MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 19-Dec-13 11:30:51

The gender pay gap is widening - we need to be asking why

Data from the Office of National Statistics has revealed that the difference between men and women's pay has increased for the first time since 2008.

Here, Mumsnet blogger Head in Book considers why inequality in the workplace is still rife, and questions how much 'choice' women really have when pursuing careers. Do read the blog and tell us what you think on the thread below.

Head in Book

Head in Book

Posted on: Thu 19-Dec-13 11:30:51

(74 comments )

Lead photo

Mind the gap? Women must not resign themselves to this depressing backwards step.

Last week, GM became the largest organisation to date in the USA to name a woman as CEO. The appointment of Mary Barra, in what has to be possibly the archetypal male world of car manufacturing, was some welcome good news, at a time when coverage of women in the workplace can seem dominated by the idea that they represent a “burden” to their employer.

But just two days after the announcement, the Office of National Statistics released its annual report on pay across the UK. The headlines were startling: for the first time since 2008, men and women’s earnings have started to pull further apart, with the gap increasing from 19.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent. The gender pay gap is actually increasing.

The most shocking jump is in the difference in the wages of men and women who work full time. In its analysis of the figures, the TUC says that the gender pay gap was actually 15.7 per cent in 2013, up from 14.8 per cent the year before. On average, therefore, a woman is paid £5,000 less per year than a man.

It’s true that the changing dynamics of part-time work muddy the waters around pay differentials - the ONS data shows the impact of increased part-time working across the board, with the number of people taking reduced hours because they are unable to find a full-time position having reached its highest level since 1992. Nevertheless, it remains the case that average rates of pay are significantly lower for part-time than full-time work, and that the part-time workforce is overwhelmingly female.

“Men are just better at negotiating pay rises”, goes one explanation. Well, yes, perhaps the average alpha male does swagger into his (male) boss's office, fully convinced that he is entitled to a raise. Or, perhaps, many women feel that they have already used up their bargaining chips on requests for part-time or flexible hours to accommodate caring responsibilities.


So what is going on, and what can be done about it? Is it a regrettable but incidental casualty of the country’s economic woes? That the story gained comparatively little coverage in the press would suggest that the media thinks so - but the rest of us can’t afford to take a fatalistic, resigned approach to this depressing and damaging shift.

“Men are just better at negotiating pay rises” goes one explanation. Well, yes, perhaps the average alpha male does swagger into his (male) boss’s office, fully convinced that he is entitled to a raise. Or, perhaps, many women feel that they have already used up their bargaining chips on requests for part-time or flexible hours, or using their holiday at short notice to accommodate caring responsibilities. Perhaps they genuinely have a poorer case to argue for equivalent pay, because they've missed out on experience or training due to time out of the workforce or the workplace.

The fact that childbearing can significantly change a woman’s career path is less of an elephant than a great stinking nappy in the room: impossible to ignore; still needing to be changed. The figures show that men and women in their twenties and thirties earn very nearly the same, so ongoing gender discrimination and occupational segregation - whilst still factors - cannot be the only reasons for the gap.

What stood out for me in the report was a footnote to the huge jump in the gender earnings gap in the over forties:

“This is likely to be connected with the fact that many women have children and the time taken out of the labour market, combined with career choices they make subsequent to this, may impact on their earnings thereafter.”

The aim of the ONS report is to crunch numbers, not reach conclusions, but the words they chose to use - “career choices made subsequent to this” - hint at the insidious impact of the assumptions made in our working culture. “Career choice” suggests a much greater degree of agency in working life after children than many women actually enjoy.

The availability and affordability of childcare; the huge amounts of airtime given to debates on whether employers should give jobs to women of childbearing age; the general assumption that having children – and every decision relating to them which comes afterwards – are exclusively women’s issues. Together, these have a far greater impact on women’s working ‘choices’ than the ONS seems to suggest, as do the other caring responsibilities which fall disproportionately to women.

The TUC have called for all new public sector jobs (oxymoron though that might be) to be made part-time or flexible, so that women don’t have to “trade down”. More widespread disclosure of pay scales - albeit only in larger organisations - is already envisaged under the Equality Act 2010. Full implementation of these measures, together with robust and continued scrutiny, is needed to ensure that this year’s figures are quickly reversed. So, too, however, is a change in the way we talk about and value women’s labour - both in the workplace and outside it.

