Deborah Coddington alternately infuriates me and delights me as a columnist. ‘Alternately’ is probably overstating it, but I cheered a couple of weeks back when I read this:
I’m still proud that in 1986, when Petricevic was filthy rich, I threw him out of my restaurant for being vile to waiting staff.
I was less heartened to read this:
Is there a gender pay gap in this country for people doing the same job? It seems so, according to research from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs – up to 17 per cent less than men for graduates with equivalent degrees. But the causes are complex and – women won’t want to hear this – it’s largely our fault.
To generalise, we just don’t care enough. It seems we’re not as pushy as men when it comes to negotiating pay rises. We also take years out of our careers to have children and therefore miss out on promotion.
I see two problems with what Deborah Coddington is saying here. To be fair, it’s not just Ms Coddington who makes points like these. They’re common enough among those who oppose any work being done to redress pay inequity. First, women take too much time out, and second, it’s their own fault anyway because they’re not pushy enough.
The “too much time out” line is a little hard to run when the pay inequity gap starts to show up as soon as a woman graduates. There’s clearly something going on here that isn’t to do with women staying at home with babies and children.
Perhaps the ‘too much time out’ argument might have something in it 15 or 20 years down the track, when the children have gotten through to the upper years of secondary school, or headed off to start living away from family home, and the primary caregiver can expand her (sometimes his) work hours a little. That’s right. Not get a job in the first place, but expand her work hours. Most primary caregivers manage to fit in some part time work, as well as running the family. But by then, she will have fallen behind her colleagues who have been working full time for all those years, so she just doesn’t have the experience to command a higher wage.
Really? Seems to me that a woman who is working part time is staying up to date with her field, is learning how to manage workplace politics, is accumulating the experience and wisdom that merit the same salary as the people who have been there all the time. She will have had all the quality of experience needed, even if not the mind numbing quantity racked up by those who have spent every day possible at the office. Mutatis mutandis for men who stay at home.
Maybe what we need to examine is not the assumption that taking time out necessarily means that you get paid less, but the other assumption, that long term attendance in a job necessarily means that you deserve a higher salary. While we’re at it, we could also examine that assumption that time spent rearing children and running a house is a great empty void from which a person learns nothing. Speaking for myself, I have acquired some fairly polished skills in time and project management, from running a household and managing logistics for my three children, all while on a budget that at times has been very tight indeed.
We might also need to take a look at the gendered nature of childcare, and have a careful think about why it is usually women who take time out. I’ve heard plenty of people suggest that when it comes to deciding who will stay at home with the babies, the person who earns the least will. But funnily enough, for unknown reasons (I’m being sarcastic here), that person turns out to be the woman (in a run-of-the-mill heterosexual pairing, that is), and once she takes time out, her salary slips even more, so really, it just makes sense for her to continue to be the one out of the workforce and whaddyaknow, when the next baby arrives it makes even more sense and slip, slop, slide all the way down to the bottom of the income heap again.
The ‘too much time out’ argument rests on too many unexamined assumptions. So perhaps the problem is that women just aren’t aggressive enough when it comes to matching male salaries. If only they would demand as much as their male peers, all would be well.
There’s an unexamined assumption behind this one too, that the way that men do things is necessarily the best way. Perhaps it’s not the case that women are undervalued because they are not pushy enough. Perhaps what’s really happening is that men are getting overpaid, and overvalued, because they are too pushy, inflating their demands beyond the bounds of their competence. Perhaps what is needed is not so much an increase in women’s wages, as a decrease in men’s. And perhaps we need employers who are prepared to withstand the importunate demands made by those with an exaggerated sense of their worth. Funnily enough, employers who were prepared to do that might also be prepared to give more credence to the worth of women.
Whatever the reasons for the pay gap between men and women, to simply dismiss it as women’s fault because they take time out, and they don’t ask for enough, puts the blame, or the identification of a cause, on individual women, when it seems that there is probably something systemic going on. That’s the only way to explain the gap in graduates’ wages. But it’s much easier to blame individuals. If each person’s situation is her own fault, then it’s up to each individual person to fix it for herself. And that is surely much easier and cheaper for employers and government to deal with.
Just to round this post off, check out this story from the Independent: Women forced out of jobs by rising cost of childcare
You’ll be noticing who is being forced out of jobs?