Male bastions. We do them well here. It is not just that they are extensive. It is that they are so resilient to challenge and evasive of scrutiny. There is an award for most things these days. Why not one for ‘Male Bastion of the Year’?
Portmarnock Golf Club would be a repeat winner. It fought the Equality Authority through the Courts from 2003, when proceedings were issued against it, to 2009 when the Supreme Court found in its favour. Its men-only membership policy was found not to be in breach of the Equal Status Acts. The club was not only male-all-over, it was also resilient. It continues to be resilient. It fought hard to defend its quaint customs of: man-on-man teeing off, business networking, ‘fore’- bellowing, mutual admiration, joshing about nineteenth holes, and making manly business contacts.
The lengths to which the Supreme Court went to defend this male bastion were captured by Donncha O’Connell in a 2009 Village article. He interpreted its finding as being that “some men need to play a version of golf called ‘male golf’ and can, in order to realise that need, run a golf club in which membership is open exclusively to male players of male golf on the understanding that the principal purpose of that club is to cater only for the needs of men”.
Portmarnock set the standard but new and exciting contenders clamour for attention. NUI Galway would have merited the award more recently. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington won a case against it for gender discrimination in promotion appointments, in 2014. She then used her €70,000 award to assist five other women, also shortlisted for promotion without success, to pursue their discrimination cases. In April’s Village Frank Connolly documented how a senior administrative employee at NUI Galway has made a complaint under the 2014 whistleblower Act about alleged irregularities in the appointment of people to senior teaching and administrative positions. The controversy is the latest in a succession of rows between staff and management at NUIG which has seen the Equality Tribunal make serious findings of gender discrimination against the college.
The HEA recently reported that, while women hold half of all lecturing posts, they account for just 14-20% of professors in the seven universities. NUI Galway had the most pronounced gender divide, with 79% of senior academic staff members being men, and women accounting for only 13% of associate professorships and 14% of professorships.
NUI Galway has twisted and ducked. Task forces were appointed, interim reports issued, and a new post with responsibility for gender equality instigated. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington and the SIPTU branch in the university were not to be put off. Now a proposal has emerged for positive action to address the gender imbalance. This must surely be the test of NUIG’s resilience.
This year the Bar of Ireland would be vying for the award. It has just reported that almost two-thirds of women barristers have experienced discrimination during their careers. The report notes an “underbelly” of casual sexism in the legal profession. Women make up 39% of the Law Library’s membership but the proportion of women called to the Inner Bar is 16%. The Bar of Ireland has promised action to better support women barristers. This fails to inspire, given report after report on gender inequality in the legal profession.
Tusla, the child and family agency would have to be a surprise main contender for 2016. Gender stereotypes and gendered roles suggest this would be a female bastion and, sure enough, about 85% of the staff of some 4,000 are women. But seven of the nine members of the senior management team are men. Two recent appointments, the CEO and Chief Operations Officer, are both men. The predictions are that the final member, the Director of Commissioning, will be a man.
Remember, this is the organisation charged with improving the wellbeing of children and most care work is done by women including, over the course of a week, 86% of child supervision and 69% of playing with and reading to children. Remember, this is the organisation given new responsibility for services responding to gender-based violence and that the vast majority of those subjected to this violence are women. And it is run by men!
The organogram on the website for the Tusla senior management team is placed above the slogan ‘Always children first’. Typos will happen in the best of websites. Surely it meant: ‘Always men first’.
I’m putting my money on Tusla as ‘Male Bastion of Year’ for 2016. We just need sponsorship for the competition.