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


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

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Thu 19-Dec-13 18:08:27

"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.”

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.

I have come to the conclusion that people who go on about women's choices, are simply reluctant to acknowledge sexism because they are in favour of it.

No-one would go on about black people's "choices" to explain structural race disadvantage. Because they know they would sound like nobs. It's a shame they don't realise what nobs they sound when they go on about women's choices.

MyMILisfromHELL Thu 19-Dec-13 20:44:30

Misogyny? Sexism?

Childcare costs more than most women earn after tax. Employing a women or investing too much in female employees is too costly, as some mothers might choose to stay at home. And that's just one element of it.

KaseyM Thu 19-Dec-13 20:51:25

Basil, I do agree with you re. men's choices (that they need to be looked at ) but I also think that lots of women do want to take time out to look after their DC when little and fair play to them. It is not just a matter of options, but a desire to be with your kids. And thank God for that quite frankly, because let's face it, where would society be without it?

But the problem starts when those women are devalued and demoted in society, when they face limited job prospects and promotion and find their options narrowing as a result.

Apart from the sheer unfairness of it, it's a huge waste of potential.

legoplayingmumsunite Thu 19-Dec-13 22:50:38

The choices of fathers is central to this debate. Why do only mothers want to spend time with their children when small? Why don't fathers worry about missing 'precious moments'? Why don't more parents share childcare so BOTH get to have time with their kids? Surely that would be better for the children rather than a distant father figure who doesn't know his own children because he never spends time alone with them?

I grew up on a farm and we were able to spend a lot of time with my father as children, out 'helping' him on the farm. DH grew up with a SAHM and a father who was present at mealtimes but the rest of the time was either at work or in his study. Our relationships with our fathers are, not surprisingly, rather different.

funnyvalentine Thu 19-Dec-13 23:39:37

I haven't seen the ONS report, but where does the £5k figure come from? That seems high to me. Also, is a 19.6 to 19.7% change in pay enough to justify the claim that the pay gap is widening, or is it just noise? And childbearing may be one reason for a gender pay gap, but does it explain why (if) the gap is widening?

Completely agree about roles of fathers, they're always missing from these discussions! Dads feel pressured not to take time out, and that's not going to change quickly!

legoplayingmumsunite Fri 20-Dec-13 00:44:48

£5k is about 15% of £33K, sounds like mean London wages rather than median countrywide wages.

allthebanananamesaretaken Fri 20-Dec-13 07:03:11

I was talking to a colleague with a small baby last night. He was explaining how he felt frustrated that his time with his small daughter was limited to a couple of hours in the morning, and the weekends got muscled in on by family. We discussed how my partner and I both dropped days when I went back to work, and how my partner's day at home with our DS had allowed him to start "catching up" as a parent, with the level of skill/confidence I'd developed during maternity leave, and how important it was for fathers to spend time in sole care of their children.

At one point he referred to my partner's choice to reduce hours as "brave".

We won't change the pay gap until more men feel that spending the time they want with their children doesn't require "bravery".

BucksWannabee Fri 20-Dec-13 08:10:35

My husband has often said he doesn't feel he could ask for part time hours at work - it's not the culture. He's convinced he would be marginalised at work/next on the redundancy list (er, treated like a working mother, in other words).

Employers generally feel entitled to own their staff and squeeze everything out of them that they can. Meanwhile, the effort of raising the next generation of employees/taxpayers/citizens is viewed like some sort of hobby or "lifestyle choice." That means that working carries status, but looking after children does not. And in a sexist society that still believes that male status is determined by what a man does, but female status can be based on what a woman does OR what her husband does, very few men will take the risk of working less.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Fri 20-Dec-13 08:23:24

Kasey yes, lots of women do want time out to be with their DC's when small. Which raises 2 questions:

1. Why don't men want to do that and why aren't they actively changing workplaces to make it more possible for them to do that (most decision-makers in the workplace are male)?