By Head in Book

Twitter: @headinbook

EBearhug Sat 21-Dec-13 12:54:47

I don't think it's just about parenting, nor being over 40, although that does make probably most of the difference.

In a previous job where I challenged my pay compared to others at a similar or lower level, I was told that it could be a sackable offence to discuss salaries. A couple of years later, when HR were reviewing all salaries, I got a 26% rise to level me up. I had thought I was probably on a lower salary than many of them, but I was shocked the margin was clearly as much as that, which may just express my naivety, but I suspect I am not the only one who is naive about it.

In my current job, I have been rather more active in going for pay rises, and initially was told, "Yes, you do deserve to be on more, but it's not going to happen at the moment." confused I kept bringing it up anyway, on the grounds that that was a rubbish reason for not increasing it, (and was considering putting in an equal pay questionnaire, although it may have been difficult to argue about direct comparators because of our differing skill sets - though I would argue mine mean I should be on slightly more, rather than less.) Anyway, it did mean for a couple of years, I was on higher than average pay rises, and every 6 months (they're normally reviewed annually.)

I'm now confident (partly because my manager dropped a sheet of paper I shouldn't have seen with all our salaries on, and I can read upside down, even when it's only visible for a couple of seconds,) that I'm currently level with my peers in my department - although having been involved in discussions with people in other departments where they're whinging about having to pay higher rate tax... I am certainly not in that position, and yet they're in equivalent roles.

But it's all rumour and hearsay, nothing concrete, and that's one of the problems I've found - I can find out how I'm paid compared with the industry as a whole, going by salaries offered for jobs I've been for (it was a telling moment to me when I was offered a job I wasn't so keen on to say I wouldn't take it for a sum about 25% more than I was currently on - to find they took me seriously and went away to see if they could get HR to agree.) There are also sites like payscale.com - but I don't really know how I compare with most of my current colleagues, because it's all confidential, and there's such a variation in the pay bands (the top and bottom ranges of my current band are about £25K apart.) We have performance related pay and I keep being told I'm only on a performing ranking, despite also being told I am consistently achieving things to a higher and more reliable standard than everyone else in the team - but it seems that still not enough to get leading or a promotion. (Watch this space, I'm still fighting this one.)

The thing is, I don't think my experience is that unusual - there's still so much secrecy around salaries (and I don't think the Equality Act will make that much difference in the private sector), it makes it difficult to know whether you've got a case, and when you know it's likely to be a lot of hassle and upset to argue your case, and you might still not get there, I think many women just aren't prepared to risk everything for an uncertain outcome. And most of the time, no one else is going to do it for you.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Sat 21-Dec-13 14:54:25

LOL at women "sitting" at home "playing with the kids"

There speaks either a childless person or a father who doesn't do his fair share of parenting.

hmm

TheSporkforeatingkyriarchy Sat 21-Dec-13 15:04:21

AskBasil - depends on what you consider mainstream media and progressive journalists, I find there is often a lot in the media discussing how X group is suffering with higher poverty rates/lower social standing because of Y choice/"culture", often ignoring that that is not part of their culture at all and there are far more systematic things at play. The Roma are a perfect EU example of this, the discussion of their sky high poverty rates within the EU are almost always blamed on their "choices and lifestyle", rather than the growing antiziganism both by extreme groups and mainstream political parties, separate incredibly poor education facilities when given education at all, literally walling Roma communities off, governments refusing to update housing which has no running water or electricity (and it is not uncommon to take children away because of this), and the refusal to include Roma within that which affects them (they are having to protest the UN and still not included in Holocaust memorial services and have only ever been included twice), and the only people really calling for fairer media on the issue has been Roma groups. Even the most progressive media outlets gobbled up and spat out the anti-Roma rhetoric that was flying around earlier this year.

