Business in the Community wholly support the decision by government to restore feminism to the A level politics syllabus. Jenny Lincoln, Gender Research and Policy Officer explains why.
Under immense pressure from campaigners and around 50,000 members of the public, last week the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, confirmed that the government will be restoring feminism to the A level politics syllabus, including the study of gender equality, the differences between sex and gender, and patriarchy. Crucially, more female thinkers will also be added to the A level politics course. This is a warranted victory for women, young people and – yes – even public and business leaders.
Our members are working hard to foster gender equality at work, so the prior decision to remove this profoundly influential school of thought and exclude women’s voices from the dialogue (again) sent alarm bells ringing. We promptly responded to the government’s consultation on the matter. At Business in the Community we see a very clear link between teaching children about feminism from a young age and gender equality in business and public life. Here’s why.
Good for business
1. Feminism has exposed and pulled into question the imbalances of power between women and men in society. It has shaped the UK’s social, economic and political landscape drastically throughout history – and it is becoming increasingly relevant to the world of work today. Recent feminist analysis of workplace diversity is proving crucial to the future success of businesses and the economy – both nationally and on a global scale. There are numerous studies outlining the business case for diverse, gender-balanced leadership, and showing the correlation between diverse teams and increased profits. Diverse teams provide a variety of viewpoints and experience, which improves decision-making, innovation and problem solving, as well as being more representative of clients and customers. Future employees with a strong understanding of feminism and gender equality will easily grasp the importance of diversity and equality in a business context – and effectively improve it.
2. Reducing and side-lining the role of culture, race, sexuality and gender illustrates a superficial and elitist version of politics based primarily on the perspectives of white men. Distorting politics in this way could prevent many young people from thinking critically and speaking openly about barriers to gender equality at work. From the low proportion of women in higher-paid roles to the cultural change required for Shared Parental Leave, any future employees that can view workplace challenges through a gender lens will be better equipped to transform the workplaces of the future. This is markedly relevant since employers are working to create more inclusive work cultures.
3. An elitist, biased framing of politics will likely always engage only a small minority of young people in politics in the future. If the majority of policy makers continue to be white men, the policies related to employment and the workplace will continue to subtly favour them. Research commissioned by the London School of Economics found that the forces shaping persistent gender inequalities do not operate in separate spheres, such as politics, the labour market, domestic life and the law, but gender equalities in one sphere have a ripple effect throughout the other spheres.
Good for young people
4. Learning about feminism from a young age can increase young people’s understanding of - and ability to think critically about - gender inequality historically, today and in the future. We need to engage young people in the debate during their formative years – before they go to university or enter the world of work, and before attitudes and behaviours become entrenched. This is especially vital, since young women entering higher education now are facing a disturbing rise of violence against women in university culture and sexual harassment is still prevalent in UK workplaces.
5. Young people are increasingly disenchanted with politics; only 43% of 18-24 year olds who were registered to vote in 2015 voted in the general election. Feminism can play a significant role in increasing political participation amongst young women and men, because the feminist insight that the “personal is political” helps explain how politics influences every-day life. Learning how politics, patriarchy and gender identities shape our career choices, personal interests, salaries, barriers to career progression and all other aspects of life, will encourage women and men to engage with politics - whether as politicians or voters.
Good for society
6. If we exclude female political thinkers we erase visible female role models for young women and men, whilst further alienating and disempowering women and girls. If young women and girls can’t see people like them succeeding in their field, why would they believe they can succeed themselves? We need the visibility of both women and men at all levels of business and public life – and in text books – in order to normalise equal gender roles in the future. This widespread visibility, rather than the odd role model, is crucial to women’s success in education and work, because it challenges stereotypes and preconceptions of what women can (or worse, cannot) do.
7. When significant female thinkers are written out of the curriculum, their voices are also written out of history. The knowledge passed on is biased towards men’s perspectives of the world, and subtly reinforces the notion that politics and power are the domains of men. If young people are taught that the male perspective is superior to the female, then the cultural behaviour of overlooking women’s voices in the workplace will also continue.
For all the reasons outlined above, we are truly relieved that the government has decided to reinstate feminism and female thinkers in the syllabus.