Allegations of sexual misconduct have rocked the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), the bosses’ union, in recent weeks. Since the news broke, former employees have spoken out against the “toxic” culture at the CBI, where “alpha personalities” at the top create an “incredibly adversarial” environment.
Tony Danker has since stepped down as the general director of the organisation, and a female replacement has been hurried in to repair the reputational damage.
But this is an entirely cosmetic change, reflecting the superficial concern of the big business lobby for the safety of women.
Indeed, incoming leader Rain Newton-Smith was part of the CBI executive committee while the allegations of sexual harassment were coming to the fore. As one former staff member bluntly put it, her promotion is merely a “continuation of the old order”.
This is a perfect example of the shallowness of ‘girlboss feminism’ – and how it is cynically used by the capitalists to provide a progressive veneer for their inherently exploitative, oppressive system.
Just as the upper echelons of the CBI were playing this game of musical chairs, analysis conducted by the Financial Times found that nearly 80% of UK employers pay men more than women. The median difference of hourly pay currently stands at 12.2%.
Responding to these findings, Denise Wilson, chief executive of FTSE Women Leaders Review, joined a chorus of disappointment, arguing that it was “unlikely” that the gender pay gap would decrease until “businesses significantly increase the number of women appointed into senior, high-paid roles”.
In other words, her suggested solution to the gender pay gap is simply to promote more ‘girl bosses’. Wilson also called on businesses to reduce “bias from the selection process” and create “a more female-friendly workplace culture”.
But as the cesspit of the CBI illustrates, and as Cressida Dick’s sordid record running the Met Police showed, it is not simply a lack of women at the top that is the problem.
Misogyny is a rot that runs through all capitalist institutions – a reflection of the capitalist system and class society, which has the oppression of women baked into it.
Liberal commentators who have denounced the sexism at the CBI, in this respect, seem to have no problem with the exploitation and oppression that big business bosses – male and female – are responsible for day-in, day-out.
Appointing more ‘girl bosses’, for example, does nothing to decrease the extreme pay differential between CEOs and the poorest paid workers, the majority of whom are women.
In reality, all the faux-progressive programmes for female ‘empowerment’ promoted by the liberal wing of the ruling class are consciously designed to distract from this huge disparity in income and wealth between the capitalists and ordinary workers.
Six years have passed since the government introduced mandatory reporting of the gender pay gap for companies of a certain size. The idea behind this was to raise ‘awareness’; to make firms ‘accountable’, and for their actions to be subject to public scrutiny.
But as this latest analysis shows, expecting big business to ‘do better’ has returned meagre results. In fact, this FT report shows that the pay differential between men and women has slightly increased since 2017.
This should come as no surprise. Such regulations are completely toothless. There is not even a penalty in place for organisations that do not submit their pay data, meaning that many miss the deadline altogether.
This is just the latest in a long line of ineffectual efforts by the Tories to address gender inequality.
Most recently, for example, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt promised to expand the provision of free childcare available to parents. The Tories have suggested that this will allow more women to return to work earlier, and will reduce the burden of childcare, which primarily falls on women’s shoulders.
At the same time, however, whilst increasing the number of children that nurseries are expected to look after, the Tories have failed to guarantee a pay rise for the already underpaid and overworked staff in the sector – 97% of whom are women.
This shows the real motivations behind the Tories’ so-called ‘equality’ agenda. What they really care about is getting women into work, in order to alleviate labour shortages and boost the bosses’ profits. They couldn’t give a damn about improving the pay and conditions of working women.
The Tories are just as hypocritical and cynical as their friends in the City, in this respect.
From implementing real-terms wage cuts in the public sector, where women form a majority of the workforce; to slashing services that women rely on the most; to ferociously attacking striking nurses and teachers – professions in which women predominate: the Tories have not a leg to stand on when it comes to the question of pay, equality, and rights for women.
We cannot place any trust in the capitalists and their representatives to solve this issue. Calls for big business to ‘grow a conscience’ will invariably fall on deaf ears.
Real change must instead come through united class struggle. And working-class women have shown the way forward, leading the charge in many important industrial disputes in recent months and years.
In 2018, for example, 12,000 Glasgow council workers led a campaign of strikes against their employers’ discriminatory wage setup, which saw female staff receive up to £3 per hour less than male colleagues in corresponding pay grades.
This mass mobilisation helped secure a promise of £770 million in pay-outs for those affected – although the dispute is still not fully resolved, despite repeated threats of further strike action.
In a similar vein, cleaners, porters, and other ancillary staff at several east London hospitals scored a victory recently in their struggle against outsourcing and for equal pay.
The outsourced hospital workers – mainly women from black, Asian, and other ethnic minority backgrounds – were being paid around 15% less than staff employed directly by the NHS. Through their militant action and bold demands, however, they were able to force the employers to bring their jobs back in-house.
These examples show what is possible when workers unite and fight to strike a blow against the bosses.
Above all, the struggle for equal pay must be linked to the fight against the inherently unequal capitalist system.
At the end of the day, any gains that the capitalists offer working-class women with one hand, such as extra childcare, will always be taken away with the other, through austerity and attacks on jobs, wages, and conditions.
The bosses rely on sexism and other forms of discrimination in order to divide the working class, and to drive down pay and conditions for women and men.
And putting more women in the boardroom won’t stop this. ‘Girl bosses’ will exploit all workers just as much as their male counterparts. Profit-margins will still take priority over all else.
The gender pay gap cannot be overcome through vague calls to ‘reduce biases’ or create a more ‘women-friendly culture’ in the workplace. Fundamentally, this is a class question.
The ‘culture’ of any workplace can only be truly transformed on the basis of changing the conditions and relations of work in general. And this means, above all, booting out the bosses who foment misogyny and benefit from it, and putting organised workers in control.
Similarly, the way to overcome any sexist prejudices or behaviour that do exist in workplaces – or in wider society – is through building strong workers’ organisations on the ground, and through united class struggle against the capitalists, in order to bring out the common interests that male and female workers share: to improve pay and conditions across the board.
In the final analysis, it is conditions that create consciousness. We cannot end misogyny, inequality, and oppression without abolishing the system that breeds it.
This requires a root-and-branch transformation of society along socialist lines: kicking out the Tories; expropriating the billionaires, in order to fund decent jobs and public services; and overthrowing the sexist bosses’ system – a system that is rigged against all workers, no matter who sits at the top.