Women: Like Men, Only Cheaper?

When tech start-up founder, Evan Thornley, told a room full of conference attendees about his policy of recruiting women rather than men, he unleashed a firestorm. He hired women, he said, because they were “still often relatively cheap compared to what we would’ve had to pay someone less good of a different gender.” To illustrate the point he even showed a slide: “Women: Like men, only cheaper”.

Despite it being illegal to pay women less than men for the same work, it appears to be a nearly universal problem affecting many industries. At the recent BAFTA TV Awards 2017, host Sue Perkins joked that the Best Actress Award, “represents what so many actresses aspire to—being paid just under the same amount as the leading actor.” High profile actors from Patricia Arquette and Jennifer Lawrence to Meryl Streep and Emma Watson have also spoken out about the gender pay gap in the Hollywood film and TV industries.

Most companies, I speak to do not think that they have a problem with gender pay inequity, but interestingly enough those companies’ stats actually tell a different story.

Global research has found that from day one, women are paid less and start at a lower level than their counterparts who are men, despite being similarly qualified and sharing the same career aspirations; and this gap only widens over time.

In Europe, the pay gap between women and men, in their first job, is €4,255. After five years the pay gap widened to €36,304. And while many attempt to explain this by women not negotiating, research shows the opposite. Women do negotiate, and almost as often as men but it may not close the gap for women: Catalyst found 47 percent of women vs. 52 percent of men negotiated for a higher salary during the hiring process for their current position.

Another study also found "no support" for the theory that women did not ask for more money out of concern for work place relationships. When men and women workers were compared, men were 25% more likely than women to get a pay rise when they asked, the study found.

Why don’t women get what they ask for? Catalyst looked at the traits of a so-called ‘ideal worker’ and found that even when women did “all the right things” to advance, it did not have the same pay off. Men are also promoted based on potential whereas women are often promoted based on proven performance. This means women tend to make more money by staying with the same employer than by switching jobs, while the opposite is true for men.

The pay gap also has nothing to do with women’s career choices or by having children; and ,moreover, it does not have to do with women's lack of ambition, as women and men aspire equally to top positions. Instead barriers in the system are holding women back including a lack of women role models, not getting those high-profile assignments, not having powerful sponsors (i.e., senior leaders with advocating influence) and exclusion from informal networks, (for instance it’s not always possible or desirable for women to join in with the after-work drinking culture of an organisation).

What can be done to solve this?

Pay transparency is one action that can be taken to narrow the wage gap. It provides women with the information they need to better negotiate for fair and equal pay. If women don’t know their ‘worth’ and what they should be paid, it can be hard for women to ask for a pay rise.

The UK is leading the way in tackling gender pay with its new requirements for all private and public sector organisations with more than 250 employees to publish annual figures for both their mean and median gender pay gaps for salaries and bonuses. They must also publish the number of men and women in each salary quartile. So far, only a handful of companies have reportedly published this data, with employers facing an April 2018 deadline to comply.

Other steps companies could take include: having an internal pay equity audit; putting in place a “no negotiations” policy for salaries; and building in checks and balances to counter gender bias. Only when the data is transparent and available can steps be taken to eliminate the gap.

Andy Rogers, HR Director, Sodexo UK and Ireland, said: “Gender pay gap reporting creates an opportunity for employers to manage their career progression and allows them to open up a dialogue with women and men about how they can collectively support gender balance and remove existing barriers. At Sodexo we’re using this insight to create initiatives that support women’s development and progression as well as setting ambitious targets for female representation.”

He continued: “The biggest challenge employers face in reducing the gender pay gap is their corporate cultures. Essentially they must transform to embrace a culture where diversity and inclusivity are encouraged at all levels in the business.”

Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental right for all workers and one that’s long overdue. It was 1968 when the women workers at a Ford car factory in Dagenham went on strike demanding equal pay and which led to the UK’s 1970 Equal Pay Act. Almost 50 years later, we still have work to do.

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