My entire original point towards you is that we can call out problems for ourselves without dragging down or dismissing the problems of others - often we don't see them and we're not in a place to be doing so. Saying that if the same happened to another, then it doesn't happen as much or someone would point out the flaws, unlike to us, that is dismissing and dragging down another's struggle as less important and inevitable harms ones own cause as many women will be in those categories as well - being paid even less in this struggle. East Asian women are paid the least on average (and East Asian men are paid far less than White women on average, as are many other groups of men, White ablebodied cismen is who this gap are with, and their use as a standard has problems as well - it would be nice to see the stats the other way around, that they earn X compared to Y's £1, to see their extra rather than everyone else's lack).

NiceTabard Sat 21-Dec-13 18:54:08

EBearhug

A lot of your experience resonates with me.

Also worth pointing out that different industries have different pay differentials. eg mine is very traditional and a few years ago was on the BBC as the industry with the biggest gap at 35% I think it was.

Things that can be done = publishing averages and figures and stuff. If girls KNOW that in industry X women are paid 20% less than the men but in industry Y they are paid much closer to parity, then girls will think to aim for industry Y. i guess career guidance in schools (what there is of it!) should be giving this info as well.

Result over time would be industry X would get a bad press and miss out on loads of female talent and have to pull their socks up.

Ditto publishing average pay for men & women in similar roles in large companies. Company runs the risk of losing a whole bunch of experienced workers as soon as the cat's out of the bag.

At the other end there is the problem with "women's work" being undervalued, people are simply prepared to pay men more. I'm not sure how to change that. I heard it shows in things like teaching and medicine where as more women have gone into the roles, so the salaries have reduced in real terms.

Whole things a bugger really. I bet the men I work with get more than me.

FastLoris Sun 22-Dec-13 00:48:47

And of course women have children on their own, men don't have children do they. Why aren't men taking time out of the labour market? When are government agencies going to look at men's choices? Women make choices from the options they are given, but their choices are dependent on the choices made by the men they live with and by their employers' choices.

What makes you assume that only the man's choice is the salient factor here?

My experience of couples I know has been that when they had children, the woman was extremely keen to take as much time off work as possible and spend as much time bringing up the children as possible. And most of my friends are highly educated people aware of gender issues, who would never have made this choice just through a kneejerk assumption that it must be the woman's role to do that.

FWIW, I say this as a man who DID reduce my hours and do more of the childcare than DW for our two. And for whom it was the best experience of my life. But it just so happens that most couples don't seem to want to arrange it that way.

The pay gap debate is a load of BS. People make choices, and reap the rewards and/or consequences of those choices. Bringing up children is the most rewarding thing I can ever imagine doing - but obviously if you spend less of your life focusing on a career, you'll get less far in it than someone who spends more of their life doing so. Not difficult really.

NiceTabard Sun 22-Dec-13 02:08:59

Christ really?

DH would kill for more time off with the kids, his work won't do part time.

I am enormously happier since I went back full time. I did the whole maternity leave then part-time working mummy bit for a while and was terribly depressed.

The reason most couples make the "choices" they do are because they are steered that way through the woman doing mat leave, societal expectations, and of course due to factors that I don't get most women are with older men who are therefore earning more so it makes "financial sense".

Please don't extrapolate your experience to apply to everyone, nor even to the people you know. You might think you understand the motivations for all of the people you know for making the "choices" they did, but please. No-one who is not in the house really knows what is going on.

NiceTabard Sun 22-Dec-13 02:15:11

Also DH always points out that for every 1 super-alpha male stamping into the office and demanding more, there are a whole bunch of normal blokes who wouldn't do that in a million years.

Yet those blokes still earn more.

Also many women earn less for the same job before children.

And a kid is a year, I know loads of blokes who have taken a years sabbatical to do stuff.

Yet, yet... Sabbatical is cool, right? He prob learnt stuff n that. And he's not totally old school, this is a man to look to for the future. He'll come back refreshed.

tens of thousands of women every year lose their jobs because they fall pregnant.

Compare/contrast.

