James Frayne is Director of communications agencyPublic First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Opportunities for women in the Just About Managing Classes.
Women in the Just About Managing Classes are increasingly more educated than men (ie they’re more likely to have a degree and A-levels or equivalent) but they’re less likely to be employed.
This seems partly to reflect preferences – women are still more likely to look after children and there is no suggestion the bulk would like this to stop (the desire for a house husband is, at least currently, apparently the preserve of upper middle professional classes). At one level, those preferences are not doing any harm – lower middle class women report high levels of happiness during their child-raising years.
But this can’t account for everything. Other things must be dragging down female participation. There is a lack of flexibility within the workplace generally – and a lack of flexibility within interesting career spaces specifically. As the Resolution Foundation found recently, career pathways for educated but non-graduate women are extremely limited.
This is a problem. Lower middle class women represent a highly competent, educated group who are a huge loss of talent and industry.
This is an obvious area for the public sector – which desperately needs talent – to act.
Teach First remains the landmark public sector recruitment policy of the last 15 years. It sought to recruit top graduates to go into teaching – and as a result the number of entrepreneurial and talented people in education has increased enormously. Some have successfully created their own schools. Other public sector areas have followed suit – for example, Frontline recruits talented people into social work.
But the focus is still on the young and full time. This is a pity for a number of reasons. First, there are many areas where women with life experience would win respect and authority from those they are working with. Social work is an obvious example as are a host of jobs in health. If you were a struggling single parent with several children, no support structure, and a chaotic background, who would you listen to? A 21-year-old Oxbridge graduate or a middle aged woman who has “been there, done that”?
Second, if flexible work were available, many would take it. Yet we are still not as good as we ought to be at creating part time structures in some public sector professions. In teaching for example, 77 per cent of former teachers would consider returning for part-time work. Yet half say part-time work is rare in their area.
Third, work is good for people. It’s generally associated with better health and mental wellbeing. Obviously, looking after children is a form of work (a very tough one!). But when women are no longer looking after children, there should be more interesting work opportunities.
What we need is equivalents to Teach First and Frontline – across the whole public sector – that train and recruit Just About Managing women. We’d all benefit from it.