The Real Gender Pay Gap

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. 

credit: eige.europa.eu
credit: eige.europa.eu

 

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3 thoughts on “The Real Gender Pay Gap”

  1. I think men still have it good. In primary schools male teachers are currently running at 10% v females yet 49% of men make it to principle positions! In 2004 male salary as a result was over €7400 greater than female. It is evident in so many areas.
    I was at a meeting recently and a new colleague came in. When the meeting began he asked me, as the only female, to take the minutes. It did not go down well with me. I challenged him as to why me and in the end we divided the role as I am definitely not the best for the role.
    Gender gap and discrimination go hand in hand.
    tric recently posted…The link between Mandela, Northern Ireland and my Mother.My Profile

    1. OOh Tric that would have made my blood pressure go up! I have heard similar stories of women being asked to make the tea but only reading articles online; I’ve never seen it in real life. I work in a very gender balanced office with lots of women in senior positions.
      Having said that, most of the women who are very senior either don’t have children or have grown up children. Many with smaller kids are working somewhat reduced hours and staying under the radar – for now anyway.
      Re. the principles: I’m not at all familiar with teaching as a profession or how principle roles are filled, but I wonder is it partly because women don’t feel confident about going for promotion and also perhaps want to maintain a better work/ life balance? (I’m assumng that principles work longer hours but that might not be the case – I don’t know much about it at all)

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