The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

So why is it that women are the ones doing it wrong?

Cross posted

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.

Source: Fiercely rich give wealthy hard workers a bad name

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.

Source: How about sticking up for yourselves… girls?

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?

19 responses to “So why is it that women are the ones doing it wrong?

  1. Psycho Milt August 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Meh. I work in a female-dominated profession with a disproportionate level of male senior staff, so it wouldn’t suprise me if the average male salary is higher. And this in a public-sector field in which the employers take active steps to reduce inequity.

    My totally subjective observation of the hundred or so people in my female-friendly workplace is of no shortage of clever, competent women with management potential, mostly looking to reduce their hours so they can spend more time at home, not putting themselves forward for advancement because they don’t want the aggro and the unpaid extra work hours that come with it, being happy with a low-level position because their husband’s career comes first, and taking years off work because their husband thinks raising kids is the mother’s job. If it’s easy to blame individuals, maybe that’s because in a lot of cases it’s the individuals who made choices resulting in lower pay.

    • tallulahspankhead August 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      Right. And there’s no systemic problem there, of these women not being encouraged to value their own careers, of implementing workplace practices that encourage a better balance so women don’t have to reduce their hours to be able to spend more time at home. Or, you know, facilitating an environment that isn’t ‘agro’ so women are excluded from it. Perhaps if management weren’t so male-dominated, these things might happen.

      Or, to turn your last sentence around, perhaps if it’s easier to blame individuals, we should look at the managers who let this happen. Just a thought.

    • tallulahspankhead August 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      Also, just a suggestion for future interaction on feminist websites? Don’t respond to an excellent post on a topic we’re actively fighting with ‘meh’. Unless you intended to be patronizing and dismissive, in which case, well played.

      • Psycho Milt August 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm

        What the reader thinks is what the reader thinks. To pretend otherwise actually would be patronising.

        Or, to turn your last sentence around, perhaps if it’s easier to blame individuals, we should look at the managers who let this happen.

        Meanwhile, back in the reality-based community, in which I’m one of those managers who “let this happen” on the basis that decisions his staff make about their personal lives aren’t really for their boss to second-guess, I really don’t envisage giving my female staff pep talks on what they should tell their lazy, sexist husbands.

    • Scar August 9, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      As someone who has been employed as both male and female in the same industry, I can personally attest that I took quite a pay cut when I started working as a woman. A $15k paycut, to be precise, because I couldn’t get the same starting salary as a woman that I could when people thought I was male.
      And my work ethic hasn’t changed at all.

      Food for thought.

      • The Surly Mermaid August 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

        Your story is anecdotal and cannot be used as representative data for all transwomen.

        • Scar August 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm

          It’s not representative of trans women. Thanks for reducing me to just my trans status though.
          There is also a space between ‘trans’ and ‘women’. Removing the space is dehumanising; please don’t do it.

          Anyway, allow me to explain. I’ll keep it simple:
          – Person A applies for jobs of type X as a man, gets offered jobs worth around 60-70k.
          – Person A applies for jobs of type X as a woman, gets offered around 45-55k.
          Conclusion? WOMEN with exactly the same qualifications, skills and experience as a man will get offered around 15k less.

          It appears that you are implying I was getting offered less because I’m a trans woman. Else you wouldn’t have brought up my trans status.
          If that’s the case, that’s really awful – and deeply problematic on multiple levels.

      • Deborah August 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm

        There’s some interesting evidence around about the experience of academics and people in professional jobs who have transitioned from man to woman, or woman to man. It’s anecdotal, but in each case, it seems that people met with more social approval when they were men (either before or after transition, depending on whether they transitioned from male to female, or female to male). The evidence that Scar has offered above is consistent with that i.e. it’s not to do with being a trans man or a trans woman, but to do with being a woman or a man. I’m sorry, I don’t have the references at home, but I do have them in my office. I will try to put them up tomorrow, ‘though at this stage it looks as though I will be home caring for sick children tomorrow (which I wouldn’t normally mention, but it’s actually relevant to this post), so I may not be able to do it until Friday.

  2. Msconduct August 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    And perhaps we need employers who are prepared to withstand the importunate demands made by those with an exaggerated sense of their worth.

    I’m not sure how you envisage this working. If individual employers refuse pay demands, they risk losing staff who they clearly value (otherwise they wouldn’t be prepared to consider pay increases) to other employers who are prepared to meet these demands. If employers act in concert to limit pay, this is essentially a cartel – not an arrangement usually considered to be in the interests of workers.

  3. coleytangerina August 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Great post. What I love (/hate) about pay inequity and the glaring sexism behind it, is that the derailing discussions we’ve probably all been pulled into around ‘how much better women do in school than men’ and how ‘actually men are trailing behind women and we should be fixing that before we start talking about feminism’ are pretty easily cut short when you talk about how quickly things re-align on entry into the workforce.

    (That’s not to say that education success rates aren’t something to discuss, and that we wouldn’t advocate for men doing better in secondary school and tertiary education, obvs.)

  4. The Surly Mermaid August 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    My (female) manager in my public sector job was amazed when I asked for a pay rise, apparently no woman had ever done that before, although she’d had men that did. I got the pay rise. I was the only woman on the “special projects team.” When I asked why, I was told that the other women don’t like to work late nights at short notice. I was surprised at this, and had a quiet word with them over the next few days… yes, it was true – childcare or because they liked to be home when their husband arrived.