2. How come when men take time out of the workplace, for example to pursue careers like acting, setting up their own business, gap year travelling etc., they catch up within five years and are back on track with their peers, while women continue to be disadvantaged for the rest of their careers even if they only take a few months maternity leave? Men who take time out of the workplace, should in theory suffer the same level of disadvantage as women who take time out. But they don't. I wonder why.

Funnyvalentine, I completely agree with you that men feel pressurised not to take time out of the workplace; often they earn more than the women they live with so them taking time out would have a greater financial impact on the family than the woman doing so and so they feel they have no choice. Then in the same breath, they tell you that the reason women are poorer than men and have less leisure time and do more unpaid invisible work, is because of the choices women make. It's well understood that men's choices are constrained by structural issues, but when people talk about women's choices, they appear to believe that unlike those of men, they are made in a social, psychological and economic vacuum. confused And so there's no need to change anything, because after all, everything's down to choice.

funnyvalentine Fri 20-Dec-13 09:54:10

Basil regarding q2, I have an ex-colleague who resigned from his job about the same time I started on maternity leave the first time, to pursue his own business. 2.5 years later he's been chopping and changing a lot, and I've had two lots of maternity leave. I don't think my two continuous periods of maternity leave are any more disruptive than his confused years, but I expect his look better to potential employers! He doesn't feel like it should hold him back, and I don't think it will.

I also know a few dads who'd like to spend more time with their kids, but aren't 'brave' enough to ask for time off work sad

TheSporkforeatingkyriarchy Fri 20-Dec-13 10:21:32

AskBasil - Actually, they do analyse Black "choices" (and Asian and Roma and pretty much every group but White) to explain structural racial problems all the time. It is sadly a very common research topic. We can examine a problem without dragging down and reduces the problems faced by the struggles of others. The ethnic pay gap will mean many women make far less than the given numbers because of their ethnicity and that is often blamed on their choices and cultural (almost always reduced in the rhetoric to one) even when living lives practically identical to their White counterparts.

My DP did take time out of his career and was the main carer of our children for about 8 years (from when our eldest was 6 months until our youngest was almost 2) and reentered in a different field that he enjoys that also gives him better work-life balance. And yes, he was often told he was brave or kind or doing me a big favour by doing most of the child and household care for his own children and home and very frequently, even with medical staff, was questioned on why I was not the one there (I have it in a number of reports that 'the mother could not attend' when his absence in the ones I did is never mentioned or noted down) and barred from using services (mainly commercial - he's had staff blocking baby changing areas literally with their bodies and shouting him down to prevent him entering). It's a large social systems and cultures that are treated as natural rather than it's actual created state that can be challenged, taken down, and built better. It's connected with so many other issues - many jobs are currently designed to expect someone at home and all focus to be on a job 100%, lack of representation and philosophy on being in the jobs, how to get them, and how to fight for better pay, and so much more.

Having worked at Canary wharf I'm not surprised by this. I'm curious which roles they look at. Many office based are predom men in senior roles. Women are still trying to break into closed circles. Some make it. Then they make mid senior have a child and recognise the difficulty of coming back - and they have some chance of negotiation at less hours/dropping salary.

It's dream destroying frankly. I will not be encouraging working in someone else's office for my dds. The shit ain't worth it.

slug Fri 20-Dec-13 11:04:41

Taking years out to be a full time father did my DH's career no harm at all. He found it very easy to get a job when he decided to go back to work, despite taking a step sideways in his career. His first job post childcare, was offered to him on the basis that his years as a SAHD had equipped him with the skills to deal with distressed children even though the part of the job that would bring him into contact with children was minor to the point of almost being non-existant.

In his current position, he feels no compunction in using the childcare excuse to leave work early. Nobody has ever commented, apart from nods of approval and comments on how brave he is to take on the burden of being the one who deals with school/childcare etc. It drives me mad because we work in similar institutions and I get none of the freedoms he enjoys. If I slope off early there are invariable mutterings about lack of commitment.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Fri 20-Dec-13 11:14:25

"they do analyse Black "choices" (and Asian and Roma and pretty much every group but White) to explain structural racial problems all the time. It is sadly a very common research topic."

