First a confession. The last issue of Edge Notes featured a contribution from an Artificial Intelligence (AI) programme, Compose, writing about the potential of AI in helping or hindering the struggle for socialism. There was another piece in my name. But that was also written by Compose. By slightly changing the wording of the question I got two very distinct answers.
AI is more properly called machine learning. It has been around for a long time. Machines learn on the basis of data that we input. Bad data or a poorly written algorithm that uses the data will lead to poor decisions. Things have improved dramatically in recent years in terms of computing power and memory and the quality of the algorithms. There are many exciting developments opening up, along with the prospect for disruption as society struggles to cope with the scale of change.
But AI programmes are essentially probability machines that predict the future on the basis of the past. What we need is a Possibility Machine which can foresee a future that upends the past. It is revolutionary, creative and ethically motivated, composed of millions of individual components that can transform both themselves and their neighbours and combine in new and original ways that defy history to change the world. And it already exists. We are the individual components of a possibility machine called the working class. We just need to get our algorithms right. Happy coding!
Back to this week’s question.
Despite legislation which gives women equal rights and equal pay, we seem to be a long way from equality. What can we do to ensure the spirit of those laws is enacted?’
It is perhaps understandable that those of us who have been involved in the debate around gender equality may have become a little jaded over time.
We recognised that legislation on its own was never going to combat deep-rooted and structural inequalities and we campaigned for a wide range of interventions, including regular pay audits, ways of challenging stereotypes in recruitment and progression, flexible working, improved maternity/paternity leave, raising awareness of unconscious bias and encouraging women to have the confidence to apply for promotion.
We also recognised that there were additional barriers for working class women and women from ethnic minorities.
The solutions we campaigned for are still being proposed and enacted today.
But, despite legislation and awareness raising, women continue to face many of the same issues that my generation of women faced. The UK gender pay gap is 14.9% which, as the TUC pointed out, means that women work for free for two months of the year. However, whilst we continue to face the same issues, there has been some progress. In the 1970s women, on average, were paid about 50% of men’s wages in manufacturing and the professions.
Today there are 7 women CEOs in the FTSE 100, compared to 91 men. The UK only appointed its first woman CEO in 1997.
Real change involves raising awareness, changing behaviours and then changing attitudes. I suspect we are only part way through the behavioural change element. Attitude change will take many more years and in those intervening years there will be a squandering of talent and opportunity.
So my advice to the upcoming generation of young girls, is yes, continue to push for the same strategies for real equality, recognise your worth, but do so in a more militant way. Challenge every injustice remembering that collective action is a real force for change. Understanding that changing structural inequality takes time doesn’t mean we have to accept those limitations. Continue the fight we started, and don’t accept ‘no’ at any point. You are worth so much more. MARILYN TYZACK
There is absolutely no reason why women and men should not earn the same pay if they are doing the same job. That is the world we seek to create. It is not the world we live in.
In some sectors of the economy there are differential pay rates which favour those in management positions. There is no inherent reason why men make better managers than women, or white people better than everybody else for that matter. Yet, the demands of management (which many women do very successfully) are shaped in such a way that it is typical male traits which are valued.
How to change this? Firstly let’s not think this is just about gender or ethnicity, it is just as much about class. If women get a bad deal overall, then working class women get it even worse. Working class Black women even more so.
Laws which promote equality are to be welcomed but, without a massive cultural change, which only a revolution of some kind could possibly bring, the glass ceiling which exists for so many people will remain firmly in place. We have to keep fighting for equality and avoid the temptation to fight each other. DAVE MIDDLETON
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.