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Gender, family and employment in comparative perspective: the realities and representations of rqual rpportunities in Britain and France
European Journal of Social Policy
In this paper, we will explore how contrasting national discourses relating to women, and gender equality have been incorporated into and reflected in national policies. In the first section, we will outline the recent history of EU equal opportunities policy, in which positive action has been replaced by a policy of 'mainstreaming'. Second, we will describe the evolution of policies towards women and equal opportunities in Britain and France. It will be argued that whereas some degree of positive action for women has been accepted in Britain, this policy is somewhat alien to French thinking about equality - although pro-natalist French policies have resulted in favourable conditions for employed mothers in France. In the third section, we will present some attitudinal evidence, drawn from national surveys, which would appear to reflect the national policy differences we have identified in respect of the 'equality agenda'. In the fourth section, we will draw upon biographical interviews carried out with men and women in British and French banks in order to illustrate the impact of these cross-national differences within organizations and on individual lives. We demonstrate that positive action gender equality policies have made an important impact in British banks, while overt gender exclusionary practices still persist in the French banks studied. In the conclusion, we reflect on the European policy implications of our findings.
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