Hands up who’s spotted articles ‘proving’ the pay gap is a lie? Well, we’re sorry to tell you, they’re wrong.
Believe us, if the pay gap was a myth, we’d be the first to celebrate. We wouldn’t be writing this article because we’d be busy queuing up outside the nearest ATM, withdrawing our savings in ten-pound notes, throwing them up in the air and rolling around in them on the pavement.
We’d be updating our Facebook statuses with our salaries, framing our pay cheques and heading to Selfridges. We’d definitely still enjoy a rant about the importance of equality, but we’d focus on things like why-it’s-unfair-to-feel-scared-every-time-we-walk-home-in-the-dark, and how-rapists-need-harsher-sentences and why-oh-god-why-is-FGM-even-still-a-thing.
We wouldn’t have a day dedicated to wage discrepancy, because how boring is that? We’d rather have a day dedicated to ditching social media. Or high fiving junior doctors. Or walking up the escalator.
So trust us when we say we’re not writing about the pay gap because it’s fun. Writing about the pay gap is not fun. Writing about the pay gap is important. Because the pay gap still exists, and it’s holding all of us back.
And here are the facts, so you can make up your own mind.
IT’S NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT EARNING LESS THAN YOUR MALE COLLEAGUES *RIGHT NOW*
One of the main arguments being brought forward by Pay Gap Deniers (we’ve coined that phrase, and we’re keeping it), is that men and women who do the same job are increasingly likely to earn the same wage. Hurrah! That’s true. Men and women who do the same job are increasingly likely to earn the same wage. Especially if the men and women in question are both in their 20s, and don’t have children.
But ‘increasingly’ does not mean ‘exclusively’. As it stands, the pay gap between men and women (aged between 26 and 35) is six per cent.
That does not mean every woman aged between 26 and 35 is earning six per cent less than her male colleagues. It means that on average, the total earnings of all women within that age bracket will be six per cent less than the total earnings of all men within that age bracket.
Taking all age brackets into account, women (as a group) earn 19.1 per cent less than men (as a group).
THINGS GET WORSE WHEN YOU HAVE CHILDREN
Considerably worse, that is. The high costs of childcare mean that many women are forced out of work altogether, or find themselves cutting their hours – and their salaries – in half. And all of this contributes to the overall pay gap between men and women. After all, if the majority of men are in full time employment, while a considerable proportion of women are in part time employment, that has a pretty big impact on the average earnings for women overall, doesn’t it? If we only look at men and women who are in full time employment, then the pay gap falls to 14.2 per cent.
But that doesn’t mean the pay gap doesn’t exist. If anything, it shows the extent of the inequality in today’s society, because so many women are still primarily responsible for childcare – and have to give up full time employment (or even part time employment) as a result.
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Of course, the main way to resolve this would be to make childcare the responsibility of men as well as women, to support flexible working hours for both parents, and promote the idea that having children does not have to signify the end of a woman’s career.
THE CAREERS THAT ARE CONSIDERED ‘WOMAN FRIENDLY’ ARE OFTEN BADLY PAID
The inequality of our society goes far beyond our salaries. Because whether it’s as simple as being told by your mum not to worry about failing maths because she ‘hated algebra too’, or having it drummed into you that design and technology is ‘for the lads, there’s no disputing the fact that girls and boys are both conditioned over the course of their lives to believe that it’s more acceptable if they’re good at certain subjects and bad at others.
Sure, maybe you just so happen to have a natural aptitude for cutting hair, teaching French or taking care of old people (all female-dominated industries, with average salaries of under 35k), and that’s awesome if so. But maybe you’d also be phenomenal at wiring plugs, investigating lawsuits or researching infectious diseases (all male-dominated industries, with salaries of over 35k). And maybe if you’d been given more opportunities to explore those sides of your personality while you were growing up, you’d be in a completely different place, salary-wise. Just maybe, mind.
It’s also worth wondering why jobs that are stereotypically carried out by women (such as cleaning, cooking and childcare) are financially undervalued, while jobs that are stereotypically done by men, are all about the (to entirely inappropriately quote Jesse J) money, money, money?
THE WAY WE’RE TAUGHT TO BEHAVE AFFECTS OUR EARNING POTENTIAL TOO
Ever heard the old sexist chestnut that ‘men ask for higher salaries, so they get them’?
Well, while that might be true on the surface, shouldn’t we be asking why men are asking more than women in the first place? It’s certainly not because women don’t want higher salaries – that much we can all agree on. We would LOVE higher salaries.
Instead, it seems – at least in part – to come down to the language that we use when we talk about women, and the language that we use to describe ambitious, driven women specifically. When was the last time you used the word ‘bossy’ or ‘shrill’ to describe a man in power? What about referencing his skills as a parent when he stays late in the office? And when that language is applied to women in the workplace on a daily basis, is it any wonder that we’re reluctant to put ourselves forward and ask directly for what we want?
THINGS GET WORSE WHEN YOU GET OLDER, TOO
According to recent statistics, employed women over the age of 60 earn (on average), 38 per cent less than men in the same age bracket, because they’re penalised for both their age, and their gender. And it’s no surprise – if a woman has been forced by circumstance to cut her hours in order to raise her children for a couple of decades, then that’s going to affect any attempts to get back onto the career ladder later down the line.
All of which just brings this entire issue right back to childcare: provide equal parental opportunities for men and women, provide government-funded childcare, and educate boys and girls that looking after kids isn’t a woman’s work, and not only would the average female income increase, but the overall UK economy would benefit, too. Which sounds ace really, doesn’t it?