Buy Books not Boobs:

Alison Gill talks to pupils at St. Edward’s School on Gender Equality

Simon Larter-Evans, Teacher of English and Head of Year, St. Edward’s School, Oxford


 Adam said, ‘for nothing lovelier can be found/In Woman, then to studie household good,/And good works in her husband to promote.’ This quote, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost echoes conducts books of the 16th and 17th century, and remains in our cultural baggage to such an extent that many men still cry foul when any suggestion of gender equality is raised. But the facts are stark: women perform 60% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the world’s food, earn 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the world’s property.

As a prelude to International Women’s Day on March 8th, psychologist Alison Gill spoke to Year 9 and 10 about the perils of maintaining an unequal world. Diversity, she said, is good for everyone. As Founder and joint CEO of organisational consultancy Crelos, Alison works with the world’s biggest banks and other large corporate bodies and elite sports teams. Global research shows clearly that gender imbalance is bad for business because we’re not tapping into the full talent pool available. Gender balanced businesses are more innovative, happier places to work and survive the vagaries of the economy better. A range of research studies clearly show that both private and public companies with good diversity outperform those that don’t.

Why, then, is there such resistance to change? Part of the resistance, argues Head of Year Simon Larter-Evans, is because patriarchal society is so deeply embedded in our literature and our arts that it is hard for us to conceive of the world differently. The first challenge is to become aware of cultural bias, and then to set about changing it. Why, for example, do the media report what female politicians wear and what male politicians say?

Alison had some advice for the pupils, which included the counter intuitive idea of learning to be good followers. ‘Good followers get close to leaders, they learn to judge good leadership. Once you know how your behaviour contributes to group effectiveness then are better placed to become a better leader,’ she says. The talk was uncomfortable for many of the boys, but as some pupils said, ‘men have had it easy for so long,’ but Alison reiterated, ‘the evidence shows that gender equality is better for everyone’.

Top advice for the girls was ‘buy books, not boobs. Invest in your mind and learn both the written and unwritten rules’. And for the boys? ‘Make no mistake, women are just as competitive, and you’ll all have more fun’. The world needs more creativity, collaboration and cohesiveness and less ruthless competition. Diversity delivers this.