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KiranMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 09-Nov-15 10:50:02

Guest post: Equal Pay Day - "The gender pay gap isn't a 'myth'"

Women will 'work for free' for 50 days this year - this cannot continue, writes Glosswitch

Victoria Smith

Glosswitch

Posted on: Mon 09-Nov-15 10:50:02

(17 comments )

Lead photo

"As women we need to place a high enough value on our work to get angry about the pay gap."

From today until the New Year, women will effectively be 'working for free'. 46 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was passed, women still earn on average 80 pence for every pound earned by men. And yet some people will tell you that the gender pay gap no longer exists.

Legislation, they'll say, has solved the problem and any remaining differences are due to the fact that equality of opportunity need not mean equality of outcome. They'll tell you it's all a matter of choice; that women gravitate towards lower-paid careers; that women just don't ask for pay rises; that the gap only really kicks in once a woman has children, hence "it's not a pay gap, it's a maternity gap." Because of these people, when I type 'gender pay gap' into Google, the first auto-complete suggestion is 'myth'. Women might earn less than men, but people still think the gender pay gap is a myth. They are wrong.

We should not be surprised that our current legislation has not granted women economic parity with men. It is based on a view of inequality that sees women's disadvantage relative to men as accidental, not systematic. It assumes that while women face the greatest degree of discrimination it could just as easily have been men. It takes the rules of the male-dominated status quo as natural and decides that the only change needed is for hypothetical employers to stop thinking "I will pay this person less because she is a woman and women are useless." But that is not how things work. Patriarchy might be wrong, but it is not random.

The gender pay gap is not just some niche concern for wealthy women trying to lean their way into the boardroom. The exploitation and underpayment of women is systemic.


Put simply, patriarchy enables men to extract labour from women. It enables them to appropriate what ought to be shared resources. It allows them to steal our stuff. The gender pay gap needs to be seen in this context. It is not just some niche concern for wealthy women trying to lean their way into the boardroom. The exploitation and underpayment of women is systemic. It happens on a global level, when big businesses go in search of countries where female labourers can be paid a pittance, and it happens in the private sphere, when caring responsibilities and domestic tasks are allotted to mothers and daughters. We talk about choice, but choice is meaningless when you are up against a system that benefits from your work being downgraded due to your place at the bottom of a social hierarchy.

Women do not gravitate towards lower-paid careers; the relative value of work is adjusted according to whether it is men or women doing it. Women may be wise not to ask for pay rises; those who do often end up worse off than before. Above all, the impact of having children on a woman's wealth in no way proves that the gender pay gap is not 'real'. It merely shows that our current division between public and private - between paid and unpaid work - ends up taking from women to give to men.

As Katrine Marcal points out, "in the same way that there is a 'second sex', there is a 'second economy'":

The work that is traditionally carried out by men is what counts. It defines the economic world view. Women's work is the 'other'. Everything that he doesn't do but that he is dependent on so he can do what he does.

This 'other' work is only valued when it is withdrawn, such as when the women of Iceland went on strike in 1975. The rest of the time we talk about 'work-life balance', casually dismissing the contribution millions of women make as merely 'life', whatever happens when you're not in the office - rather than an active, vital part of the economy.

As women we need to place a high enough value on our work to get angry about the pay gap. We need to recognise the contribution women make as a class - not just in the formalised workplace, but in the home and wider community - and demand the social change necessary to make it count. Women will 'work for free' for 50 days this year. This cannot continue. Almost half a century after the right to equal pay was enshrined in law, it's time we turned the principles into practice.

By Victoria Smith

Twitter: @glosswitch

sportinguista Mon 09-Nov-15 13:46:12

I would really, really like to see what would happen if we did like the Icelandic women. There would be a lot of panicking men, my DH included (although to be fair he used to do one days childcare a week, but he didn't have to cook). Maybe it would have to be a week to make it truly meaningful grin...

