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Does anyone care about the gender wage gap?

Written By: - Date published: 3:22 pm, July 29th, 2008 - 38 comments
Categories: International, wages, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

I recently caught a story on the radio about the gender wage gap of new graduates – and in the failed search to locate it came across some other related stories. As we head into an election campaign with political parties offering up their solutions for the future I had to ask myself – does anyone still care about the gender wage gap?

How it was
The Guardian writes that forty years ago, a group of women sewing machinists at the Ford Motor Company plant in Dagenham saw red. They discovered that men who were doing the same work as them – making the car seats for Cortinas and Zephyrs – were being paid 15 per cent more.

Where we’re at now
The latest Statistics NZ analysis of 2006 Census education and training data has confirmed the pay gap between men and women still exists, with the median personal income of men higher than that of women at all levels of education. The Herald reported:

Women in Technology founder Carol Lee Andersen told the Herald she heard of the pay differential often but believed it was getting better. A director of three human resources companies, she said men tended to be better than women at negotiating conditions.

“We are trying to educate people on being really clear about what they are asking for and, when they go to reviews, be prepared,” she said.

So because women aren’t as confident/prepared/stroppy they get a dent in their pay packet? I know there will be those who say it’s about individuals’ performance, that talking about gender inequality is past its use-by date. But this presentation [caution, linked PowerPoint] by EEO Commissioner Judy McGregor (May 2008) is a clear indication that there is an issue to address.

There are only three women in the top 50 police officers (by rank), 60 of the top 100 companies (NZSX) have no women on their boards, and there are only a few women partners in top law firms (now 16.8%).

Why would you care? Surely it’s just a matter of them doing the work, what it takes to get the job? Well I think it does matter. Not only do I want my daughters to be able to embrace opportunity and not have it predetermined by their gender, I want our world to benefit from including the experiences and perspectives of the female half of the population. Call me an idealist – but I want whichever parties make up the next government to care as well. So bring on the policy – and not just a one pager full of white space!

38 comments on “Does anyone care about the gender wage gap?”

  1. BeShakey 1

    Of course you do risk falling to the traditional right wing problem of measuring everything by economic/financial performance. Like it or not, women are the ones who have babies, which will take a big hit on their career prospects. The key things from my perspective is ensuring opportunties are avaialable, and taking a more well-rounded look at whether women are suceeding or not.

  2. Higherstandard 2

    At the risk of getting absolutely slated I think we have enough female centric assistance in the education system to the extent that young males have for sometime been dropping behind.

    Where and when there is an issue it should be addressed in those occupations, industries and professions where women are earning less than their male counterparts for the same work.

  3. Joker 3

    If you want to see a good (and truly hilarious) argument for why woman shouldn’t earn as much as men then you should have a look at this Woman know your limits

  4. Blar 4

    No

    Captcha: bring $5,926,543,825

    Hmm.

  5. Higherstandard 5

    sometime should be some time grrrrrr

    captcha Mayor pleases (himself ?)

  6. Joker 6

    That link didnt work so here is the long one

  7. It’s times like this it really does become clear the righties are a bunch of conservative, straight, pakeha males who are quite happy in their privilege, and damn anyone who complains about it.

  8. Joker 8

    “It’s times like this it really does become clear the righties are a bunch of conservative, straight, pakeha males who are quite happy in their privilege, and damn anyone who complains about it.”

    Has it taken you this long to work this out Steve?

    Though of course there are times when it becomes clear that lefties are a bunch of gays and lesbians happy suckling on the tit of the state, and damn anyone who complains about it.

    Generalisations rock..

  9. Ah yes Steve – and the funny thing is none of them can understand why they can’t get a girlfriend…

  10. BeShakey 10

    Steve – disagreeing with HS is one thing, but at least he made a substantive response. The current stereotype of the left is that they attack the person when they don’t have a response to the argument. It’d be nice to not play into that one too much.

  11. beShakey. Fair enough

  12. Higherstandard 12

    Sod

    The reason that most of them can’t get a girlfriend is that they’re married and the wife would not be likely to approve.

    SP

    If you take the position that righties and the “right’s” support only comes from “conservative, straight, pakeha males who are quite happy in their privilege”

    Guess this means that lefties and the “left’s” support only comes from “liberal, homosexual, non-pakeha women who are quite happy in their deprivation”

  13. HS – you old conservative you.

  14. Higherstandard 14

    Less of the old thank you .. where’s Billy have you locked him away somewhere ?