Really? I didn't know that, how shocking. I guess the fact that it's a common research topic, is because white mainstream researchers are desperately trying to find a different reason from racism, as to why some BME groups have lower wages than their white counterparts? We don't hear quite as much about that in the mainstream media as women's choices, do we? And I suspect if we did, progressive journalists would point out the flaws in the assumptions behind the research. But point taken, thank you for making it, I had no idea there were racists researchers out there trying to find evidence that there's no such thing as racism after all, only choices.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Fri 20-Dec-13 11:17:20

I am bloody sick of the word choice tbh. It must be one of the most misused words in the English language. It's used to explain everything uncomfortable that people don't want to address.

Cerisier Fri 20-Dec-13 12:34:16

For those under age 40 working full time there is no gender pay gap. It only kicks in after 40 and across all jobs and ages is 10% on average.

So it is only a problem after 40, and the reasons are diverse and complex. I am a case in point as I only went part time at age 45. I didn't want the hassle of continuing to climb the greasy pole. There were more important things in life to do, like being around a bit more for my teenagers. I didn't need the money and I didn't want the massive pressure and hours of a senior role any more. I am lucky, it has worked out very well so far.

VenusDeWillendorf Fri 20-Dec-13 15:36:23

Sorry Ceresier, your figures aren't correct. You're talking out of your..

If you do the research you can see the correct figures, and its important to be accurate as possible in this matter.

The gender pay gap is 15% in the UK for full time jobs, and 16.2% across the EU on average. So say the researchers in the EU commission reports, here it means that in effect, 'women in Europe work 59 days for free' every year. If that isn't theft, I don't know what is.

The guardian reports the figure of 15% in the UK for full time jobs and a massive 35% for those women who work part time.

It affects women of all ages and races, and especially affects women who work part time.

It's not just for over 40s and not 10% as you say.

Minnieistheglittermouse Fri 20-Dec-13 16:42:32

There isn't choice. There's what you can do. Most times that ain't choice it's rock or hard place.

brin93 Fri 20-Dec-13 16:51:40

Sorry VenusDeWillendorf, I'll see your data from the TUC and raise you data from the ONS themselves:
That was for 2012, but the gap had reduced from 2011 and was less than 10% for Full time roles.

Also, it showed that for part time work, women were paid MORE than men. (-5.2%, yes minus!).

I suspect one reason men get paid more is they work more overtime - - (Table 3) clearly shows men do a lot more than women as a % of their earnings.


Really though that's all useless as it's across the entire work spectrum. This isn't a valid means of comparison unless the salaries compared are for the same job.

Cerisier Fri 20-Dec-13 18:20:32

Thanks Brin yes it was the ONS data I was referring to. I was looking at it only yesterday.

KaseyM Fri 20-Dec-13 19:52:00

I think this comparison of like for like, the same hours, the same job is misleading because even if you take that all away women generally go into areas that are lesser paid.

And we have to ask ourselves why is that? Should those areas command less money? And why do women dominate them, not men?

mmumof4our Fri 20-Dec-13 23:04:30

Because men work more hours while women are sitting at home playing with the kids?

legoplayingmumsunite Fri 20-Dec-13 23:30:47

Because men work more hours while women are sitting at home playing with the kids?

Hmmm, in my experience DH is the one who spends his day at home with the kids playing whereas I do housework and let them play themselves.

sashh Sat 21-Dec-13 12:15:50

What about those of us who have no children and never intended to?

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 - 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.


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


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.


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.


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


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:

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

funnyvalentine Tue 24-Dec-13 00:04:38

fastloris, are you really asking whether law can change culture? I wonder if incentives in law might work well , like use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave, or tax breaks for companies that have equal board representation*. In contrast to, say, a fine for unequal pay due to gender. But yes, in general, I think culture changes far slower than law in many areas. Though, not in all. Plenty of changes are supported by general population before they make it into law (gay marriage for example).