Hmm yes choices. Because ONLY WOMEN WANT TO HAVE BABIES. Men don't, right? Is that correct. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Sun 22-Dec-13 08:10:55

"we can call out problems for ourselves without dragging down or dismissing the problems of others...Saying that if the same happened to another, then it doesn't happen as much or someone would point out the flaws, unlike to us, that is dismissing and dragging down another's struggle as less important"

I disagree with that. I don't believe any other oppressed group's struggle is less important than that of women and of course women are half of all the people involved in nearly every other group's struggle. I think it's possible to acknowledge that different groups are at different stages of struggle and that they are responded to differently by mainstream media, without implying that the systematic disadvantage they experience is less important than that of another group, but of course we have to word it quite carefully to ensure that we aren't implying that and clearly I haven't done that, so sorry about that.

"White ablebodied cismen is who this gap are with, and their use as a standard has problems as well - it would be nice to see the stats the other way around, that they earn X compared to Y's £1, to see their extra rather than everyone else's lack".

This is a really interesting way of looking at it - that the unfairly advantaged group get extra, rather than the "other" groups getting less. Psychologically it's a different slant isn't it and makes it clear, and in that sense I think it's useful. In a workplace/ salary environment I'd be a bit nervous about it - in capitalism, recognising that one group has more than another and deciding to do something about it, generally means that instead of the disadvantaged group trading up, the advantaged group has its "extras" taken away - which of course, is one of the reasons why the unions were so willing to throw women under the bus for so many decades - they were unwilling to properly fight for equal wages for work of equal value because they knew their male workers would have their wages reduced, rather than female workers getting more - and why professions where women enter, have their average salary gradually reduced.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Sun 22-Dec-13 08:14:42

LOL FastLoris, so there's no such thing as sexism, racism, disablism, etc. any more then? There are just choices. Women and other systematically disadvantaged groups are just choosing to be disadvantaged. We can all stop talking about this then, there is no problem here.

Glad that's cleared that up.

fgrin

funnyvalentine Sun 22-Dec-13 08:20:57

And most of my friends are highly educated people aware of gender issues, who would never have made this choice just through a kneejerk assumption that it must be the woman's role to do that.

FWIW, I'm a highly educated woman aware of gender issues. I have found myself really conflicted going back to work. I''ve found it really hard to say that I don't want to stay home with the kids when I don't need to work to support us. I, like many highly educated women, am married to a man who earns enough to support a stay-at-home wife. And had I decided to stay home with the kids, I doubt I'd project anything but enthusiasm for the choice to my friends!

My husband, on the other hand, doesn't like the idea of the kids in full-time childcare, and wouldn't mind looking after them at home. But finds it equally hard to overcome the idea that he should be out working to support his family.

It's not a 'kneejerk assumption' but a lifetime of conditioning to overcome!

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Sun 22-Dec-13 08:41:35

Sorry to hijack a bit but am I the only one who can't see the last post posted on this thread? I'm deliberately putting this comment in a) to draw attention to this and to find out if it's just my computer or this is a thing on these blog threads (this has happened to me before) and b) so that I can see the last post.

EBearhug Sun 22-Dec-13 10:51:44

No, it's not just you who can't see it all.

EBearhug Sun 22-Dec-13 10:53:21

Well, no, I can see the last post, but on bto page 2 & 2, I have a massive blank gap and can see the first posts.

EBearhug Sun 22-Dec-13 10:53:50

but not bto

EBearhug Sun 22-Dec-13 13:45:26

But I can see it all from my laptop (earlier I was on my phone.) The wonders of technology.

The choice to stay home with children - well, sometimes it's a choice, but for most of the couples I know, it was mostly economics. The man gets two weeks paternity leave, the woman gets months of paid maternity leave. If you're used to having two salaries, and now there's an extra person to pay for as well, most families find it financially easier for the woman to take the break from work.

pandarific Sun 22-Dec-13 22:49:01

What I really, really want to see is a guide on about how to combat the pay gap, as a working woman.

What I want is to be able to safeguard myself from this as much as is humanly possible - obviously the problem is huge and not going away, but I think a 'practical tactics on how to combat the gender pay gap' would be so useful for all women in work - I know I learn a huge amount about how to from reading posters that are older and more experienced than me.

A practical tactics guide would be so helpful - things to watch out for, case studies, just really any useful advice.

Backonthefence Sun 22-Dec-13 23:03:18

Would women's relationship choices be a factor? Generally women tend to partner up with men who are older than they are and more often than not they earn more. So when it comes down to the decision as to who takes more time off work it makes sense the lower earner does. Should women partner up with men who earn less as a safeguard?