    When I was promoted to management I worked my arse off to get more women onto the special project teams, get more women into training, look for ways to increase participation and effectiveness – which is linked to pay. It was disheartening that many of the women in the team wouldn’t work late (even though the office would pay for childcare if late night work was required) or at the weekend to attend courses to upskill. It was a struggle to encourage women to put their hand up for new projects. I never had a shortage of men in the team who would. At my weekly catchups with the team I asked the women what more do you need, are you interested in x, y or z, what would make this job better for you… i got so little back. People were prepared to do what they needed to do at work – and in most cases they did it really weel – but weren’t prepared to go the extra mile. It was this that became difficult in determining pay.

    For the longest time I thought it was because I was a terrible manager. Maybe I was. Too demanding, too “masculine”, too “unfeminine”. If I was a man, I wonder if I would’ve soul searched so much about how to get women engaged in the workplace to the same extent. Sigh.

    I work for myself as a consultant now. I set my own rates, mainly work for men and take them for all I can get.

    • Scar August 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      Your story is anecdotal and cannot be used as representative data for all women.

      • Moz August 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm

        No, but there are a lot of those anecdotes around. I have one friend who when she dug around discovered that a: one of her subordinates was getting 20% more pay than her and b: asking for a 30% pay rise got it with no argument. She was shocked at how easy it was (and this from someone with a PhD that, amongst other things, looked at gender biases in pay rates). The ease she got the rise with means she could have asked for more…

        I recite that because it’s easier than digging up the actual research. Which does exist, points to a systematic problem, and also a number of approaches that are known not to work. I think the Surly Mermaid has given a fair summary of the main issues.

        I have many of the same problems, they are not unique to women or any single profession – it’s the behaviour of a relatively small percentage of men (straight white men, even) with their huge sense of entitlement and willingness to sacrifice for their jobs that makes it hard for everyone else. The systematic issues are partly a result of this, as much as they’re a cause of it. Experience leads management to expect that it’s the SWM who will drop everything to pull an all-nighter to get something done, who will focus on the long view and doing more than just what they’re told to. So those are the people managers try to hire and promote. Those are the people who are worth three or four “normal” staff but only cost 20%-50% more.

        How do we fix this? Same way we did with “not enough female engineers” – get out there and start telling young girls that the only thing that matters in life is being successful in their careers, and if they have to sacrifice their health and family to get that, that’s a good choice. Do that for a generation and see what happens.

        My personal response has been to make a whole bunch of choices designed to put me in a position where I can work part-time at a well-paid job and have relatively fixed hours. Which means looking at ways to be more productive than my co-workers, even while I work shorter hours. Not because I’m a mother with kids, but because I have things I’d rather do than work. I have a few male friends who are doing the same thing. It’s hard, but it can be done. In a way I admire the dedication of friends who are much more work-driven, and envy their greater incomes, but then I look at their private lives (insofar as they have them), and wince.

    • Deborah August 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

      It was disheartening that many of the women in the team wouldn’t work late (even though the office would pay for childcare if late night work was required) or at the weekend to attend courses to upskill.

      Yes. Speaking from my own experience, it’s not just whether or not the children are cared for, but the whole second shift that still has to happen – things like getting meals organised, clothes washed, homework supervised, school lunches prepared. Weekends are incredibly valuable home management times for me, so I am usually very, very reluctant to give them up. Contrast this with my partner, who can just head off overseas, or stay late at work, because he knows that I will have our home running smoothly. Again, anecdotal rather than data, and of course, this is a matter for my partner and I to sort out, but there’s a whole heap of gender conditioning going on too, and it’s very hard to break out of those traditional gender roles. Even for feminist women. Even even for feminist women with supportive partners. I wrote a whole series of posts on (non) work-life balance a few year backs… I might rework and repost them here sometime soonish, because they cover some of these issues.

    • Isabel August 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      The thing about offering paid childcare is that it’s often not a solution that works for the children involved. In my experience kids need a fair amount of time with their parents in order to feel settled and secure enough to get on with their lives so even if a parent is relieved of all childcare and domestic duties for the period s/he is working extra hours there may still be undesirable pay-off at home. I know in my house we seem to have a hard limit of three nights a week of one parent being absent for the dinner/bedtime period before the kids lose it completely.

      In my ideal world work would be expected to accommodate family demands (for both women and men) not the other way around.

      • muerknz August 10, 2011 at 6:45 pm

        Yeah, kids spell the word “love” T I M E. We’ve definitely taken financial hits over the years because our family needs have come first. I also agree with Deborah that you need that time at home just to get all the stuff done you need to run a family and a household.

        As well as that there’s all the other parts of having kids, like being there for ballet recitals and concerts and sports matches. If people are in single parent families then the working parent may be the only one doing that kind of stuff.

        Also childcare falls to pieces when kids are sick. Then they want mum and/or dad. I can also promise you that tired kids often become sick kids. Late nights because parents are working late, and dinner is late etc. is really hard on wee ones.

  5. dimsie August 11, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Mild suggestion: if the company for which you work regularly “requests” people to do overtime and weekend hours, they may not, in fact, have hired enough people to do the work they require.

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