Thursday 9 April 2009

If you don't ask, you don't get

The EHRCs’ report out today highlights the gross gender pay gap within the finance sector. At twice the national figure of disparity, women working in stock-broking, futures trading and fund-management are paid an average of 60% less than their male counterparts.

That pay differences exist is hardly surprising; they have been repeatedly evidenced throughout pretty much every industry in the UK. And perhaps is it not such a massive leap to assume that in industries where people are paid the most, the pay gap will be the greatest.

What’s more surprising though, is that the further women progress, the less they are paid when compared to men of equal high-flying position. Whilst the Independent and the Guardian report the “shocking” figures, as described by Trevor Phillips, the FT takes a limited look at some of the reasons they see behind them:

“Trevor Phillips, the commission’s head, stressed the “complex” reasons for the “shocking” figures, saying employers were not actively trying to discriminate. The underlying factors include job segregation and the tendency – revealed in the report – for men to work longer hours. The extra unpaid overtime worked by men, compared with women, “may contribute towards career and pay progression,” the report states.”

Angela Knight, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, is also quoted: “the gender gap reflected in many cases women’s own decisions about their jobs and hours of work.”

While some women may well be choosing to work fewer hours than men, there are undoubtedly some complex reasons for this such as the long-hours culture. However, I believe the root of the problem still lies in the that women have children, are then usually the primary career of those children, and often have to juggle this whilst simultaneously trying to further their career. It can also be argued as Scandinavians do that it is better to work effectively within set hours, than work a longer day, and perhaps achieve less.

There is no getting away from the fact that mothers inevitably need time when they have children. Initially at least this is one job that fathers can't do, this is not true of later childcare, of course.

This isn’t a new issue, although it is a crucial one. Until we have equal maternity and paternity leave or more simply, and perhaps more accurately, 'family leave', the problem will not go away. Until we put men and women on a equal footing in the work place, no amount of legislation will take from the fact companies will be more attracted to the less risky option of employing men.

The other equally and hugely important aspect to making women more equal in the work place, is to make men more equally valuable in the home. It would be nice to think this would lead to a more general breakdown of gender stereotypes so that men feel as happy at home with children as they do out proving themselves in a work place. Women in turn will value themselves more in the workplace and start demanding more money and more rights for the work they do.

This then brings me to the other problem that, I think, contributes to such a large pay gap: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. As Trevor Phillips said, companies are not actively trying to discriminate, it’s more complex than that. Evidence, be it anecdotal, suggests that women are not as assertive in the work place.

When offered a job, a woman is more likely to accept it, where a man may be more likely to negotiate a starting salary. When a pay review comes up women may be more likely to accept what’s offered or ask for a reasonable amount, where a man may assert he should receive way more than he thinks he will actually get. Perhaps this also comes back to women not wanting to ‘cause trouble’ by asking for so much when they know they are about to take a year off to look after their newly born baby…?


Unknown said...

I dimly recall reading somewhere that, even between men, there is a huge pay gap and this correlates (roughly) to levels of testosterone. The thesis went that, in a stock market, one needs the ability to make decisions quickly and testosterone can contribute to that (a high-testosterone person may be less prone to self-doubt). Being the first to react to a price movement means that you make the most money, hence you earn the most money.

I've no idea if this is true, but if it is true then it suggests that there might be a real performance difference between high-testosterone people (typically male) and low-testosterone people (typically female, but not all men have high testosterone either). Can that ever be a legitimate justification for the gap?

Katy Taylor said...

that's really interesting, I...mmm...i shall find out more.

If you are actually out there earning a company more money from some form of natural talent, then being paid more for doing so seems reasonable- we all excel in different areas for different reasons. It doesn't however justify the huge barriers women face in reaching top positions in most industries, nor the dicrepencies in pay between men and women doing the same job bringing in the same quantity bussiness for companies.

samarkeolog said...

If that were true, it would also mean men were losing companies more money, and putting entire economies/countries in more danger, because of their "flighty" buying (and, so, selling).

So, if it were true (and I would be incredibly wary of (pseudo?)scientific explanations of perceived gender/biological differences, it would actually underpin the stereotypical logic of having the woman run the housekeeping, but on a national and international scale too.

(Maybe I'm a low-testosterone male who just doesn't get destroying my company and country for an inadequacy-quelling bonus.)