cent of men in the UK feel they have been discriminated against at work because of their sex, only slightly lower than the 3 per cent of women who said the same. But are these fears rational?
The only place where British men could credibly claim to be at a disadvantage to their female counterparts is in education, where girls consistently outperform boys. In school, girls usually achieve higher scores at GCSE and A-level. More than two-thirds (67.7%) of girls secured GCSEs at A* to C in English and Maths last year, versus 60.3% of boys. There were signs this summer, however, that boys are narrowing the gap.
Women also remain far more likely to advance to Higher Education than men, with 43.4% of women in their final year of school applying to university last year, versus 31.8% of men.
But as they leave education and enter the workplace, this inequality seems to flip. A number of studies suggest that young women suffer from a ‘baby fear’ at work. One-third of bosses have admitted to discriminating against female candidates who they fear “might start a family soon”, according to an anonymous survey of 501 managers of small and medium-sized UK businesses. Remziye Ozcan, employment lawyer at Slater Gordon, who commissioned the survey, said that in many cases women “will never know for sure” if they have been denied a job for this reason.
Perhaps the clearest indication of workplace inequality is the gender pay gap: men in the UK earned an average of £14.48 per hour last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), versus £13.16 for women. The pay issue was pushed firmly onto the national agenda this year, after government legislation forced every organisation with more than 250 employees to publish its gender pay data.
It showed that more than three out of four UK companies pay men more than women, with nine out of 10 women working for a company where they are paid less than their male colleagues. Theories abound for why the pay gap exists; many experts say men are simply more likely to occupy senior roles than women, due to choices women make around having children and taking maternity leave. However, the ONS has suggested that discrimination could also play a part.
Men remain much more likely to start their own businesses than women, with just one-fifth of SMEs in the UK owned by women, according to a FreeAgent/One poll survey. In decades gone by, this gap might have been attributed to what scientists describe as men’s natural “risk-taking tendencies”, but recent research shows this isn’t the whole story. In a poll of 750 women business founders commissioned by The Telegraph this year, two-thirds said they were not taken seriously by investors and banks when trying to secure funding for startups.
Just six per cent of the CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are women, while fewer than one in five Executive Committee positions across the FTSE 350 are filled by women. More successful firms tend to have more women: those companies where women make up at least one-quarter of the Executive Committee have profit margins double those of companies with none.
Whatever the current position at JWT, where men earn, on average, considerably more than women, times are definitely changing. Of course some men will moan and will not be taken seriously, but they do need to get with the program.