Earlier this week, it was announced that the gender pay gap is widening.
Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, over 820,000 more women have moved in to low paid and insecure jobs. That’s more than 137,000 women each year being forced into taking lower incomes, zero hour contracts, limiting and limited roles whilst all the while saying goodbye to opportunity, training and the peace of mind that comes with the feeling of being appreciated as a member of the human community.
The latest statistics shouldn’t be a surprise. We know that women are regularly and blatantly undervalued in the UK today. If women were treated and respected as equals there would be no need for No More Page 3, Everyday Sexism or 50:50 Parliament, let alone the countless organisations set up to support victims of rape, domestic violence and bullying. The gender pay gap is another curve on a relentless spiral of demeaning, destructive and damaging ways we have of keeping women firmly in their place.
It may not be a surprise but what I don’t understand is why we aren’t shocked. Shocked in to action, shocked in to making a change. Even if we were to believe (and I for one do not) that all men are sexists who think that if women must be allowed to leave the boudoir/kitchen sink stereotype, the only roles they can occupy in the workplace are – depending on their age and vital statistics – sexy secretary or frumpy dinner lady, 48% of the workforce are women. How is it possible that half of the workforce – half of the population – are being discriminated against and modern society simply sighs and whispers ‘never mind’?
According to a recent Chartered Management Institute study, women have to work 14 years longer over the course of their lifetimes before they earn the same amount of money as men. Women are working in positions that they are overqualified for, one in four women who are in low paid employment are educated to degree level. Women in their forties earn less a third less than men the same age.
All across the country – no, scratch that and reverse it – all across the world, society is turning a blind eye as women continue to be penalised in the workplace (I know…not just the workplace). In the USA women earn 77 cents for every $1 a man earns. Obama has gone on record to say that this is wrong, his mantra being “equal pay for equal work”. That is, until it was discovered that female staffers at the White House are paid only 88 cents for every $1 male staffers earn.
Everyone wants to talk about the gender pay gap issue, but no-one seems to want to offer any solution other than blaming women for being the child-bearing gender. Earlier this week (Tuesday 19 August) BBC Radio Scotland’s Morning Call programme featured a live phone-in focusing on the question ‘Are women being penalised in the workplace?’
Here lies part of the problem. It is clear that women aren’t being treated the same as men. Until the media, our government and our employers stop framing the debate around the question “are women being punished” and start to deal with the problem (“why are women being punished” and most importantly “how do we stop this unnecessary punishment and prevent it from ruining what could quite easily be – in gender terms – an equal society”) then we are doomed. Despite the fact the Equal Pay Act came in to force in 1970, I despair for the next generation of women.
Back to the radio programme. Morning Call was about to become Morning Sickness as it wasn’t long before the world’s biggest ever non-question reared it’s ugly head.Yep, you guessed it…Can women have it all?
And. There. It. is.
Women have to work 14 years longer than men in order to earn the same amount of money. Fourteen years. Almost the length of time it takes to raise one of those children things that women are so keen on having. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Morning Call guest Marcus Wood, Managing Director of Fleming Banfu Executive Recruitment agency informed listeners that a couple of decades ago employers may have asked the age of a female candidate but not any more. He declined to mention that this is because it’s illegal to ask the age of a candidate (or indeed if they are of childbearing age) rather than because of a fair and just modern work environment. Disappointingly he doesn’t mention the 50,000 women each year who are forced to leave their jobs because of maternity discrimination, or the countless women who struggle to get back in to work because of rising childcare costs.
According to Wood, women choose to earn less. (Who are these women? I’ve not met one) In fact, according to Marcus Wood it’s “predominantly” the fault of women that they earn less than men.
Now lets see. I do remember deciding which course to do at university. I remember deciding which positions to apply for as I progressed along my career path. I remember choosing which cities I would live in, and deciding to get married. I even recall choosing to try for a child despite holding the position of CEO at the time. Crazy, eh?
What I struggle to remember is the day I decided to be the person who held the womb, not to mention the responsibilities and punishments that come with it. Was it when I was in my own mother’s womb, or when I was born, or when I decided briefly aged 5 that pink was my favourite colour? Oh, that’s right. I didn’t choose to have the responsibility of the missed period, the pregnancy, the hormonal rollercoaster, the countless questions (and assumptions) from people as to whether I would look after my baby full time or return to work, or worst of all the expectation (from others, not myself) that when I return to paid work I won’t be able to return on the salary I earned before having my baby.
During the BBC Radio Scotland programme, a male member of the public referred to the experience of pregnancy and child birth mentioned in the above paragraph as “popping out children.” The presenter, Louise White, did not flicker at this major understatement of what is arguably the most important job in the world. In fact it was White who read the comment out.
Yet when a female caller, Morag, referred to the fact that most men want children so that they can enjoy their little princesses or their little footballers, the presenter immediately interrupted stating that this was sexist. For me, Morag was the only person who spoke any sense – albeit sometimes through the ever so slightly gritted teeth of frustration – and she was the only one to be referred to as sexist by the presenter.
As a woman who expects to be able to have both the time and space to take care of my child full time to school age whilst also being able to enjoy an exciting career, I found it nerve-wracking to hear Louise White, who has two children and a career at the BBC, to say the words “women can’t have it both ways.”
However it’s unfair to single out White as there are many, many examples of women in both the public eye and amongst the general public who let damaging comments pass them by (myself included). We’re so used to childbirth being referred to as ‘popping it out’ and the temporary fog of tiredness that is being a new mother (note: not father) as ‘baby brain’, that we let it slip by. This has to change.
Believe me. Whatever else is said about the gender pay gap, there is one thing that is indisputable. There isn’t a woman on this planet who wants to be paid less than her male colleague for the sole reason that she is a woman. There isn’t a woman on this planet who deserves to be paid less than her male colleague for the sole reason that she is a woman.
Lets be honest with ourselves. Women are being punished for being the only gender that can carry children. (Missed) Period.