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We’ve all been there: whether you’re having a heated discussion about gender equality in a Facebook comments section, or at the local pub, someone jumps in with a statement that is just so outrageously untrue that you need a killer comeback. (It’s not just men. Women do it too.) However, we’re not always on top of our game when such a moment arises, so we’ve put together a list of responses to eight common criticisms of the gender pay gap argument.
Fortunately, most employers don’t actively discriminate against women when when hiring or negotiating pay. However, the prevalence of unconscious bias means that both male and female employers are less likely to hire women, perceiving them to be less competent and reliable than men. Even when a woman is hired, she is usually offered a smaller starting salary than a man with the same credentials, and she is less likely to receive a pay rise or promotion.
Although progress is certainly being made, women still face barriers to entering higher-paid, male-dominated industries such as STEM and finance. This ranges from being discouraged from studying certain subjects, to facing discrimination during the hiring process. It’s an interesting phenomenon that female-dominated industries such as childcare, teaching, nursing and social work are among the lowest-paid industries, while male-dominated industries are among the highest-paid. In fact, this is no coincidence. A key study conducted between 1950-2000, when the number of women in the workforce greatly increased, showed the average pay of the now female-dominated industries drastically decreased. This suggests that “women’s work” is greatly undervalued in society.
There’s no doubt that much of the gender pay gap can be attributed to the fact that women often take time off work or leave the workforce to start a family. However, women face what is known as the ‘motherhood penalty’, which is a form of discrimination. When women in their twenties and thirties go for a job interview, they often face invasive questions about whether or not they’re planning to have children, which affects their likelihood of getting the job. Even worse, women who try to return to work after having a child find they are much less likely to be hired than childless women, childless men and fathers.
Actually, a 2016 study by Cornell University economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found while some of the gender pay gap can be attributed to job, industry, education and experience, 38 per cent of the overall pay gap still remains unexplained. The researchers suggested that this remaining gap can be explained by women facing discrimination at a conscious or unconscious level when it comes to being hired or promoted.
Although women have been told to ‘lean in’ and become more assertive when it comes to putting their hand up for opportunities at work, negotiating salaries and asking for promotions, the reality is even when they are assertive, they are 25 per cent less likely to succeed than men. Even worse, showing assertiveness can have a negative effect on a woman’s career trajectory, as their employer may start viewing them as being “too pushy”.
Although women’s tendency to be more empathetic than men is often used to justify their prevalence in care giving industries such as nursing and teaching, a study by Harvard Business Review found that they actually also rank higher than men in 12 out of the top 16 leadership qualities including problem-solving and communication skills. So perhaps men are not ‘better’ than women in certain areas, and vice versa – maybe they’re just not given the same chances to succeed. In the 21st century, it’s time we stopped boxing people into outdated gender stereotypes. Just as men can be empathetic, women can also be logical. Men and women should have the same opportunities to pursue whatever career they want.
If people were hired completely on their merit, you would probably see about a 50/50 split in most industries. Unfortunately, employers tend to hire based on an applicant’s perceived merit (unconscious bias comes into play here), which means many perfectly capable women are often overlooked in favour of a male applicant. Gender quotas have been criticised for privileging women on the basis of their gender, potentially creating negative outcomes for women who are seen by other employees to have been hired for their gender, rather than their merit. However, an experiment undertaken by The Conversation found that if employees were educated about gender discrimination in the field, quotas can help eradicate the biases that shape hiring decisions and encourage more women to put their hand up for a position.
If someone actually has the audacity to throw this one at you, the best thing you can do is laugh in their face and show them the following study. Earlier this year, Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor measured the “discretionary effort” male and female employees are putting in at work. The data showed women were putting in a 7 per cent higher discretionary effort than their male colleagues.
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