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On equal pay for women

Equal pay for women has reared its head as an issue again recently with a study finding that, over an average working life, women will earn about one million pounds less than their male counterparts, and are generally paid less than men for the same job. This is, of course, fair and reasonable.

These studies are always going to find women paid less, because women are paid less. The automatic knee-jerk feminist response that this is due to chauvinist males or due to sexism is wrong. But then, the automatic knee-jerk feminist response has probably been to stop reading at the words "fair and reasonable" at the end of the last paragraph, or to have skipped ahead to fill out something nasty in the comments section. By all means. I'll publish it as long as it fulfills the requirements. Anyway, for the more measured of my readers, and for those never given to automatic knee-jerk feminist responses, I will explain why I believe that a gap will always exist, and why it is not necessarily a sign of a domineering patriarchal chauvinist society.

The first and obvious place to look for a source of discrepancy is child birth. While men can take time off to look after children, they can't give birth, they can't breastfeed, and no matter how even the maternity/paternity provisions are, I'd be prepared to bet that women would still take more time off for raising kids than men would. This decision would be based on what the couple decides are best for them, rather than any externally imposed compulsion. If we say that women lose an average of 5 years over their career, even if they have the children while young, the effect is that they still lose the 5 best years of their career pay. I'd be very surprised if someone coming back from time off immediately gets promoted.

Then, of course, greater numbers of women decide to downshift than men, particularly after major events such as having children. On the other hand, if a man is the major earner in the relationship, seeing the bills stack up is generally an incentive for the man to work harder or take a better paying job because he now has responsibility to make up for what his partner isn't earning and to pay for the kids.

Now we get to the inherent unfairness of any disparity between what two people get paid. It seems obvious that two people employed in the same position should be paid the same amount. Obvious, but wrong. Even if we say that the two people have the same capabilities and the same outputs, it doesn't necessarily mean that they should be paid the same. If one worker is able to and prepared to negotiate for higher pay, should they not be able to get it, just because other people aren't prepared to? Or should the boss automatically have to put everyone on the same pay regardless of the freedom to rule on individual circumstances? What if a worker says to the boss, "I've been offered a job at another company for a fair bit more than I'm being paid now, but I'd be prepared to stay here for..." Is the boss to be forbidden from paying the worker more than someone else just because the boss doesn't want to increase everybody's pay? Even if the boss loses a good employee?

Now let's say that, dealing with population averaged traits, men are more prepared to either move jobs or ask for a pay increase. Consequently, it stands to reason that, over the entire population, men will be paid more than women for similar work. More to the point, if a boss hires 100 people to do similar jobs, the boss may be prepared to pay one or two workers extra if given the need to retain them, but would the boss be prepared to pay 100 workers extra to retain one or two workers? As long as the boss can prove that individual differences in pay are linked to individual differences in situation, they should be free to pay whatever they feel they need to. Once the freedom to pay people based on individual circumstances is removed, individual incentives disappear, work stagnates and society goes the same way as in the fallen communist states. Is this what we really want, just so we can say that every woman is paid the same as any man when they do the same job?



Just after writing the above piece, I came across a piece by the Australian federal commissioner in charge of discriminating based on sex, Pru Goward, which can be found in The Age. In this startling piece, Goward generally trots out the usual garbage about how hard done by women are, although she does make one startling admission:

But men are not the enemy.
Wow! Given that by number about half of the people who pay her salary and give her employment are men (we won't go into stuff about who pays how much in taxes), the fact that she should even think the question is raised with the answer "but men are not the enemy" means that she inherently sees her job as adversarial promoting women's causes, rather than being an impartial judge promoting equality for all Australians.

As to the nonsense she spews forth about women not being on boards being a sign of anything meaningful, this is pure and utter nonsense. The reason being that a board is appointed by the shareholders to look after their interests and make them money. More importantly, the people who really control the appointments are the people who own large chunks of shares, and hence have lots of money at stake in the board make-up. I'd be very surprised if these appointments were made based on anything other than the best interests of the major shareholders, and questions of sex would come into their mind with about the same priority as whether the candidate puts on their left shoe before or after their right. Surely no one in their right minds would believe that someone with hundreds of millions of dollars invested is going to appoint an inferior candidate just because he doesn't wear a dress? And even if they do, as with any other elected position, it is their decision. Not Ms Goward's.

