Paula Scholes

The third female president of the PSA, Paula Scholes, has spent most of her life in Christchurch, working firstly for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and subsequently for the crown research institute Environmental Science & Research.

The third female president of the PSA, Paula Scholes, has spent most of her life in Christchurch, working firstly for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and subsequently for the crown research institute Environmental Science & Research.  
Like the rest of her generation she joined the PSA the day she started work. Naturally outspoken, she was successively encouraged to be a delegate, to represent workers on the science committee, then to accept the nomination for President. She was president from 2010 to 2012.


“Why are women not well represented within PSA structures? As a scientist, I’d like to get to the bottom of this. Until you drill down to the reasons, you can’t do anything about it.
My suspicion is that women prioritise community and family over union involvement. Certainly I have never felt hindered in my trajectory within the PSA. It’s not a brutal environment and other women have indicated that there aren’t barriers in terms of their gender. It’s just that the general expectations of family and society weigh heavily on them...
There are lots of women at the delegate level in the PSA, but the further up you go, the fewer there are, even though more than 60 per cent of the membership is now female. And of course the modern pressure for productivity and efficiency is a pressure on all workers and hinders union involvement.


If we look back to the 1980s, there was a strong move to get women into the PSA, but it went hand-in-hand with a big Government push. There were Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officers and positive discrimination. I recall going on a course on career development for women in the DSIR, but there’s been nothing like that since. The Government saw itself as a leader, a model to progress things for women with flow-on into the private sector.
But the corporate government agenda now prioritises economic efficiencies above any wider social agenda. And it’s almost like we’re in a post-feminist era – ‘That feminist stuff, that was the ‘80s, we’ve moved on from there.’ When actually we’ve moved backwards.”

The State and the Union - An Oral History of the PSA from 1984 to 2012, by Mary Ellen O'Connor.

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