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Mon 23-Dec-13 11:50:44

,

Just putting that there so I can read last post. smile

slightlygoostained Mon 23-Dec-13 11:58:40

backonthefence

DP is older and earned significantly more than me when we first got together. I now earn a little bit more than him. This didn't happen by chance, but by conscious choices to allow me to "catch up" career-wise.

The decisions that determine who will be the lower earner don't stop at the point a couple meet. Careers nowadays are rarely a neat upwards trajectory - people move sideways, up, down, up again. Yet, if the partner who is temporarily "ahead" is male, societal expectations kick in to make the next decision "make sense" to carry on advantaging his career.

slightlygoostained Mon 23-Dec-13 12:06:12

Though, OTOH I think Sheryl Sandberg did point out in Lean In that a woman's choice of partner is the biggest career decision she will make - in terms of genuine support for her career, rather than financially. Hard to do well if being undermined at home.

pandarific Lean In actually has some great practical advice on things like negotiating pay rises, avoiding getting overlooked etc.

I tried starting a thread for tips but didn't get any responses:
www.mumsnet.com/Talk/going_back_to_work/1902072-How-do-you-avoid-career-stalling-as-a-part-timer

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Mon 23-Dec-13 12:24:35

,

pandarific Mon 23-Dec-13 12:34:24

Thanks slightly! Maybe if you moved your thread to Employment Issues you might get some more responses? Seems the traffic is heavier there...

I keep meaning to read Lean In - I definitely think it would be so useful to have a constructive advice thread - maybe MNHQ could promote it across the site so everyone knows it's there and can weigh in?

FastLoris Mon 23-Dec-13 21:18:47

Nicetabard -

OK, fair enough. I actually hope you're right, because I think it can only be good for both genders to have the freedom to focus on either role according to preference. The legal changes to parental leave recently announced might make it easier for them to do that.

Just one thing -

Please don't extrapolate your experience to apply to everyone, nor even to the people you know.

Er, isn't that exactly what you're doing? smile. We're both just speaking anecdotally really (I never pretended otherwise) so my ancedotes are as valid as yours.

Also many women earn less for the same job before children.

That's not actually true, as a generalisation. (Of course there will be some individual women who earn less than an individual man for the same job, just as there will be some individual men who earn less than a particular individual woman).

Relative rates of pay of men and childless women have actually been studied, and tend to come out pretty much the same as each other. In fact I seem to remember reading a recent one from the USA that showed the women actually earning more.

It does seem to be what happens when children are born, that is the key factor.

FastLoris Mon 23-Dec-13 21:24:21

AskBasil -

LOL FastLoris, so there's no such thing as sexism, racism, disablism, etc. any more then? There are just choices. Women and other systematically disadvantaged groups are just choosing to be disadvantaged. We can all stop talking about this then, there is no problem here.

What a strange post. I made a specific claim about the gender pay gap debate, that's all. And I described why I made the claim. I didn't even say anything else about sexism, let alone all those other things. You know nothing about my attitudes to them so please don't presume,

It is possible to look at specific claims about such things on their merits, rather than feeling obliged to take a kneejerk position on one "side" or the other about everything.

FastLoris Mon 23-Dec-13 21:36:34

funnyvalentine -

Yeah good point, I can see that. I didn't really mean to deny that those couple had been influenced by social conditioning in their choices. Of course they had. I'm not really in a position to judge everything behind their choices - all I can do is observe that they made them.

It's very difficult extricating choice from conditioning. Even aspiring to do that presupposes the abstract idea of a human being functioning without any kind of conditioning. That is simply an impossibility, since every experience we have conditions us. Even if we succeeded in creating a society where everyone was brought up to believe that men and women are absolutely equal in everything except observable biological differences, that would still be conditioning. We'd just be replacing a form of conditioning we don't like with one we do like.

Law and social policy can do something about external barriers to choice (like forcing employers not to discriminate on pay for the same job; equalising access to parental leave; providing access to cheap or free childcare etc.) But I don't see how it can do anything about people's reluctance to take up the options they have, when that reluctance may (or may not) be due to conditioning.

Can it? fhmm

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