Babycham1979 Mon 09-Nov-15 15:25:11

But women aren't paid less for the same job, with the same experience and the same working hours. This post seems to conflate two things; the gender pay gap, and a differential in the jobs that women do. These are two separate issues, and it's unhelpful to paint them as otherwise.

Incidentally, on average, women in the UK actually earn more than men up to the early thirties. This makes perfect sense when talking about mean averages, as the vast majority of women have children and take time out of the workplace for this. As an employer, this makes perfect sense. There's no commercial rationale to employ someone with less experience for the same money, unless they're a demonstrably superior employee.

Parity will come, and it will be passed, as women's earnings overtake men's (we already have more female law and medicine graduates). By this point, most women will have to accept that they cannot expect primacy when it comes to child-rearing. That will be painful for many.

howabout Mon 09-Nov-15 16:13:53

Babycham have you seen this thread? www.mumsnet.com/Talk/am_i_being_unreasonable/2502617-To-think-Justine-Roberts-should-not-have-written-this-in-the-FT?pg=16
There is a lot of personal experience and reflection contradicting what you are asserting.

I would contend that the reason there is salary parity in under 30s and not over 30s is because at entry levels pay grades are standardised and discretionary discrimination becomes more apparent with promotions.

I agree that motherhood and womanhood are different issues and should not be conflated when looking at gender discrimination in the workplace.

slugseatlettuce Mon 09-Nov-15 16:57:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

wickedwaterwitch Mon 09-Nov-15 18:04:32

Great post glosswitch

sausageeggbacon111 Tue 10-Nov-15 00:46:27

Having watched the video by the factual fem on youtube I find that on some point you agree and on others you skirt around the issues. DD will soon be starting her career in STEM. She realises that to get to where she wants to be career wise she will have to be forceful and probably leave the UK however she also expects to earn at least as much as men in her field.

So selecting to have children will affect our career prospects, for me it meant not going back to work because of the costs versus wages. If I had of been earning more than DH we would have looked at him staying at home. 5 years out of my field meant to catch up I would need 6 months worth of training to be back to where I was when I went on maternity leave. I don't expect an employer to ramp up my pay to be equal to someone who has spent another 5 more years working than I have. And what to do about the 6 months worth of training and retraining to adjust to changes in my work?

The issue of childcare is different to the gender pay gap but so long as we actually conflate the two the majority of working women will struggle because of childcare costs while a handful of higher paid women will reap the benefits.

TheLynchpin Tue 10-Nov-15 00:57:55

I wonder... is it male privilege in general, or is it specifically upper-middle class public school educated male privilege that skews the stats?

I certainly don't see males getting paid more than females in the industry I work in, but then again there aren't too many of those types I mentioned working alongside us.

On another note, I'm not sure if this applies to Victoria Smith/Glosswitch but I find it quite amusing when certain notable social commentators in the media (generally the Guardian) brought up from very wealthy backgrounds feel the need to lecture men who probably earn less than half they do about their male privilege. The hypocrisy is actually hilarious.

tumbletumble Tue 10-Nov-15 07:28:47

I'm a feminist. I believe in equal pay for women.

But I can't work out how this should apply to my own life.

I met DH at work; we were peers earning exactly the same amount. We spent the next few years climbing the career ladder in parallel - sometimes he earned a little more than me, sometimes I earned a little more than him.

Then we had DC. I was a SAHM for several years when they were little. When my youngest started school I went back to work - in a different role (lower paid as it's public sector, but not female dominated - most of my colleagues are men), and part time. I now earn a lot less than DH.

I love my job, which is interesting and challenging, and I love being able to pick my DC up from school three times a week and spend the evening with them.

I have the potential (based on qualifications etc) to earn as much as DH, but I have chosen not to, and I'm happy with that. However, I also have a lot of respect for women who have taken a different path to me and focused more on their careers. Shouldn't it be possible to choose?