* I'm in no way endorsing these ideas, just examples off the top of my head!

FastLoris Tue 24-Dec-13 16:07:42

The problem with that is that it requires prejudging what culture "should" change into. If our aim is to maximise freedom of choice for both genders, then it's not really valid to do that, because by doing it you shoehorn people into the choices you've pre-decided they should make.

In terms of the current issue, there are people who believe that men's and women's psychology and choices would be exactly the same if it weren't for the kinds of social pressures we are attempting to remove. And there are those who believe that women overall have an innately stronger nurturing instinct due to the fact that they carry the child inside them, give birth to it and breastfeed it. There's not really enough evidence to claim either view as absolute fact. Suffice to say, you don't have to be a full-on misogynist conservative to see some possibility of truth in the second one.

So it may be that if we all had absolutely free choice over the matter, you would still see more women than men compromise their careers to spend time rearing children, like I've observed among people I know. The difference might reduce but not disappear entirely. Hell, for all I know you may see it reversing and more men making that choice. We just don't know.

This is why I dislike things like the popular discourse about the pay gap - it presupposes that the final result of a genuinely free society would be equal numbers of men and women choosing to follow equally focused careers and making equal amounts of money, and that we can therefore do things arse-backwards. Rather than just increasing choice, we artificially generate the OUTCOME that we BELIEVE such choice would lead to. The problem is we really have no evidence that such beliefs are correct, and to the extent that we are wrong, we would actually be infringing upon choice by doing that.

Unfortunately doing it the right way around - increasing choice and then just leaving events to take their course - does tend to result in a slower pace of change because it takes several generations for social conditioning to work its way out of society. But I don't really see a way around that.

aquatiger1987 Thu 26-Dec-13 07:01:27

without women giving birth, they wouldn't even be able to hire anybody at all, because they wouldn't even exist

so the fact that they are paying women less money based on maternity leave is preposterous in my opinion

I know there are other factors as well: more sick days, with some cultures the men only want men looking after them at hospitals and there aren't as many male nurses, etc. But whatever, I still think it's ridiculous due to the fact that they wouldn't even be able to hire anybody if it weren't for women having babies, because they wouldn't exist. Hiring men over women some of the time due to the cultural thing (in some circumstances like at hospitals), I can understand, but I don't understand the difference in wages.

For the sick days, I don't see why they just can't say for both men & women, "you get this many sick days per year to get paid, and any days after that and it gets deducted from your pay"... instead of paying women less money per pay cheque in general.

Women getting less money for maternity leave... give me a break. Sounds like morals have gone completely out the window on this one to me, and it's all about money and not people.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Thu 26-Dec-13 18:21:28

V interesting and relevant blog post here

slightlyglitterstained Thu 26-Dec-13 20:53:39

This one got Professor Black widely criticised back in 2003, for making a similar point to the blog:

I suppose you could argue the opposite has happened in IT - majority of programmers were female at the start, as it became more male dominated it became more lucrative. (Which came first, I don't know.)

If you're still having probs reading last post, try showing all messages?

EBearhug Thu 26-Dec-13 23:10:50

I suppose you could argue the opposite has happened in IT - majority of programmers were female at the start, as it became more male dominated it became more lucrative. (Which came first, I don't know.)

In the early days, programming was seen as low status, hence more women, and then they needed all the staff they could get as computing took off. It got more professionalised and thus more high status - and that lead to it being more of a career that men would consider, and women got pushed aside.

There's an interesting book with a number of different articles on the subject - Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing, Thomas Misa (ed)

slightlyglitterstained Fri 27-Dec-13 04:40:29

Ooh, looks like an interesting read -thanks EBearhug!