  15. Quoth the Raven 15

    I hope Joker realises that’s satire (with a tory you’ve got to wonder) like these: 1 2

  16. Ben R 16

    Interview with Susan Pinker about why on average women earn less:

    “Q: Why do women often end up in lower-paying careers than men, even if their intellectual potential is equivalent? You found that 1 in 3 women with MBAs, for example, choose not to work full-time. (This is compared with 1 in 20 men.) Why is this?

    A: There is more than one reason for this preference, including the fact that many studies show that the majority of women value flexibility, autonomy and a job with a social purpose above earning the highest salary or scoring the highest status position.

    Surveys indicate that women, and especially highly educated women, are more likely to be motivated by a job’s intrinsic purpose than by extrinsic rewards. This is one reason why most of the nonprofit and even the volunteer health work force is female (the figures are 75 percent and 90 percent, respectively). In addition, women often opt in and out of the work force, or work part-time when their children are young. Due to this scattershot, less single-minded approach, their overall earnings take a hit.

    Having different career goals, on average, is a negative if the only lens is the total amount of money earned at the end of the day. But when one looks at other factors, such as women’s physical and mental health and their social networks, all of which affect their longevity and happiness, according to the latest research, the picture is a lot rosier. The majority of women have multiple goals in life, and don’t just set out to snag the biggest monetary prize when they plan their careers…

    Other disadvantages for women in the workplace persist due to a reluctance to acknowledge that fundamental sex differences exist. For example, it’s well-known that women negotiate differently, and are likely to ask for less money than men do in salary discussions. By turning a blind eye to such sex differences and treating women as if they were men, unfair pay inequities persist….

    In addition, dedicated maternity leave is not often guaranteed in the American workplace. Where it is, women have just a few weeks off before they must return to work. Countries that don’t offer women time off to have babies, to nurse them and get to know them during that first vulnerable six to nine months after a baby is born, are likely to find a significant number of women quitting their jobs during the postpartum period.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23558979/

  17. Ben R 17

    Interview with Susan Pinker on why women, on average, earn less:

    “A: There is more than one reason for this preference, including the fact that many studies show that the majority of women value flexibility, autonomy and a job with a social purpose above earning the highest salary or scoring the highest status position.

    Surveys indicate that women, and especially highly educated women, are more likely to be motivated by a job’s intrinsic purpose than by extrinsic rewards. This is one reason why most of the nonprofit and even the volunteer health work force is female (the figures are 75 percent and 90 percent, respectively). In addition, women often opt in and out of the work force, or work part-time when their children are young. Due to this scattershot, less single-minded approach, their overall earnings take a hit….

    Having different career goals, on average, is a negative if the only lens is the total amount of money earned at the end of the day. But when one looks at other factors, such as women’s physical and mental health and their social networks, all of which affect their longevity and happiness, according to the latest research, the picture is a lot rosier. The majority of women have multiple goals in life, and don’t just set out to snag the biggest monetary prize when they plan their careers.

    Other disadvantages for women in the workplace persist due to a reluctance to acknowledge that fundamental sex differences exist. For example, it’s well-known that women negotiate differently, and are likely to ask for less money than men do in salary discussions. By turning a blind eye to such sex differences and treating women as if they were men, unfair pay inequities persist…

    Most women are not interested in working 12- to 14-hour days after their babies are born. Yet this is the model that is most highly rewarded in many workplaces, especially at the upper echelons. There is also the expectation that employees — male or female — will relocate at will or travel frequently, regardless of their responsibilities to their families, or their desire to spend time with them.”

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/23558979/

    [lprent: Cannot figure out why akismet (the spam trap) thinks you’re dangerous – it keeps popping you in with the gambling links. I’ll keep looking. ]

  18. RedLogix 18

    So if an employer faced with a choice between a man and a woman who could do a job equally well, but could employ the woman to do the job for 15% less; then why do any men have a job?

  19. Anita 19

    HS,

    At the risk of getting absolutely slated I think we have enough female centric assistance in the education system […]

    Where and when there is an issue it should be addressed in those occupations, industries and professions where women are earning less than their male counterparts for the same work.

    I think that, once upon a time, there was an optimistic view that if the gender disparities in educational participation and outcomes were resolved the pay gap would naturally follow.

    What we have found is that even tho women’s educational outcomes have improved somewhat it hasn’t flowed through to pay equity. So yes, we now have to deal with the issue directly with employers.

    Incidentally there are three sets of discriminatory practices in play, and we need to address all of them:

    1) Paying a woman less than a man for the same job.