VoyageOfDad Tue 10-Nov-15 09:29:21

By this point, most women will have to accept that they cannot expect primacy when it comes to child-rearing. That will be painful for many

I think that's the knub of it.

howabout Tue 10-Nov-15 10:15:55

By this point, most women will have to accept that they cannot expect primacy when it comes to child-rearing. That will be painful for many

I am not even sure what this phrase means. However I am aware that to employ a FT nanny for my 3 DC would cost around £40k (once employment costs are included). This equates to almost £80k pre-tax earnings for a higher rate tax payer. I would then need to factor in costs of going to work and specialist tutoring skills which I currently cover for the DC. I personally would need a fair bit of compensation to get me out the door in the morning as, no matter how much I loved my job, I would be far too vain to work for less than my nanny. This leads me to the conclusion that £200k would be my starting salary.

I think a lot of women make the sort of considered compromises sausage has, precisely because we place a higher value on time with our children than "society" does.

Whensmyturn Tue 10-Nov-15 19:31:48

I've worked part time in a management role and definitely felt I was less well thought of because I was working 4 not 5 days. Clearly promotion would not follow if I was less well thought off. I was assumed to lack commitment, I think. In a new role but working full time I notice the full time men are sent on the courses whereas the part time women are not. My ability at IT was questioned as I got older and became a mother. Even my own husband admitted he didn't use certain texting acronyms because he thought I wouldn't know them. I think women suffer from stereotyping as fuddy duddy not committed not go getting.

possum18 Tue 10-Nov-15 21:59:44

Not a great deal of experience in this, but last week at university (business studies degree) we had a very interesting guest speaker on this subject who did a great deal of research over 5 years which suggests that an additional reason for the unbalance is that men tend to be more confident in negotiating wages on application for a job, and also are much more likely to ask for a pay rise later down the line. Just some food for thought smile

SanityClause Tue 10-Nov-15 22:36:43

howabout, why do you believe that you should pay for childcare, out of your salary? Surely, childcare is a shared cost?

So, you don't have to out-earn your nanny. You just have to ensure the household can afford to employ her.

HapShawl Wed 11-Nov-15 07:01:53

"men tend to be more confident in negotiating wages on application for a job, and also are much more likely to ask for a pay rise later down the line. Just some food for thought"

Women aren't stupid. These sorts of requests from women are often viewed very differently than those from men, and as glosswitch notes, may actually end up leaving a woman worse off because her "confidence" has worked against her.

It may have been on the thread that howabout linked to, but someone in here recently made the point that it's often not children that cause a woman's career and pay to suffer, but the father of her children being unsupportive of her paid work and not doing his fair share at home

howabout Wed 11-Nov-15 08:42:53

Sanity I agree childcare is a shared household expense, but I also believe strongly it is a FT occupation. Therefore, where it is a couple, I think of it in terms of one person's alternative choice of occupation. DH and I did consider which of us should or would want the role. Other people make the choice to share childcare and both compromise their paid jobs or treat childcare as a 2nd job and these are all equally valid choices imo.

ChunkyPickle Wed 11-Nov-15 10:40:24

It may have been on the thread that howabout linked to, but someone in here recently made the point that it's often not children that cause a woman's career and pay to suffer, but the father of her children being unsupportive of her paid work and not doing his fair share at home

This with knobs on.

DP and I both work full time. I had to turn down an awesome job offer (and luckily landed something better, from home) because he wasn't prepared to make any work compromises or adjustments in order to take some responsibility for our children. We are on fairly equal salary, but I am the one who sorts out emergency childcare, who does drop offs/pickups etc.

I'm very lucky because I have found a well paid niche, with other parents who understand that sometimes I'll be taking a meeting in the car, or in the kitchen with kids running in and out. If I hadn't found this job, I'd be in the ranks of the freelance-mothers, taking a pay cut because they're just grateful to find anything that they can do around their childcare responsibilities while their partners swan on just as they did before.

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