<looks at ever growing to-read pile and weeps>

FastLoris Sat 28-Dec-13 14:38:13

aquatiger -

I don't know what kind of biology you learnt at school, but you DO know that there is more than one person involved in making babies, don't you? shock

As for the rest, I don't think it's the maternity leave as such that is the issue, so much as the lack of career progression during that time. One parent going to work every day while the other stays at home is not just earning the wage that they earn; they're also continuing to progress within their profession - getting recognition that might lead to promotion, meeting people etc. So if the other oarent goes back to work 10 years later they won't just go back to being in the same situation as each other.

Of course this tends to be more of an issue in the more competitive, pushy industries than for those who just pootle along in a steady job. But then those industries are the highest earning ones, so a preponderance of men within them skews the earning statistics beyond their actual numbers.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Sat 28-Dec-13 18:27:10


AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Sat 28-Dec-13 18:30:32

Women don't stay out of the workplace for 10 years though.

All the data shows that women who only stay out for a couple of years never catch up.

While men who stay out a couple of years, do.

Women who don't have children at all earn less than men.

There's a reason why professions dominated by women, have an average wage far lower than those dominated by men.

We have to stop pretending that sexism isn't a major reason why women are paid less than men. If we don't, our daughters will be having this discussion in thirty years time.

NiceTabard Sat 28-Dec-13 18:59:01

Had a lot of thoughts but they can be summed up with "what basil just said" grin

ohnoitshimagain Sun 29-Dec-13 07:38:53

I have never seen an advert in the local paper or job centre, that has advertised a dual rate of pay - have you?

EBearhug Sun 29-Dec-13 11:03:37

I've seen plenty of jobs advertised at "competitive rates", and then you have to get the right balance between your last salary, market rates, bargaining hard and not pricing yourself out of the job. Women are generally not as good as men at this, apparently, just as they're less likely to apply for a job unless they match a greater number of the requirements than a man would. I don't know if that's going to change with younger women., if they will feel they don't need to make more concessions because of maternity leave and flexible working, and just being grateful to have a job at all, rather than expecting the employer to show some gratitude (via the pay package) to be employing someone who is so great at their job (even if they're not great.)

AskBasil Sun 29-Dec-13 11:12:14

Of course employers don't advertise that they don't pay men and women equally ohnoitshimagain.

That would be illegal.

While actually paying men and women unequally, is not illegal as long as you can fit your unfairness into the (deliberately inadequate) legal framework.

AskBasil Sun 29-Dec-13 11:18:00

"Women are generally not as good as men at this, apparently, just as they're less likely to apply for a job unless they match a greater number of the requirements than a man would."

And of course when women do bargain as hard as men, they are seen as aggressive and dislikeable by both men and women so they're less likely to get the raise. So they can't win. This is not because they are doing something wrong, it is because the attitudes towards them are wrong.

When men apply for a job and they don't match all the requirements, employers focus on what they do match and are willing to invite them in for interview even if they don't match all the criteria. When women do the same, employers see that they don't meet all the criteria and are less likely to invite them in for interview.

Again, women are not doing anything different from men but are being treated differently when they do.

I just don't think we can stress this often enough. There is so much vested interest in pretending that sexism is a non-issue, that it doesn't exist anymore and that inequality is all down to women's choices. We have to keep refuting this otherwise it will never be tackled.

NiceTabard Sun 29-Dec-13 12:36:00

Oh hold on everyone!Jobs aren't advertised with two pay rates, ergo there is no unfairness in pay between men and women at all!

Phew well thank god someone came and pointed that out before we wasted any more time. Let's all go home!

But hold on what's this?

And this?

And at the other end of the scale this?

etc etc ad nauseum

I must be imagining them smile

babsie007 Mon 30-Dec-13 13:04:09

I am paid £14,000 less than a less experienced male counterpart and my employer justified it with having to pay him a London salary in comparison to my North East salary.

AskBasil Mon 30-Dec-13 17:05:48


Childrenofthestones Wed 01-Jan-14 08:41:33

You earn more on average.