Similarly, she raises questions in Government where almost one in four MHRs and over one in three senators are women. If one in two voters are women, and we make a ridiculous assumption that all men only vote for men...we get to a level of irreducible stupidity. Are we to be forced to elect women? Should there be designated "women only" electorates? I will vote against whoever I want to vote against, regardless of any gender assignations.

And of course, until there is exactly 50% representation in the judiciary, this will permanently be held up as an example of discrimination. As she rightly points out, we have only had sex discrimination legislation for just over 21 years. Given that judges have jobs until they retire, is 21 years enough time for enough women to enter and rise through the ranks in sufficient numbers to warrant fully equal representation by number? I have read several pieces she has written (usually in the age), and she never includes the stats I'd see as necessary to actual demonstrate any kind of ceiling or barrier. Just presenting the number at the top is simplistic and lazy. If there is a genuine (rather than legacy) gender imbalance it has to come in at some level. The information I'd like her to provide relate to where the imbalance occurs.

Just to make stuff up here, let's say to be a top judge, you have to be appointed through two judge-promotions, and you need to be a senior lawyer to be appointed judge in the first place, and to be a senior lawyer, and let's stick in two lawyer levels on the way. Now, let's say for whatever reason a man is slightly more likely to keep going. Say that 55% of entering law students are male. And of the students who graduate, if you look at an evenly balanced gender group, males make up 55%, and this keeps going at every stage, you'll have women at just 25% after 7 stages. Now this is just an illustration of numbers, and doesn't relate to either real systems or real numbers, but if you have only 25% of the people who could potentially rise to the top level being female, why would you then expect 50% at the top level, which is want Ms Goward seems to imply is the ideal number, given that 35.7% in the senate still isn't close enough to even be thought of as equality.

Addendum - I have been unable to find Goward's email address to invite her to respond. If anyone wants to have a look to see if they can find it so I can issue that invitation, I would be grateful. It's only fair she gets a chance to respond.

Comment from Gillian

You miss the point about equal pay for equal work. It isn't a question of negotiating more for one person; it's that the inequalities are inherent in the system. (aside from the fact that when the basic wage was first promulagated, women's wage was set at two-thirds of a man's wage, because 'she didn't have a family to take care of'.) When I first started teaching, I was in the first intake of women teachers who got paid the same as male teachers. And there was a big fuss about it too.

The system has an underlying assumption that women's work is of less value that a man-look how little child care workers, nurses, and carers are paid. Until the old guard of senior male managers move on, there can be no chance of equality of opportunity in the workplace. Deals are still done in men's rooms and on golf courses. Remember the Yes, Minister ep where Dorothy HAD to have a office opposite the men's loos? Women are systematically excluded just because they are women. The problem is basically one of comfort. Middle class, middle aged males feel most comfortable with people who are like them...and THAT is why the system continues to be inherently sexist. John Howard is stuck in the fifties with a stay-at-home wife who takes care of the children ideologically because that is what he knows and is comfortable with.

And WHY should one person get paid more just because they ask for it anyway? Why should the shy and insecure be prenalised for their psychological glitches? Surely people should be paid what their work is worth?

I respond

Where to begin? As I said, we won't deal with legacy systems here. You first started teaching before I was born and before the sex discrimination act, so the case has about the same to do with modern conditions as the signing of the Magna Carta. Historical interest only.

Remember the Yes, Minister ep where Dorothy HAD to have a office opposite the men's loos?

Yes it was a funny episode of a fictional comedy. Hardly proof of anything. I don't think women are systematically excluded from anything. If they were, that would be a violation of the act and prosecutable.

Middle class, middle aged males feel most comfortable with people who are like them

You know a middle class, middle aged male or two who were involved in very senior management. Do you think that they would be more likely to hire based on competence or comfort?