    2) Paying female-dominated professions less than equivalent-skilled male-dominated professions.

    3) Valuing (and therefore paying for) the kinds of life skills women are more likely to have than those men are more likely to have.

    Any thoughts as to how we should be addressing these directly with industries, occupations and professions?

  20. RedLogix 20

    1) Paying a woman less than a man for the same job.

    Could be reconstructed as stating that women are more price competitive in the job marketplace. My question above still applies.

    2) Paying female-dominated professions less than equivalent-skilled male-dominated professions.

    Kind of begs the question of why we pay ANY equivalently skilled professions differently… regardless of gender.

    3) Valuing (and therefore paying for) the kinds of life skills women are more likely to have than those men are more likely to have.

    And if those life skills are so much more valuable, in terms of measurable productive outcomes, then surely they would attract greater pay.

    Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve never worked in a job, nor would I accept any position, where there were equivalently skilled and productive female employees alongside me being paid substantially less… but the way in which this issue being framed here raises some challenges in my mind.

  21. 1) Paying a woman less than a man for the same job.

    Isn’t that illegal now anyway?

    2) Paying female-dominated professions less than equivalent-skilled male-dominated professions.

    That one’s a dead duck, and good so. Consider: I’m a librarian. We’re about as skilled and well-educated as IT professionals, but get paid way less. And that’s exactly as it should be. If all my organisation’s librarians quit at once, it would be inconvenient – if all our IT professionals quit at once, the organisation would cease to function within hours. That shit is worth money. Equivalent-skilled doesn’t mean equivalent-value.

    3) Valuing (and therefore paying for) the kinds of life skills women are more likely to have than those men are more likely to have.

    Feel free to do that with your money. But is there some way in which it would be less discriminatory than the practices you take issue with?

  22. Julie 22

    I can’t help reading this post, and the comment thread, and reflecting on the work that collective bargaining (i.e. unionism) does to lower the wage gap between the genders. It ensures that there is no discrimination (and for all those of you who reckon there isn’t anymore, my observation is that in some places where individual’s pay rates are secret it does still exist) and when a new agreement is bargained there is often a focus from the union side on industry-wide standards around pay, eg the bargaining the SFWU has been doing in the cleaning sector in recent years.

    As for paying female-dominated professions at the same level as equivalent male-dominated professions, to me one of the best examples of this is within the education sector. This is likely to be a controversial point, but if an early childhood teacher has the same qualifications and experience as a university lecturer is it inconceivable that they might be paid similar amounts? (this is entirely a personal opinion, not reflective of the union I work for when I’m not on maternity leave).

    And RedLogix, your argument that employers would never hire men if they cost more to employ is clearly debunked by the very statistics this whole post is about. Quite apart from the fact that there are other reasons, beyond pay, that employers might discriminate against appointing women, in particular that they may be unwilling to take on women with children as they know they are more likely to take extra sick leave to care for them, or women who clearly haven’t finished having kids, because they are more likely to want to take maternity leave, how annoying.

    I tend to think (and this is not based on any research that I’m aware of) that women probably start out on similar pay rates to men, when they are first appointed, but they are less likely to get pay rises over time. Partly because they are less likely to ask for them.

    Which brings me back around to the benefits of collective bargaining – then you don’t have to ask for a pay rise on your own!

  23. Anita 23

    Julie,

    Does collective bargaining really prevent gender pay gaps?

    The pay gaps starts when the employees are first hired and continues with each performance based increase. In both cases the bracket is subject to collective bargaining (e.g. a call centre operator is paid $32,789 to $36,456, performance increases are $0-$1,500) but the placement in the bracket is individually negotiated.

    Some unions bargain for EEO practices to try to manage performance increases (e.g. observation or moderation processes and then analysis split by gender, ethnicity etc to look for bias), but they don’t directly address gender-based pay inequity.

    Similarly unions will bargain for analysis of overall pay distributions, but again it’s not direct.

    I don’t mean to say I don’t think unions are valuable (clearly I hink they are), but that gender pay equity is not easily addressed by collective bargaining.

  24. RedLogix 24

    And RedLogix, your argument that employers would never hire men if they cost more to employ is clearly debunked by the very statistics this whole post is about.

    At first glance yes, but the problem is that the statistics ‘gender wage equity issue’ is based on, are a result derived from the job market as a whole aggregated over a many different skills roles and markets… whereas my argument is much more focussed; it considers just one employer, one job and two equally qualified applicants.

