Monday, 23 April 2018

Gender pay gap

Are women worth less than men?

All companies with more than 250 employees had to report what they pay men and women this month. The figures show that eight out of ten organisations of this size in the UK have a gender pay gap. I still haven't decided if this is just depressing, or if making the information so public is a sign of change. 

What the numbers mean

This means that women are generally paid less than women, but the figures highlight where the biggest inequalities lie, both in terms of sectors and companies. It isn’t about paying men and women different amount of money for doing the same job – that’s illegal. What it is about is that if you're a woman in all probability you take home less money than most of the men you know. It's not that your employer is paying you less than the men, but it could be that it's harder for you to get to the top-paying jobs. 

The Guardian explains the data in more detail, describing it as ‘a blunt tool’. The figures are good at giving a sense of the kind of pay gap between men and women, and how that is expressed across different organisations. But you can’t use them to say that any one individual is being paid less than they should be because of their gender.

The Guardian also has a fun game: 'When does your company stop paying women in 2018?' It's used the figures to convert the gender pay gap into the number of days women effectively work for free. You can type in the name of your company and it will tell you from what date in the year you stop getting paid. It's funny now, in April. Come the fag end of the year, when most of us are effectively working unpaid in comparison to the men we know, I expect it will be more depressing. Did I say fun?

Photo by Hamza Butt via Flickr Creative Commons

The figures are across men and women in all roles. That means if a company only has men at senior level then it will come out as having a big gender pay gap. A small number of companies have a gender pay gap in favour of women - usually because they have more women than men in the top jobs.

Working out what we're worth

The landscape of work is vastly complex. It’s hard to work out whether I am paid less than a man for doing my job, because nobody else does my job. And there are millions of people out there like me, who work in companies that employ a single person to do a unique job. Comparing these jobs to each other is hugely difficult. 

Salaries are decided based on lots of factors, including:
  • Geography – where you are in the country
  • What the organisation pays other people at this level  
  • What the sector pays other people doing this or a related job
  • What’s available in the budget
  • How much you asked for (you're supposed to negotiate)
  • Manager’s discretion (including much they want you and how good they think you are)
What reinforces this culture, is that we’re not supposed to talk about how much we earn. A combination of Britishness and contractual obligation prevents us from discussing actual numbers. And it’s in our employers’ interest to keep it this way. So like most other workers in the UK, I have no idea how much the people who sit around me make. They could all be on six figures, or getting half my salary, for all I know and they will think the same of me.

Do people take me less seriously because I’m a woman? Am I supposed to ask for more money at some point? Has my gender pushed me into making career mistakes?

Why in 2018 do women still earn less than men? 

This is the million dollar question (literally). 

Sometimes I'm sure it's about the employers, valuing women less than men and expecting less of us, sometimes it's the employees, lacking confidence to negotiate on salary or go for the top jobs that we're just as capable as men of doing.

But the two biggest reasons that most research throws up are type of job and child-rearing. 

Women predominate in sectors that pay less - care work, teaching, charities, the arts, while men predominate in better paid areas such as finance and engineering.

And women are more likely than men to step back from work when they have children. Whether by going part time or taking time off, or just keeping their career where it is for a while, while our children are young, we're not progressing all that much. At the same time our male peers are continuing to move forward, and so leaving us behind. For this reason men are much less likely to be in jobs for which they're overqualified than women. And while our salaries are stagnating, theirs continue to grow. 

It's not about the money...

For a lot of us, work isn’t entirely about the money. Where I work, it definitely isn’t. I've wondered if I could get paid loads more money using my skills in a job I hated. But what would be the point of that? If I’m going to spend that many hours of my life doing something, I’d rather it was something I enjoyed. If I have enough money to live comfortably – pay the bills, go on holiday and keep myself in lipstick and literature, then I’m pretty happy. I don’t want a massive house and I don’t want to buy loads of unnecessary stuff to fill it.

But where the money does come into it is value. It puts a price on my head and tells me what my company think I’m worth. And so if I’m badly paid, I feel that they don’t value me very much at all – either because they undervalue me, or because I’m really not worth very much.

I would never take or leave a job for the salary. But I have been in a job where the salary was much lower than I'd come to expect for my skills and experience, and I'm sure the lack of financial value placed on my contribution to the company contributed to my overall sense of dissatisfaction. I didn't stay long. 

Where next?

If women are getting paid less than men, our employers are telling us they don’t value us as much as men, and that we’re not worth as much as a man. We need to find the confidence to go for the top jobs, and ask for the top salaries because we know we are worth them. We also need to educate our sons and daughters, teaching them that there is room for them both in the arts, sciences, caring, teaching and financial professions. If we're stuck with pay inequality, there's no reason our daughters should be. 

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