Chances are that if you know of a man and a woman doing exactly the same job, one of them will probably be getting paid a lot more than the other. And the person getting paid less (for the same work) will inevitably be the woman.
The gender pay gap, as this discrepancy is politely referred to, persists even in the developed world and despite much legislation to try to make the practice impossible. In the UK for example, the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition government legislated to make it mandatory for firms with more than 250 employees to publish figures of the company’s (average) pay for both men and women; and in July the British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the Tory government intended to push ahead with the Coalition’s initiative on Equal Pay Reporting.
Why are employers still getting away with underpaying women? Probably because they can. And they can because of socially ingrained attitudes and the inability of businesses to recognise the reality of family and reproduction. The basic attitude (although now rather well-masked) remains that women are working not because they have to — but because they wish to i.e. they are not primary bread-winners as that particular title will belong to their fathers or their husbands. This presumptuous sexism is justified on the basis that investing in women is not a productive idea as they are ‘bound to go off and ditch the job to have children/ look after children/ care for the family’.
This exploitative and unfair practice is made possible in part by the high incidence of women leaving jobs and abandoning careers to become home makers or Begums. But even though I find such women exasperating (especially the Begums), part of the reason that women will opt out of work and professions is that society as well as employers often force their hand. Where the family/ work model is that the home and children are the woman’s responsibility while earning money is the man’s, a woman will continue to experience feelings of guilt and inadequacy if she continues to work. Instead of making structures fit around the realities of family life, businesses have set up rigid structures which squander the potential of women, whereas in actual fact, flexibility would allow them to exploit the experience, training and loyalty of the women who they tend to write off after maternity leave.
Women also tend to be less aggressive than men, and the less pushy you are the less likely you are to get promoted and patronised. Women often also have a life outside of work so they do not pander to the demands of the after-hours laddish culture: the hanging around the office, the standing around smoking together, the laughing at all the boss’s jokes… Even if they are more punctual than the men, get their work done quicker than the men and finish their work before they leave, women are regarded as ‘non-serious’ unless they become part of this culture. Alas, many women recognise that the easy way to progress is through feminine wiles and manipulation, something that perhaps would not work well if meritocracy were well-established and paternity leave and family benefits for men were properly legislated.
The gender pay gap is appalling: it is exploitative and unfair. But perhaps the only way to fight it is with zero tolerance — by enforcing well-thought out laws which change not just employment practice but also, eventually, social attitudes.
And if none of this resonates with you, please do a little survey of your own: hopefully you should be shocked by this discrepancy.