Indeed, do you actually know of a specific, provable case where this has happened. That's the problem with arguments in relation to equal pay. We get empty assertions on a flawed system, and meaningless figures which seem to show sexism, but don't stand up to any level of scrutiny.

And WHY should one person get paid more just because they ask for it anyway?

Basic economics: They will only get if they can show that it is in the company's interests to give. If I'm prepared to stop working unless I'm given a certain set of conditions, then the company has to decide whether they would rather keep me under the new conditions or lose me. If I am worth the extra conditions to them, they will keep, otherwise they won't. But if I'm not prepared to move, then the company isn't faced with a choice, so doesn't have to pay me more. It's not about being penalised for being shy or insecure. The case I gave was someone who was offered a job elsewhere for more money. If you are shy or insecure and hence not prepared to go for better paying jobs, either internally or externally, then you will not get paid more either way. In general, you will get paid the minimum the company can get away with to get and retain the people it wants and the work it wants. They're companies, not charities.

The system has an underlying assumption that women's work is of less value that a man-look how little child care workers, nurses, and carers are paid

I can't believe you'd make such a sexist assertion! There is no such thing as women's work or men's work. If it is reasonable to assert that nursing or child care is "women's work" then it stands to reason that there is such a thing as "men's work" and figures on discrepancies between sexes in a given position are meaningless. For someone entering the workforce now, there are no surprises. The figures are readily available as to how many jobs there are, how many poeple are in those jobs and how many people are training for those jobs, as well as what those positions get paid. If you go into nursing, you know that there are a given number of nurses, a given number of positions and a given pay. If the number of nurses drops because more nurses are leaving than entering, pay will go up, while if the number of nurses goes up, pay will go down. But given that a 16 year old setting their career plan can get any and all figures, they have only themselves to blame if they enter a low paying field.

Comment from Gillian

I didn't assert that there is men's work or women's work. It is a assumption that people in the 'nurturing' professions are usually women, and so that work is assigned lower value because it is dominated by women. (That's why kinder teachers are paid less-because what they do is seen to be child-minding rather than teaching) Look what happened to the role of secretary when women started being employed as such-the value of the role was downplayed, and women were paid less than men, so it came to be seen as a jopb appropriate for women.

And of course women are excluded from the power-broking 'social' activities. There are still golf-courses where women are only allowed to play during the week and not on the weekend That Yes Minister ep may have been fiction, but it is solidly based in fact. Heard of the glass ceiling? Not all women, all the time, but if you think that the bad old days of gender inequality have long gone...I've got news for you. it is still alive and well. And yes, I do know at least one. From what I have seen and heard, he is an exception. He judges ALL people on their merit. Not many, particulalry of your grandfather's genration can do that.

YOur suggestion that people should be able to negotiate a better deal...how? Factory workers don't have the sort of negotiating power that someone who is articulate and has good qualifications can have.

I respond

By using the phrase "women's work" you inherently assert that such a thing exists. Particularly when you then bring in examples of jobs where women are traditionally the majority.

There are still golf-courses where women are only allowed to play during the week and not on the weekend

Big assertion. Name and shame, and I will invite a response from said golf clubs. Let's say if you can find 3, I'll concede on the point. But they do get the right of reply.

Heard of the glass ceiling?

I have actually, and most reports on it suggest that it is now imposed more by women than by men. If women don't want equality for anyone but themselves, rather than for all women, indeed for all people, then there is not a lot which will ever be done about it.

And yes, I do know at least one. From what I have seen and heard, he is an exception.

This is a typical argument raised by women: "The people I know are good but they are the exception" There must be an awful lot of exceptions. It's good, isn't it.

Your suggestion that people should be able to negotiate a better deal...how?

I don't suggest that they should be able to at all. I suggest they will get paid what the company can get away with paying them. If they have an individual skill that the company needs, and are prepared to test how much the company needs them, they will get paid more. Simple as that. But you are avoiding the issue anyway. The issue isn't whether it is fair or otherwise for people in different jobs to be paid differently; the issue is whether there are explanations other than sexism or unlawful discrimination for different pay between people in equal jobs.

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