Women work 59 days “for free” due to the gender pay gap in Europe, according to headlines this morning.
In Ireland, women earn on average 13.9% less than men. These figures come from a newly published report , based on 2010 data.
Blood-pressure raising reading, if you’re a woman – or indeed a man; men too agree that there should be equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender.
But is it equal work?
Headlines about studies like this don’t take into account that many women are working shorter days or shorter weeks.
Many women are choosing family-friendly roles which allow the flexibility to collect children from school or crèche, but have a trade-off in the form of pay.
Some women deliberately don’t seek promotion, if a new role will require longer hours.
Particularly while children are young, many women want to maintain their position in the workforce but in an “under the radar” way – get through those early childhood years without inviting additional stress, then get back on the career ladder when children are older.
And as is mentioned in the report, women tend to dominate in some sectors and are underrepresented in others, such as science and engineering. This is a wider problem somewhat linked to perceptions of gender-suitable roles – something that as parents we all work towards changing, one childhood game at a time.
But I’m not sure about direct, deliberate gender pay discrimination.
Perhaps in Ireland there is some direct discrimination, whereby an employer decides to pay women less than men, despite equal work. But it’s hard to believe it could be in any way widespread, and it’s difficult to imagine the rationale behind it – what logical reason would any employer have for paying women less, assuming all else is equal?
The gender pay gap is less about women and more about mothers – mothers who are working fewer hours, looking for more flexibility and sometimes avoiding high-stress roles that involve long hours.
The problem arises when women are put on the mommy-track; when it’s assumed that because a woman is working a shorter day or a shorter week, that she is less capable, less productive, and less suitable for promotion.
Mothers working part-time (or “smart-time” as I read in the Financial Times last week) are very, very productive – they have no time to take it easy at work; they want to get the job done as quickly as possible, in order to get to the school or crèche.
They want to get the job done to a high standard of quality in order to maintain any flexible working conditions that they have in place. They are an asset to the employer – an often overlooked and undervalued resource.
Notwithstanding the valid points in the report about choices of traditional gender roles, and the existence of some direct discrimination, I think the headlines obscure the real picture.
If women don’t work full-time, they’re not looking to be paid full-time. But don’t write them off – don’t put them on the mommy-track – judge the output, not the hours.
Post Script: a PwC report released in March 2014 showed the Ireland has a gender pay gap of just 4% , which along with Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, is one of the lowest in Europe.