Boobies and Low Pay

17 Sep

I’ve been quiet for a while, and I am yet to write all sorts of exciting things about my new little man, but I have to get this off my chest. Badum-tsh. As a former wannabe-actuary, I am being driven slowly insane by the bad stats that are bandied around by “feminists” regarding the gender pay gap. “Women are paid less than men! That is just so unfair!”, they bleat, seeming to miss entirely the complexity of the issue. These are the factors that I think need to be considered before we start being outraged at simply comparing the average woman’s salary with the average man’s.

1. Are we comparing like with like, part 1.

According to the BBC, one in five women in the UK will not have children. We can therefore reasonably assume that four in five will have at least one child. According to Payroll World, the average length of maternity leave taken is nine months. According to this study, female junior executives are paid marginally more than their male counterparts.

Employing logic, this really looks like women are paid just as well as men, up until the point that they elect to take a nine-month career break. However you dress it up, there is no way that it can be considered fair that two identical candidates, one of whom has worked only ten days in nine months and the other who has worked the whole time, should be paid the same amount.

2. Are we comparing like with like, Part 2

Equality in the household is still developing. The majority of senior staff in any given company will have started their careers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the majority of women were expected to remain in the home. It doesn’t matter that the feminist movement was booming then – we, as intelligent human beings, know that attitudes take a long time to filter down. I don’t even feel that my own generation will have an equal split of men and women even considering going into the same industries, but it is certainly improving. We cannot place full weight on the statistics when we are still dealing with the remnants of inequalities of the past.

3. Type of work

Culturally-speaking, women appear more frequently in caring and creative professions, and those that involve less-marketable skill, while men feature more in managerial roles, or professions that involve physical strength or ongoing training. While I agree that there is still the stinky attitude that certain things are “women’s work”, there are plenty of valid reasons why such roles would be paid less that aren’t anything to do with misogyny. Demand and supply is a key reason – examples from nursing and childcare to hair and beauty are often kept low because they need to be affordable to many people in order for the industries to have any success. Cleaning and office administration work require a more readily-available skill set, and so will be lower-paid as there are more people vying for the same role. I’m not saying for a second that this is a good thing, but trying to pretend that it’s not the case is unhelpful.

Once we get past the reasons why the blind statements of the statistics bother me so much, we need to consider what’s actually useful. Whingeing about patriarchal society and glass ceilings is utterly pointless, and just makes the feminist position laughable. Enforcing quotas of women in certain roles is an ugly situation that will cause nothing but resentment and damage to the feminist cause. Breaking down the barriers themselves is what’s important, so here’s my “if I ruled the world” list, equal pay edition.

1. Increased flexibility in the workplace

Regardless of gender and parental status, working hours and locations need to be more flexible, insofar as the job itself allows. The number one argument I hear against this seems to relate to trust, but to employ someone whom you think will slack off if left to their own devices seems like pretty foolish business practice in the first place. Obviously some roles and industries require people to be in a certain place at a certain time, but building in whatever flexibility available is essential.

2. Equal sabbatical opportunities

Time off spent doing something productive is exceptionally valuable to human development, and potentially to an employer as well. The idea of opening up the opportunity to everyone to have periods of up to a year off with a guaranteed job at the end is not as far-fetched as you might think. This is exactly what was offered during the height of the recession to staff at large accountancy firms. It certainly makes sense in business terms, and would certainly make things fairer for those who cannot or chose not to have children.

3. Social expectations

When Ed Miliband’s son was born last year, the ridiculous notion that “real men don’t take paternity leave” was debated on Radio 4. I’ve already mentioned the types of jobs that men and women tend to lean towards, and that’s something else that needs to be changed. The way to do that is not through the aforementioned complaining and foot-stomping, nor is it by quotas, but, at the risk of sounding twee, by open dialogue amongst men and women, and by helping people become confident and knowledgeable enough to go after what they want from an early age – whether it’s a man who wants to be the primary caregiver or a woman who wants to manage the England football team through their next World Cup victory.

In conclusion, the way to level the playing field is to identify the actual issues, and level the playing field.

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2 Responses to “Boobies and Low Pay”

  1. greekmelie September 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Overall, I agree with you. However, I think that women get a lower entry-level salary than men, the first time they join the work force. I have seen a study somewhere, but I have also seen this behavior in my friends that have graduated and gotten a job. I believe that this has to do both with social behaviors and the point you make in paragraph 2.

    Women are expected for one reason or another to be less assertive and argumentative and they end negotiating less for first salaries and benefits. I have seen that in my friends and I know that almost all the women had an as much as 10-15 thousand dollars less as an entry level engineers with a graduate degree. Most of them because they accepted the first offer and didn’t negotiate. Could they have done otherwise? Probably… My male friends did and they gained something. But also for worse or worse women are not judged the same way as men do. What was considered as confidence in the men, might have been considered as a disadvantage in women and they might have never actually gotten the job. I have no idea and we’ll never learn until we try…

    I don’t disagree with the point you make for maternity leave. If you leave your job for such a long time, it is illogical to expect that you haven’t lost momentum during that period of time. After that, salaries could and maybe should be adjusted accordingly. But get a lower salary to begin with, given that expectation is totally unfair to me. Yes, 4 out of 5 women might do that, but what about the other 20%? This is not such a low percentage to me..

    However, I do think that enforcement of ratio or percentage in jobs is actually hurting the end goal. In my eyes, it perpetuates the concept that women are less capable and the only reason they get the job is because there are such laws. I believe there should be incentives for the women, and the competent ones if I had to choose, to apply for the jobs. More often than not, if they are suitable they would be hired. And if there is a 50%-50% percent of male and female candidate, in the long run the hiring percentage will stabilize. I refuse to believe that many HR would hire an incompetent man over a competent woman.

    Finally, the “argument” I have read here and there and find totally ridiculous is that women work more in non-paid jobs, housework kids etc. and this should be taken into consideration. Well, I agree that social norms are kind of slow to follow the work patterns but what does this have to do in your professional environment? Why should a company pay you for something you do outside of the working environment? I agree with you that somehow equal responsibilities and social expectations should become reality, sooner rather than later, so that women are less distracted and scattered in their professional life instead of acknowledging the fact and make it “right” somehow…

    Sorry! Told you it would be a blanket-size comment. Have I said how much I enjoy your posts? 🙂

    • Becca September 19, 2011 at 8:22 am #

      Thanks, Melie! That’s particularly interesting about some women being less likely to negotiate during the interview process. It’s yet another thing that needs to be addressed at an earlier age – the confidence to know that you deserve to be paid well. Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually a boy…

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