Why Do We Only Look At A ‘Few Outrider Women’ At The Top But Ignore The Rest?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s harshest critics argue that her controversial book, “Lean In,” is overly focused on advancing women at or near the top, but leaves the average woman without any real practical advice.

In a recent New York Times OpEd, Amelia Gentleman agrees with Sandberg’s critics:

“Ms. Sandberg’s desire to teach women ‘to negotiate so they get paid more’ has only marginal relevance to the millions of low-paid women in the United States and Britain who have very slim prospects of increasing their pay packets from the minimum wage that people employed in the five C’s — caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning and clerical work — can expect.”

Gentleman argues that we’ve pursued feminism at the expense of inequality. She looks at a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, pointing out that “the report wonders why we persist in looking at a few outrider women at the top of the professional ladder instead of analysing the fate of a more representative cross-section of women.”

While we’ve made incremental gains at the top — and certainly come a long way — women still hold many of the low-skilled jobs across most industries. The chart below highlights that trend worldwide (note this does not include the US):

Institute for Public Policy ResearchIn the US, unemployment rates for women in unskilled jobs are significantly higher than they are for women who are qualified to land higher paying positions. The Bureau of labour Statistics reveals that the 2012 unemployment rate for women working management, professional, and related occupations was 4.4 per cent while women working in lower-skill service occupations was 9.1 per cent. For building, grounds cleaning and maintenance work, the rate was as high as 11.7 per cent.

This means we have a long way to go to close the gender AND inequality gap.

Gentleman says that to create a “fairer feminist campaign,” we should take the advice from the IPPR and raise the standards for working-class jobs and create better pay structures across the board.

Feminism is a noble pursuit, but only when it’s pursued on behalf of all women.