Do women really lose out in the workplace on account of their gender?
It has been said that if a woman was always available to do the same work as a man for less money, why would a capitalist ever employ a man?
Glib aphorism maybe, but does it make a point?
The same claims continue to be made over and over by some commentators that the “boy’s club” still exists, that women are denied opportunity and paid less for the same work simply because they’re women.
Is this true, or is it pandering?
Is it a case of some individuals in the media telling their readers what they want to hear instead of honestly addressing the issues?
Anne Summers for The Sydney Morning Herald in what appears to be a well researched piece headed Gender Pay Gap Still a Disgrace wrote: “…statistics, released in August 2012 by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA, formerly known as EOWA, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency), make for grim reading. There is barely an occupation, a job, a sector or an age group where women do not earn less, often hugely less, than men”.
Cassidy Knowlton for Crikey in what appears to be a well researched piece headed Get Fact: do men make much more than women for the same job? wrote (quoting the WGEA again) “The (pay) gap is currently 17.1% and has hovered between 15% and 18% for the past two decades. We also know there are pay gaps in favour of men in every industry and in all roles, including in female-dominated industries.”
But Ms. Knowlton then goes to other sources. E.g.: GCA report author Bruce Guthrie told Crikey the WGEA had made some “mistaken assumptions” about the figures: “The gap between sexes is far smaller than they posited. The key issue they missed in terms of their assumptions were that the figures we presented did not take into account the different types of work people were doing … People in different areas can have different earnings, and sometimes you find also there can be differences in terms of choices made by males and females.”
And: Crikey took a closer look at GCA’s 2012 data and found that the average starting salary for male graduates is not actually much higher than that of female graduates in most fields. In fact, in the fields of computer science, earth sciences, engineering, pharmacy, physical sciences and social sciences, the average female starting salary was higher. And in agricultural science, biological science, education, humanities, medicine, psychology and veterinary science, there wasn’t much difference.
Anne Summers concludes: As the figures make clear, the gender pay gap is a national scandal. It amounts to a gender tax, with women making a disproportionate contribution to the national economy. (And that’s on top of having the kids and doing most of the housework!)
Cassidy Knowlton concludes: So while a gender pay gap does exist in Australia, it does not seem to be the case that women are paid much less simply because of their gender. Choosing lower-paid careers, a temporary break in earnings to raise children and a need for flexible or part-time working hours all hurt women’s earning potential.
Both writers make mention of the difference family can make for a woman.
Anne Summers seems to think raising children is a chore akin to housework.
Cassidy Knowlton categorises them as hurting a woman’s earning potential.
But not all women see their children as a burden or an impediment – they’re our kids for God’s sake and surely most of us want to do what’s best for them?
Anecdotally I’m told of mother’s refusing promotion or the offer to work more hours even though it means more money because they have other priorities – usually family.
Some careers are more difficult to combine with children than others.
For example it has always been my understanding that female scientists who are also parents find it particularly difficult to re-establish medical research work.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher makes this exact point in the RiotACT report on her announcement of what seems like a good initiative: the establishment of the Judith Whitworth Fellowship for Gender Equity in Science at the ANU.
It makes sense to me to deal with parenting issues – which from my observations are so often the real reason why some women earn less than some men – on a case by case basis, rather than just quote overall figures which don’t tell the full story and then rush to judgment and claim women miss out because Australia is run by the “boy’s club”.
Still, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as it’s an issue that affects so many of us I’m interested in pursuing it.
If you have a thought on the matter or experience which relates, let me know.