Conducted by the research firm Reach Advisors, a study found that that unmarried, childless women age 22-30 who live in cities are earning more than their male counterparts. How much more? The median-full time salary of these women is 8% higher than men in the same age group. In several cities, that figure is significantly higher."

Childrenofthestones Wed 01-Jan-14 08:47:37

My previous reply was to sashh' question below. It was at the end of page one, but as often happens here the add message link didn't work

sashh Sat 21-Dec-13 12:15:50
What about those of us who have no children and never intended to?

Mary1972 Wed 01-Jan-14 08:51:33

It's fairly simple for many - lean in and keep asking for more pay. Both my daughters were talking about this on holiday. They both really pushed male bosses this year for pay rises. The older one in the City said even her male colleagues did not do it as forcefully as she did and seem less bothered than she is about pay. The younger consulted me quite a lot at the time of her pay submission.

All the time I reject work (I am self employed) if the pay is not high enough. (Also I always worked full time with virtually no maternity leaves for 30 years in highish paid work which I deliberately chose and it has worked out wonderfully well - i.e. I leaned in).

Also make those teenage girls thinking about PR or arts or hairdressing realise how that can ruin your life or at least the income side of it - push them into being leading brain surgeons not call centre workers.

Chunderella Wed 01-Jan-14 13:02:43

Interesting thread. I think this is also affected by the recession and people feeling less economically secure generally. So couples try and keep one career 'pristine' ie with no maternity leave, reduction of hours etc, because it feels less risky.

That is, the mere fact of being pregnant and giving birth negatively impacts on the woman, in an unavoidable way. There are people who see a pregnant woman as less competent, for example, and a visibly pregnant woman also is less likely to go for and get promotions or new jobs. Then, the vast majority of women require at least some maternity leave. Sure, there are a few who work right up to the birth and are back in the saddle within days. But the majority of us are not well enough to do so in very late pregnancy and for a few weeks after giving birth, and this is inevitable. So physical factors mean that the woman is already at greater risk of being penalised due to parenthood, before any decisions on returning to work are made. Meaning that if the couple want/need one parent to change work patterns because of childcare, if the father does it then both parties risk being penalised because of parenthood. The worry is that if the mother takes maternity leave and then the father goes part time, both of them have then shown themselves to be uncommitted and will be first on the redundancy list. Whereas if one of them keeps towing the line, and it will have to be the one who doesn't get pregnant or give birth, there isn't that risk.

There is some element of choice in this, but some of it is also forced. So it shouldn't be characterised as reflective of women's choices, when it's simply an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

slightlyglitterstained Wed 01-Jan-14 14:46:47

Thing is though, is there is no obligation or expectation to put maternity leave (as opposed to an actual career break) down on a CV, so it's only really within one company that it's actually obvious you had mat leave at all.

I don't know if "feels less risky" is really the motivation Chunderella - or more the post-fact rationalisation. People tend to do things and then make up a reason why they did it that way - I think the underlying motive is actually just expectations about women's expected role in the home and workplace, but it sounds a lot better to say "oh, well we were FORCED, you know, it just DIDN'T MAKE FINANCIAL SENSE".

Chunderella Wed 01-Jan-14 21:53:49

It's probably both. We do know that there are people who have no choice but to observe the conventional roles for financial reasons. Just as there are others who actively prefer it that way and still more who sort of fall into it.

Additionally, I don't think the thing about it only being obvious within one company that you had ML is a) true, not in small world industries where everyone knows each other like mine anyway, and b) relevant, since the majority of women who return to work do so with the same employer, and will therefore spend a period of time in an environment where their maternity is a known fact.

phoolani Mon 27-Jan-14 22:49:54

god, can we just call it what it is? this is not a 'gender' pay gap, the statistics back that up. It's a 'parent' gap - mothers (in general) suffer from having kids in a way that fathers simply do not. to call it a gender gap completely misses the cause of the inequality and if you miss the cause, you can never sort out the effect.

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