What are we going to do about male underperformance?

What is our society going to do about underachievement by males? It is well documented at school level that girls overall significantly outperform boys. This is now repeated at University level. In non-science subjects admissions are large majority female. In nearly all subject areas females outperform males on average by up to 10% (more exaggerated in arts and social sciences). The same pattern in graduate jobs. If you look at the professions: medicine, dentistry, vets, law, the new intake is heavily female dominated. New members of barristers chambers, solicitors firms and accountancy practices are usually overwhelmingly female.

Look at staff photos for think tanks, campaigning organisations, charities and NGOs and newer recruits are mostly female. Usually they appear to be young, glamorous (my impression), at national level often Oxbridge, but the absence of males is noticeable. A conservative think tank on Europe surprised me recently when it had mostly male employees. (Well qualified, multi-lingual and cross-European).

Yes, the people running most of these organisations are overwhelmingly male; there are big issues about the glass ceiling and about why women are not better represented in higher ranks. (The judiciary seems the worst example – I often disagree with Brenda Hale's legal judgments but, very talented as she is, it is absurd she is the only woman to have reached the Supreme Court). It is a fact though that from the mid-2000s, companies will have mostly women as the pool of talent to recruit future senior staff from. Close monitoring is needed as to what happens. (Do organisations do anything with equal opportunities monitoring data? That is another issue … ).

Why are women doing better? Others know about schools; my experience with University applicants; students; and graduates is that the girls are usually more focused, more ambitious, and put themselves across more. I noted that female students always got work experience by cheekily going up and asking senior people for it. Boys often stood around being more shy (which I understand) or trying to look cool, or trying (often succeeding) to chat up the girls. They may have been less focused (on academic matters), and often not as well prepared.

It is good that women are now doing so well but an unrecognised social problem that the other gender is now being left behind. While discrimination against women still needs tackling, it cannot be good if members of the other gender feel passed over. It isn't the Two Ronnies comedy sketch coming true but is obvious that males not doing so well may be resentful or disillusioned and that could reduce their passion, enthusiasm and ability to contribute to improving society. Many high achieving young men will not achieve their aims and that is as much a generation of lost talent as those who graduated at the times of previous recessions, or the many women unfairly overlooked for promotion.

Work on equality has focused on women and ethnic minorities. Women and non-black ethnic minorities are often achieving well, and clearly 'overrepresented' among newer entrants in professions. As a matter of merit this is good. Tackling underrepresentation of women above mid ranking levels should not mean another gender issue is ignored. I don't have answers, but the start must be an acknowledgment that there is an issue, and open inclusive debate about the implications. How males can be encouraged to reach their full potential. That is both a Liberal aim, and a good aim for all members of a modern progressive society.

Kiron Reid

Read the original article and many comments here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-what-are-we-going-to-do-about-male-underperformance-38178.html

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