    I fully and unreseverdly believe that if a man and a woman are equally able to do a job, and equally productive at it, then they should be equally paid. But if women were systematically accepting lower pay FOR THE SAME JOB AND ABILITY, then why would ANY employer hire men when they could get an equally productive women to do it for less?

    Yet the reality is that men are still routinely employed… so there is more going on here than meets the eye.

  25. vto 25

    Forgive my flippancy, but I see a day in the not too distant future where gender discrimination in the workplace is reversed. As it is (and has been increasing) in various other of society’s sectors. Example, education sector will follow through into workplace sector.

    It is the age of aquarius after all.

  26. fiona 26

    Julie, I suspect that mothers may be perceived as being more likely to take sick leave, but I don’t know if that is actually the case. Purely anecdotally, at my work place, it is the ’20 somethings’ who seem to take heaps of sick leave, not the parents.

    The time women take out of the work force caring for children must surely account for some of the difference in median wage between women and men.

    My personal experience is that the disadvantage I have suffered because I have taken time out of the workforce to care for my children, both financially and also in terms of employability, has been huge. Gender is surely not just a matter of what ‘sex’ you are. I have little in common with childless women, and probably have more in common with men who are fathers.

  27. Anita 27

    Let’s say I’m hiring staff for a helpdesk each person I decide to hire has to be placed within a $5k-wide initial band. To determine where to place them I use any particular skills they have, any relevant experience from other roles, their general level of experience. I don’t take gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity into account; I know none of those things actually make a difference to how well they’ll do their job.

    Some women get the top of the range, some the bottom; same with men.

    But if we aggregate the numbers up…
    on average women start on $2k less than men,
    on average PI start $2k lower than Pakeha,
    on average Maori start $1k lower than Pakeha.

    Why?

  28. RedLogix 28

    Anita,

    If for the purpose of the discussion accept your scenario, then I’m equally puzzled as to why our call center employer is wasting money paying for white males, when he could get equally productive PI women to do the job for less.

  29. Anita 29

    RL,

    Because I’m getting the best staff I can and I’m paying them what they are worth. All of them meet my criteria, it’s bloody hard to find and keep good helpdesk staff, the ones who are worth a couple of $k extra get paid it because they’re worth it and I don’t want to lose them.

    I don’t think PI women are worth less, or worse at the job. It just so happens that, on average, the ones who show up for interviews are a bit more junior than the average Pakeha man who shows up.

  30. fiona 30

    And if the PI woman is a bit more junior, it’s probably because it took her longer to get the job in the first place and she’s had time out caring for her children.

  31. Julie 31

    fiona, I agree about the perception that mothers take more sick leave, and agree that it may not reflect the reality. Hard to shift that perception though. I’m reminded of the bit in that book I Don’t Know How She Does It where the main character is constantly berated for “womanly” reasons for being late or taking leave (eg sick child) whereas when a father announces at a meeting that he has to leave early to attend a child’s sporting event everyone treats him like he’s the father of the year.

    In the office I work in I will be the only mother of a young child, when I return to work in a couple of months. The rest of the women either have no children or children who are high school age or older. However there are a number of fathers with young kids – and in each case I have seen them take sick leave to care for their children, BUT the mother is the first port of call, and in some cases she is currently at home or works part time due to childcare. For me the situation will be reversed – when I go back to work my son’s father is taking six months off to stay home. So I hope to not have to take any extra sick leave, fingers crossed!

    Of course just looking at the time off women take to care for children (and indeed other adults, eg aging parents, sick spouses) as a negative ignores the fact that there are skills acquired and used in doing that – it is not an activity with no value imho.

    Anita, in terms of the value of collective bargaining in preventing/diminishing pay gaps between genders, I think one of the key advantages is the transparency. I guess I’m thinking more of agreements where steps have one value, as the CEA I’m on does, rather than a range of values, and where your placement on the step is directly related to your role, your experience and your qualifications (actually that doesn’t play a role in my CEA, but it does in most of the CEAs I work with for members). These can’t be treated differently based on gender, and in some cases unions have been successful in bargaining specific provisions which seek to balance out the disadvantages women face. Eg in many of the teacher CEAs there is a provision for service credit for years away from work caring for a child under 5, in recognition of the skills gained through that activity, and as an incentive for teachers who take time off to raise children to come back to work.

    Interesting discussion, and I’m glad we are having it, despite some earlier silliness on this thread.

  32. Anita 32

    [I should say that I have managed Helpdesks, my gender and ethnicity stats never looked like that, but that was a common pattern]

    The question becomes why the hirer thinks that female candidates are, on average, more junior that Pakeha male candidates.

