There’s a Jobs and Skills Summit in the offing – the new government canvassing issues and strategies with key stakeholders, and there is pre-caucusing going on to bring specific perspectives to the table.
This was floating in the back of my head as I drafted an email to a colleague about matters monetary, about the recognition of my skills, and knowledge, and expertise – all of which I know I have. And yet, the level of “agh” and “awwwkward” that I had to work my way through as I drafted the note.
I’ve had jobs since my teens, but I still have to wade through the sludge of societal and familial stories about what is and isn’t appropriate for “ladies” to discuss, let alone assert. (And, let’s be clear, I had a teenage job to pay for fun things, not food; and when I say “ladies” I’m situating that in the English-Scottish roots of my family, who have moved from working class to middle class in the space of three generations).
There are powerful family stories wrapped up in how I see money and assert my value. The legacy of the ideas of “pin money” for the wee fripperies of genteel ladies is one. The aspirational mimicking of the power of aristocratic classes in declaring it gauche to discuss money is another, even though it was only the introduction of compulsory education in the 1880s that lifted my family from the floors of the cotton mills of Yorkshire, dirt-poor tenements in Aberdeen, and life on the road as commercial travellers in Somerset.
There are also complicated stories of relationship status and work and the attendant conceptualisations of financial independent and dependence that have shaped my financial settings. These include the conscious removal of women from the paid workforce in the post-second-world-war period in England that informed the lives of my grandmothers and mother, alongside their navigations of personal preferences for meaning and family.
And they run parallel with the imposition of spinsterhood that followed the loss of multiple generations of men in the first and second world wars, and the opportunities that opened up in both the traditional (teaching and retail) and non-traditional (stockbroking) fields that my great-aunts pursued.
Interesting research has been done to help us understand the ongoing impact of these stories, showing that even today women display less financial literacy than men.
Of course, my white, single, middle-class story as a 70s child tells one version of women and finance. It’s an entirely different story to navigate when the colonial state has systematically and intergenerationally stolen your wages, your land, your culture. And another story again when society tells you that your body or brain has lesser value in a capitalist economy, pushing you to the poverty margins in closed workshops.
There are, of course, big fat levers governments can, and should, pull to address gender inequalities in jobs and skills – provision of childcare, parental leave, vocational training programs, to name just a few – alongside the levers that can be pulled to address workplace racism.
But one of the biggest and most slippery is how to start telling new stories – individually and societally – about the gendered and raced and abled stories of our relationship with money. To do that we need a lever that, if we pulled it, would shift not just inequality in jobs and skills, but inequality in all areas of society.
Specifically, we need tools that help us to name and challenge the gendered, raced, classed myths that we buy in to – for example, the half-lives of the myths that meant whole groups of people in our society were denied bank accounts simply because of their race or because they were female.
Or that a woman’s economic zenith, to namecheck one of the fathers of neo-liberalism, Milton Friedman, was the moment when she was vacuuming the lounge, dinner in the oven, caring for one child, and pregnant with another.
We need to value unpacking our Gendered Selves, our Raced Selves, our Embodied Solves – and support people by co-creating tools that enable you go beyond unpacking the stories and step into transforming the stories – for ourselves and for society.
We need easily accessible, go-to-language to challenge the old stories, safely. We need tools that support families, in all their diversity, to have conversations and gender, care, and their household economies. We need to tell new personal and societal stories of gender, work, and the economy as a critical part of a policy response to jobs and skills.
- Feature image is a stock photo
Dr Caroline Lambert is currently an independent consultant working locally and globally, with a particular focus on feminist organisational development and leadership. She has a sideline interest in feminist economic insights into the gender stories of paid and unpaid work.