A new Government report again portrays the obvious, telling us that women are paid up to 35% less than men. Cue the feeding frenzy:
“The Human Rights Commission says the evidence of workplace gender inequality is now indisputable, and it calls on public organisations to take action.
““We want people to start fixing the problem, not just identifying it,” equal employment opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor said.”
“Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the same issues identified in the public sector were also present in the private sector.
“The private sector was “pretty resistant to challenges” on how it paid and employed people.
““Employers object to a lot of things not necessarily on any logical grounds,” Kelly said.”
Yes, Ms Kelly – sounds like employers are a lot like unions, then.
Lets get one thing straight. This report, like so many others, is NOT talking about direct pay-scale discrimination. This is because such discrimination is illegal in New Zealand (and most other first world countries). An employer can not offer a woman less money than a man for doing the same job. This means that women have lower starting salaries than men, because they work for firms (or, in the case of this report, public service organisations) that pay everyone less.
So the real question here is do the higher paying firms have a selection bias towards men, or do women take the lower paying jobs for other reasons? I am certain that one would find some selection bias in small businesses, simply because of the potential burden of maternity leave. My small business associates assure me this would be very slight as the “burden” is not great. I am dubious that there is much selection bias in larger firms and I would like to see some objective evidence of this before making any judgement.
But are there any factors that would cause women to choose lower-paying jobs? What is not factored into most reports are the fringe benefits that may lead women to chose a job that men would be less interested in. Maternity packages, flexible hours and a less-pressurized working environment come to mind immediately. A nicer boss, better workmates and better working conditions tend to feature more strongly in a woman’s choice of a job than a man’s.
I am also sure the same set of factors come into play when promotions are in the offering. In addition, women tend to be far less aggressive and success-orientated than men, often allowing their talent to be overshadowed. It is also likely that some employers mistake this aggressive drive for leadership ability, leading to men being promoted above women (sometimes to the employer’s detriment – drive and ability are not the same thing).
In addition to lower starting salaries and less promotions, the report also sites the fact that some female dominated professions are low-paid. These jobs should be removed from the analysis as they can not be said to reflect gender bias per se. It may be possible to argue that there may be an element of historical gender bias in these professions, but there is no current bias in pay scales or promotion opportunities and no evidence that these jobs are deliberately low-paid because they are female-dominated.
My point in all of this is that these reports do not imply discrimination as such, but more that woman are far more selective in their choice of jobs and use more criteria than simple salary scales. Perhaps it is time that reports like these looked at these choices in more detail instead of generating knee-jerk discrimination responses.