’Women: Like Men, Only Cheaper!’
Funny because it’s true? Or a throwback - a joke for the 20th Century comic?
Being paid more, or less, because of what’s in your pants is something we left behind aeons ago, surely? We burned our bras, shattered the glass ceiling and took our rightful seat at the table. Success for the ambitious woman about town, via Nicola Horlicks, Sheryl Sandberg and any number of trailblazing superwomen.
Well, not really. I’d love to bring happier news. I’d even love to agree with Kate Winslet’s assessment that talking about the gender pay gap is ’a bit vulgar’. But sadly, vulgar as it is - disgusting, even - the pay gap remains, despite the high profile efforts to level the playing field.
Don’t get me wrong. There has been progress since the days of women consigned to the kitchen, rocking victory rolls and applying lippie so their husbands would have something pretty to look at when they returned home from a hard day earning their crust. Women in management positions are on the rise. But an even playing field? We are some way away yet.
So How Bad Is It Really?
In 2015, according to the European Commission, the average pay gap is 16.3 percent. This is the average difference in gross hourly earnings across the whole economy.
In the UK the gender pay gap in 2015 sat at 19 percent. The unlikely heroes of gender pay equality in Europe are Slovenia, with a relatively tiny pay gap of 3.2 percent. Malta is not far behind with a pay gap of only around 5 percent. Sun, sea, and salary equality in sunny Malta. Sounds good.
The other way of measuring the pay gap is to look at the average total amount earned by women compared to men. This measure takes into account both the difference in gross average hourly rates, and the fact that women are more likely to work in part time positions, either through choice or necessity. This measure - the overall earnings gap - in the EU is a whopping 41 percent. So women across Europe, on average, see less than two thirds the amount of men hitting their bank accounts each month. It’s a pretty stark statistic.
Of course, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. And statistics can hide a multitude of issues, including the fact that some of the disparity in pays is not as a result of women being paid less than men for doing similar jobs. Much of this larger number can be accounted for by the fact that many women work in different segments (such as the care industry, retail and catering posts), which are less skilled, and which the market generally values less. Pay rates are accordingly lower.
Furthermore the larger pay gap includes the fact that women are more likely than men to work in part time positions, and therefore take home a lower net amount each month.
So it’s not that bad, really. Well - at least it’s probably not fair to say it is 41 percent bad, but in a world where gender equality has been a societal and legal requirement for a generation, I’d say that a de facto pay gap which probably lies somewhere upward of 16 percent remains something to worry about.
If women are being paid less than men for the same or similar roles then it is a matter for the law. But the situation on the ground won’t change until cultural and societal changes allow it to.
Until, for example, cultural attitudes to men sharing paternity and parental leave with women (a legal possibility but not a common occurrence, in the UK for example), there will not be a significant shift in the number of women who feel trapped in part time positions to combine some work with being the primary carer for the family.
What’s Being Done About It?
People care about the gender pay gap. Three quarters of Europeans believe that tackling gender equality should be a priority for the EU. Part of the reason why people might question how big a deal the pay gap really is today, is that there’s been a lot of effort made to correct it. This hits the headlines and it’s natural to think the problem’s been solved.
On a company level, many businesses and industries focus on developing women with ’Women in Leadership’ talent development programs, mentoring and networking support. Professional networking groups exist to help women connect with others in their fields and offer mutual support.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book ’Lean In’, which tackled the challenges of women in the workplace, spawned ’Lean In’ groups globally to encourage women to put themselves forward more often for leadership roles and generally to be more confident in business and life.
The trouble is, that all this input effort does not seem to be having the direct impact it should on women’s average pay. Supporting women into more managerial positions ought to do the job - but it doesn’t seem to be getting much traction.
Of course there are also alternative protests and ways of highlighting the problem.
In Estonia, for example, the pay gap is a particular problem, with women earning on average over 29 percent less than men, the highest disparity anywhere in the European Union. One way that attention is brought to the issue is through a coordinated day of action in which restaurants charge 29 percent more (equivalent to the gender pay gap), for dishes containing the herb dill, than those that do not. Why? Because the Estonian word for dill is similar to the world ’dick’, which as we all know, comes at a premium. It’s a light hearted way of making a serious point, and catches media attention for the cause every year!
What’s the Prognosis?
It was recently reported that the gender pay gap on a global level would close. Good news!
So the world is finally waking up to the fact that encouraging women into the workforce and balancing out the responsibilities of family life more evenly might lead to a happier, more productive society. Unfortunately the bad news for women alive today (and indeed our daughters and granddaughters) is that it’s going to take another 118 years. Best not to plan the party just yet.
There is some cause for optimism – 94 percent of Europeans agree that gender equality is a fundamental right, and in several segments, the survey found, women are paid equivalent amounts to men. In human resources, nursing and teaching (admittedly traditionally female sectors), women have achieved overall pay parity. Elsewhere the story isn’t so rosy.
So right now, according to statistics from the World Economics Forum, women in the workforce on average earn the equivalent of what men did ten years ago. That means we are catching up, but very very slowly.
Despite achieving ever higher levels of education, and more women entering the workforce today than at any time in history, our salaries are stuck back in the early 2000s. Back there, with Avril Lavigne, pre meltdown Britney, shiny trousers and Brokeback Mountain. Before the iPhone or iPad, but don’t panic, you could always get your hands on an iPod Nano, or even a video iPod. With possibilities like that, make sure you don’t spend your hard earned dough all at once.