So many people talk about the gender pay gap, but it’s really difficult to get a clear picture of why women are paid less in comparison to men. It’s also not clear why, for example, if one man and one woman are both nurses, they get paid a different amount of money each year. Sometimes living on Earth is very weird.
I thought I’d put together a short, tangible and personally profitable guide to why this happens, with some links to trustworthy resources and reports. Hold on to your seatbelts:
- That’s where women get paid less than men for doing exactly the same job, with the same job description, at the same company. It’s actually illegal and employees can challenge this through the legal system (you can find out more about doing this via the Citizens Advice Bureau)
- There’s evidence that proves this really happens. A study in the US found that, for example, a female software developer earns 4% less per year than a male software developer. This doesn’t just relate to certain careers either, the research found that a female nurse earns 2% less than a male nurse per year
- This could be due to an employer simply discriminating against gender. In the famous Betty Dukes vs. Walmart case many agreed with her claims that she had no chance of or opportunity for promotion in comparison to her male counterparts. Sadly Dukes didn’t get anywhere because the case was ‘too big’ and ‘wishy washy’. This wasn’t a Dagenham-style case with one key issue – inequality of pay – but a complex case with numerous claims that the justice system simply couldn’t handle
- It’s also not just about immediate pay, but pay over a lifetime. A woman may be paid less because men are in work for a longer period of time (they may not leave work to look after children or take long maternity leave) and therefore would earn more in their lifetime.
- Sadly as we live in a world of stereotype and cultural conditioning, women and men typically gravitate towards different kinds of careers. Men may favour engineering, a job in the army, or an IT job, while women might be beauticians, nurses or teachers. Rather than relying on stereotypes though, we can focus on people like famous engineer Sandi Rhys Jones OBE, Serena Williams, or Fields Medal for mathematics winner Maryam Mirzakhani. Why were we never taught about mathematicians Emmy Noether or Sophie Germain in school, rather than Stephen Hawking and Isambard Kingdom Brunel?
- The careers that women fulfil are often low paid and low valued, and as the European Commission states, this is the case because more value can be attached to responsibility for capital than to responsibility for people. No shit. We see this when social workers – those who are paid to protect children from abusive environments – or nurses – who care for the terminally ill – are underpaid and undervalued when engineers working for private companies are cherished with high salaries and glittering pension and benefit packages.
‘Down to choice’
- Critics of the gender pay gap will say that as women choose their occupations and choose to have children, it’s difficult to create policies that will encourage employers to close the gap
- That’s where the difficulty lies, legal cases can be cited as ‘wishy washy’ because there is a lot of choice involved in not asking for more money at work and having a baby
- However just because a woman may choose a lower paid or undervalued role, this doesn’t mean that she should be paid less than a man doing the same job. It also doesn’t mean that women should be worse off because they are likely to have children
- Closing the gap can be done and as the OECD shows countries such as New Zealand, Spain and Norway have nearly achieved this.
- Although I hate to propel the evil rumour that women are less likely to ask for a pay rise (it’s offensive to brand all women with the ‘too nice’ stamp) women, as well as men, should be more proactive in regards to asking for a higher salary, a promotion, or other benefits
- Research published by YouGov in 2013 has found that from a sample of 971 women who work full or part time, a minority of women (39%) say they would probably ask for a promotion or pay rise if they thought they deserved it, compared to a majority (52%) of men who say they would
- Researchers in the US have found, however, that when employers mention that a salary is negotiable, women are more likely to haggle than men. When a salary is stated as non-negotiable, men are more likely to push the boundaries
- Why are women afraid to challenge the system?
How can the gender gap be challenged?
- In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 section 13 makes direct discrimination illegal and you can use this to challenge your employer
- Taking Norway as an example, in 1993 a federally-regulated paternity leave quota was introduced, with a special 10-week quota allotted for fathers that could not be transferred to mothers. This encouraged huge shifts in attitudes from employers and the public towards gender roles and child-rearing. If you share out maternity and paternity leave, this means that women may not have to give up their careers, take more time out from work and therefore earn less money compared to men over their lifetime. Men will also feel more comfortable will taking paternity leave if it cannot be transferred to mothers, as maternity leave will not be at risk, prompting a shift in attitudes and behaviours
- You could get rid of pay negotiations altogether, like interim CEO of Reddit Ellen Pao. This is controversial however, as pay negotiations, when approached by women, can be successful. Why would you get rid of one mechanism for flexibility?
- We should challenge the stereotypes that stop women from entering certain careers and celebrate women who succeed in varied careers, from finance to maths to teaching
- Earlier this month David Cameron outlined plans to increase the national living wage, which would ensure that women in those underpaid and undervalued roles are paid more. He also claims that companies with more than 250 employees will have to publish their pay gap (I can imagine a lot of resistance to this from big business!)
- The pay gap can be immediately challenged if individuals have more open conversations between colleagues about salaries (don’t be shy – remember this isn’t against the law).
Hope this is helpful and has answered a few questions!
If you’d like to read more or campaign about the gender pay gap, visit The Fawcett Society’s website.