Success engendered

February 6, 1998

Gender research reveals surprising attitudes to women a work

Research has revealed a "Helena Kennedy/Cherie Blair phenomenon" of support for successful women.

The study, by Fiona Wilson of St Andrews University and Gerda Siann and Murray Rowan of Dundee University, quizzed more than 4,000 students and 800 industrial workers about their attitudes to gender, work and family life.

Professor Siann, who holds Dundee's NCR chair in gender relations, said the data revealed an egalitarian approach to home and work and a readiness by both sexes to back high-flying women.

The students and workers were asked to put themselves in the place of someone offered promotion that might entail more time away from the home and children. Half were told the individual was female, and half that he was male.

The results showed that it made very little difference which sex the individual was. Those asked to put themselves in the place of a man were not more likely to say they would take the promotion than those asked to take the place of a woman. Students asked to put themselves in the place of a woman were more likely to say they would take the promotion.

"When a woman is doing well, like Helena Kennedy or Kirsty Wark, people are very pragmatic in their attitudes to gender and see no reason to hold her back," Professor Siann said. "This was the case even among older men, who might have had really conventional working lives. In terms of their daughters and the partners of their sons, they consider that if women are achieving, barriers should not be put in their way."

Only a fifth, predominantly men, of those questioned thought that family life was adversely affected by women working full time. A majority of both sexes thought working mothers could establish as good a relationship with their children as non-working mothers, but students were more likely than working people to have reservations about mothers of pre-school children working.

"People who have no experience of family life tend to have rather more traditional views of looking after children," said Professor Siann. "I imagine their views will shift as they move into the workplace. The industrial workers just don't see it as a problem and come to terms with having to optimise the family budget."

Only a small proportion, 8 per cent, thought that a woman earning more than her partner would affect the relationship adversely.

More than half of both samples thought work opportunities for women were better than five years ago, but only 10 per cent of the employed sample and 6 per cent of the students thought this was true for men.

Sixty per cent thought men as a group were experiencing a crisis of identity, although the great majority of these thought this was exaggerated by the press.

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