    The two factors I’m particularly fond of are:

    1) Assessment of experience is partly based on perceived confidence – a right answer and being sure it’s right. New Zealand women tend to use both sentence patterns and intonation patterns that can be interpreted as being less sure (e.g. going up at the end of the sentence). Women appeared less certain and therefore less experienced.

    2) When asked a “tell me about a time you solved a complex technical problem” question women will, more often than men, talk about a time when they were part of a group who solved a problem. Men are more likely to tell a story of solving a problem alone. A solved-it-alone story can sound more experienced – it sounds like you can stand on your own two feet. Women are demonstrating that they can be part of an effective team (a good thing); but in the part of the interview intended to show of individual capability it can sound like they’re junior and rely on colleagues.

    The problem is that both of those (very real – there are studies and everything 🙂 can lead to a good and well-meaning employer regularly judging women to be subtly less experienced that equivalent men. So they get paid subtly less.

  33. RedLogix 33

    So if we go with the simple explanation around childrearing, how could this be addressed?

    We can’t change the fact that it is women who have babies.

    We don’t want to change the fact that mothers are prime caregivers for young infants, and should continue to have the option to take maternity leave from their careers.

    We could even up the odds somewhat by requiring males to take equivalent paternity leave from their careers, thereby giving both males and females an equal handicap from the employers point of view. (Although of course this now tilts the odds in favour of older workers and and other groups perceived be less likely to have young children.)

    And how would we change the fact that on average women are more likely to turn down opportunities for promotion because they exercise their personal choice to put their families ahead of their career.

  34. RedLogix 34

    Anita,

    I cannot resist noting here, but when women are judging men as potential partners, among many other things they are always drawn to men who display confidence.

    As a matter of Darwinian survival most young men get quite good at faking it for short periods of time. (Long enough for a job interview.)

  35. fiona 35

    Anita, those perceptions don’t just lead to lower wages, they also contribute to higher unemployment rates for those groups. We may have low unemployment, but some groups of people (eg maori, PI, youth) still struggle to find a job (or earth mothers like me who took too long out of the work force !!!!).

  36. Anita 36

    RL,

    Yes, absolutely. There are heaps of circumstances in which we reward men for displaying confidence and the ability to go it alone. And plenty where we reward women for being a part of a group rather than standing out on her own.

    The problem is that we then financial reward displays of confidence in job interviews, promotions and pay reviews. So we have managed to construct a system where, by everyone doing what we’ve taught them to do, we’ll pay men more than women.

    It’s not an easy fix, eh 🙁

    PI people are in a similar bind; for many they have eye contact rules at home which are very disadvantaging when in the workplace, court, police station… .

  37. Anita 37

    The comments above about expectations that women will take more sick leave reminded me of some Iris Marion Young wrote in Unruly Categories

    Ought feminists to affirm gender blindness in the policies of employers, for example, in the allocation of health benefits, leave, promotion criteria, and working hours? Or should they demand that employers explicitly take into account the position of many women as primary caretakers of children or elderly relatives in deliberations about just allocations? Opting for the latter strategy risks solidifying a sexual division of labour that most feminists agree is unjust and ought to be eliminated. Opting for the former, however, allows employers to continue privileging men under the banner of equality.

  38. RedLogix 38

    So we have managed to construct a system where, by everyone doing what we’ve taught them to do, we’ll pay men more than women.

    Exactly. That’s nicely put.

    The way I see it males and females ON AVERAGE behave differently in their careers.

    1. Young men in particular are more competitive and less risk averse, being more likely to be attracted to say sales and marketing for instance, over HR and Accounts… roles that are fundamentally more highly paid regardless of gender.

    2. Men are more likely to accept dirty dangerous work. Not too many female sewerage plant workers out there, nor too many female powerline workers.

    3. Males are often better at the type of technical role that rewards obsessive focus, such as found in engineering and IT.

    4. Men will put career ahead of family because they often make the often valid calculation that their female partner values their financial contribution to the family above all else.

    I still absolutely insist on equal pay for the same job, but I suggest that the modern statistics showing a persistent gender wage gap, comes about largely because the genders behave in different ways and the value employers place on those behaviours… than on the particular set of genitals an employee has attached.

    And I don’t know if we could, or even should change that.

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  • Speech at opening of Nadi Women’s Crisis Centre
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  • Speech to University of the South Pacific students
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  • Minister champions more Pacific in STEM – Toloa Awards
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