There were 159 women recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours’ list yesterday. But only one out of five were from the top category, and about a quarter in the next category. More appeared in the lower level ones but, even so, the total percentage of women was a mere 34%.
Is it that women do not deserve at least the same levels of recognition as men for the contributions we make, or is it that what we do is still undervalued by us and others? The Sydney Morning Herald reported that 70% of women nominees were successful as against a lower proportion of men, so the overall quality and success rates of applicants are not lacking.
However, the figures illustrate two problems which are related: one is there are always fewer women recipients of the higher levels of recognition that is the Companion (AC) and the Officer (AO). The levels are at the discretion of the selection committee and I have said for years that their judgement tends to mirror the wider prejudice and assumptions about what is important and what is not. ‘Softer’ contributions (not business or other male-valued roles) tend to be classified at the lower levels.
(Incidentally, I scored an AO some 15 years ago; maybe because I raised this type of issue then!)
Secondly, the above bias trends to affect the overall evaluation of merit and contribution so fewer women see the higher value of what they do and fewer are nominated. How much of that is because the nominee does not see the merit, versus that others do not see the need to nominate them is unclear.
To giver successive governments their due, they have run campaigns to increase female nominations but they still lag well behind. Given the success rates are higher for women I suspect that female nominations are about a quarter of male ones.
I wonder how many women are nominated by other women, vis a vis how many men nominate women? How many women nominate men? Maybe not all that many but I bet they do most of the grunt work in nominations. Maybe more men have female assistants that can help put the documentation together. Maybe we can encourage more women to put in the time necessary to nominate other women, but that will not work on its own.
I think the whole problem comes back to the same one that affects so much of what we do, starting with unequal pay rates and other forms of gendered prejudice. Being active in the community, care and other feminised areas such as children and relationships is not valued as highly as money and finance. Until we change what is valued, the feminised skills, commitments and very important social maintenance will continue to be undervalued by not only men but too many other women.
Minister Tanya Plibersek says: “I encourage everyone to consider nominating a woman they know and admire, and who has made outstanding contributions to the well being of others, for public recognition in the future.” We will be watching for election policies that tackle the wider undervaluing of women’s contributions as underlying causes of the gap.