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No more excuses: Why your attempts to deny the gender pay gap just won’t wash

It’s a proven fact that women are paid significantly less than men for the same or equivalent work, but too many people just don’t want to face the truth. Tao Lin rebuts some of the most common ways the gender pay imbalance is dismissed.

Here’s a cool party trick: bring up the fact that in New Zealand women currently earn about 13% less than men for work of the same value and just watch as the nearest ignoramus unfurls a D-Day-level onslaught of denial and outrage.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about the gender pay gap. Indeed, we should be shouting about it as loudly as we can – and keep doing so until something actually gets done. The trick is to have the facts at your fingertips, so you can debate those boneheaded denialists with confidence. So here are some of the most common arguments you’ll hear against pay equity, and why they’re wrong.

The pay gap is a lie perpetuated by feminists

According to the World Economic Forum, there is no country in the world where women make as much money as men for the same work. It estimates that at the current rate it’ll take 170 years, i.e. a depressingly long time, for that wage gap to close.

The New Zealand courts have recognised that female workers in one industry should be paid the same as men doing similar work in another industry that’s not dominated by women.

And the government is introducing a bill this year to allow women to file pay equity claims with their employers rather than go through the court system.

But yeah, feminist lie, sure.

But the pay gap ignores things like hours worked, different experiences and different industries

In the US, researchers took those factors into account and controlled for things like experience, education, skills and time in the workforce and found the gap shrunk to between US93 and 95 cents to every dollar, as opposed to the more widely cited US78-80c.

I don’t know about you, but that still looks like a gap to me. Or let me put it this way: would you take a five to eight per cent cut to your salary?

Well, there’s nothing stopping women from choosing higher-paying roles

Well, actually…

In New Zealand, many of the highest paid roles are in the IT industry, which is male dominated. Senior leadership and governance roles are overwhelmingly filled by men: NZX figures show just 17% of publicly-listed company directors are female, a number that failed to improve between 2015 and 2016. There is one female CEO in all the companies on the NZX 50.

Our workforce is highly segregated by gender, although that is slowly changing. Deeply ingrained ideas of what is “female” and “male” work means women are over-represented in areas like nursing, caregiving and education. Since society places little to no value on that sort of work, these industries are generally lower paid than male dominated industries like technology, construction and engineering.

A study by sociologists based on US census data from 1950 to 2000 found that when large numbers of women entered an industry, pay decreased on the whole. This is even after controlling for things like skill, race and location.

When women do enter male dominated industries, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of sexual harassment and discrimination. Results of a recent survey on women working in Silicon Valley showed 60% of the 220 women surveyed had experienced unwanted sexual advances. Almost half of the women surveyed said they had been asked to do lower-level tasks not expected of their male colleagues, like taking notes or ordering food.

I’d just like to point out that there are some great women in these fields doing brilliant work, and groups like Girl Code, Refactor and Geek Girl that encourage and support women in STEM. There are also initiatives like the Institute of Directors’ Mentoring for Diversity programme that aim to get more women into senior level positions.

More women are better educated than ever before and they’re levelling the playing field in historically male dominated, highly paid professions like law and medicine. But we’re still a while away from getting more women into the top echelons of those industries, and it comes down to more than just making a simple choice.

But women choose to have kids and to work less

Again with the choice thing!

Yes, many women do take time off to have kids and some may opt for more flexible, lower-paying work to have more than a fleeting involvement in their children’s upbringing.

But why for women do career and family have to be mutually exclusive? Why is it okay that it often has to be the woman who puts her career on the backburner?

Not only does the wage gap mean it makes less economic sense for the mother to work instead of the father, eligibility for paid parental leave in New Zealand largely lies with the mother. Her partner or spouse can take two weeks’ unpaid leave only if certain criteria are met, or they can take the full 18 weeks if all or part of the birth mother’s parental leave payments are transferred over.

The way the system works now disadvantages working mothers, and women still feel pressure not to have children because of the high likelihood of discrimination at work.

Last year I interviewed the HR manager of law firm Simpson Grierson about how they achieved a zero pay gap. There was a huge raft of initiatives, including giving all staff the option to buy extra leave; flexible working options; implementing performance bands; having a centralised remuneration system rather than letting team leaders set salaries; and doing salary reviews for staff who go on parental leave so that they don’t miss out on pay rises.

This is the sort of effort more companies in New Zealand need to make, because guess what? We don’t live in the 1950s anymore.

But don’t women suck at negotiating pay and asking for promotions?

Why? Because we’re all meek waifs afraid to say, “Please sir, I want some more?” A study last year involving 4600 Australian workers across more than 800 employers found no difference in the likelihood of asking for pay increases between men and women. But when comparing like-for-like, the study found men were 25% more likely to receive the pay rises they ask for.

And no, it’s not because “men do a better job” or whatever basic, unsubstantiated comment denialists grunt out as a response.

Let me explain through a story: An American social psychologist once did an experiment where she gave more than 100 scientists – so, people who are trained to be objective and assess facts – two identical CVs for a lab manager role. She put a man’s name on one and a woman’s name on the other. Turns out, the female candidate was seen as less competent and was recommended a lower salary. Even the female scientists preferred the male candidate. The researcher stressed the scientists likely didn’t realise they were discriminating against the female candidate, i.e. their decision was affected by unconscious bias.

Other researchers recently tested people’s reactions to assertiveness and found on average, women were penalised for direct forms of assertiveness like negotiating for a higher salary. Men didn’t receive the same negative reactions. While this didn’t affect a woman’s perceived competence, it affected her likeability, binding her in a professional Catch 22: ineligible for advancement for being too aggressive if she asks for it, and unworthy for being too passive if she doesn’t.

Hey, here’s another fun party trick: how about we stop with the anger and excuses already. Instead, let’s actually give all women the chance to succeed in work and life – because that’s the right thing to do, for all of us.

Join the campaign for pay equity at Treat Her Right.

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