Women workers hold a pool of ideas, competences and skills.

Across all industrialised countries women achieve the same social rights as their male counterparts, but the truth is, they are not equal to men when it comes to pay and career progression.

Gender equality is one of the biggest issues nowadays, and despite the fact that societies are fighting to achieve it, there are still many women who are not fulfilling their potential in the workplace.

Forty years after the Equal Pay Act was introduced to end discrimination between genders in the workplace, the results are far from being equal yet.

The pay gap does appear to be shrinking slowly, resulting in a 20% pay gap on average between men and women, however there still remains an over-representation of men in management boards.

Mirroring ‘The Peter Principle’, published in 1969 by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, which states that people, especially men, get promoted until their job is poorly done, Professor Tom Schuller, professor of Lifelong Learning and expert on gender issues, came up with a new principle applied to women, ‘The Paula Principle’, which suggests that “women work below their level of competences”.

‘The Paula Principle’ is driven by the fact that girls and women are outperforming men regarding academic achievement and are adding to their initial competences new skills at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

In a nutshell, men are being promoted more easily until they are incompetent carrying out the responsibilities of the job, whereas women have flatter career paths and get promoted to positions where they are unable to use their competences and skills at their fullest.

In that case, women workers hold a pool of ideas, competences and skills that simply aren’t being used. So why do 40% more women than men work in part time roles?

And why don’t we see more women accessing senior positions or taking up positions on boards?

Professor Tom Schuller summarized the possible causes, putting forward 5 key factors that could be driving the Paula Principle, and asked a panel to submit their thoughts on his website:

  • 14% Discrimination in the workplace at every level and field. The discrimination of women is still an issue in business.
  • 57% Childcare and eldercare. Most women are leaving their jobs or switching to part-time roles when they become mothers or to take care of their parents. In doing so, they are seen as carers first and are no longer considered as committed to their work, so not serious candidates for progression.
  • 43% Lack of self-confidence. Women tend not to go for a job or promotion for which they assume they do not have the desired competency level. Rather, they will choose to increase their professional or educational skills before applying.
  • 14% They lack the vertical networks which would bring them into contact with people working at higher levels who would provide information, role models and contacts about promotion opportunities.
  • 86% Positive choice not to go further. Some women choose not to go further in their career because they enjoy and thrive in their current job.
  • 6% Other: Diverse reasons preventing women from achieving their career.

By raising awareness of the causes preventing women reaching top level positions, Professor Tom Schuller invites us to better understand an interesting social phenomenon.

There are still many obstacles to overcome for women to achieve equality in the workplace but by highlighting the underlying causes, Professor Tom Schuller makes significant steps towards achieving gender equality.

The question that needs to be answered now is how do we go about solving the persistent issue of the gender pay gap? And how can we open doors for more women to progress in male-dominated fields such as STEM industries?

Professor Schuller is sure to share some real insight in his upcoming book, but if you cannot wait until its release, and you’re keen to find out more about The Paula Principle, we have a great event lined up for you.

Chwarae Teg in association with the University of South Wales is hosted a lecture delivered by Professor Tom Schuller on 9th October at Swansea University.

Learn more about Professor Tom Schuller.

Tom Schuller has been Professor of Lifelong Learning at Birkbeck and at Edinburgh University, and head of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation at OECD in Paris. His most recent book was Learning Through Life, with David Watson.