Recently, the Government pushed through legislation which requires large companies to publish their mean and median gender pay gaps. Billed as a move to tackle gender inequality in British workplaces, it's copying a tactic the Australian government has been using to tackle the gender inequality and discrimination has seen within its own work force.
This is a positive move in terms of equalising the pay men and women receive - however it may not quite achieve gender parity in the way it intended to. After all, although the legislation does stipulate that companies must now publish their average pay gaps, it does not require that the companies do anything about the gaps that they find.
So, what does this mean for the fight for equality? In short, as always, the responsibility still lies with the employee instead of the employer when it comes to gaining any momentum. It will be up to male and female employees alike to examine these reports as and when they arrive, taking on their employer about any issues they see with gendered pay and fighting for improvements to be made. If no-one takes action once this data is published, they may find that companies follow suit and continue to rest on their laurels when it comes to achieving equality.
However, the issue at hand is not just about employees mobilising to fight for their rights. We must also look at the bigger picture: as the statistics that often come out of these reports can sometimes be misleading, thus hindering the efforts that campaigners are trying to make towards gender equality - as sometimes statistics reported end up seeming more like smoke and mirrors.
For example, The Independent recently reported that millennial women face earnings that are 11.5% less than those of their male counterparts as soon as they leave University. This discovery was billed as shedding new light on the gender pay gap, which many people believe opens up in middle age rather than in youth.
However, the gap was found to be largely down to the subjects students choose to study: a type of "occupational sorting" was found to be occurring where women end up in industries with lower pay, whilst men tend to move towards industries with higher pay. This results in an average pay gap of 11.5% between the genders. Although there was some focus on inter-industry disparity, the focus remained on bigger picture rather than role-to-role comparison, which would bring far more light to the issue than sweeping averages and common conclusions about women's lack of presence in STEM subjects and jobs.
This is where analysing the gender pay gap and reported pay can get tricky. Comparing the pay of people across various industries is an extremely unfair way of examining the pay gap - as it is a direct comparison of extremely different roles. If we take a role which is stereotypically associated with women - nursing or teaching - we can quickly see that the skillset is highly different from the one a man might need whilst working in a role in finance. Whilst this is not to say that people from both genders cannot uptake either of these roles, it does show that cross industry analysis will leave some large gaps in our knowledge and send us in the wrong direction.
Furthermore, we must consider the wider context of the lived in world when we are examining these issues. Not all women are the same, and nor are all biases - there are numerous ways in which people can be unfair when awarding pay. This can be due to factors like ethnicity, race, age and even motherhood. These factors must also be considered in our investigations into gender pay disparity and discussed openly if we truly want to progress.
The issue here is best explained through the recent hit film, "Hidden Figures". The film explored the role of several largely unheard of black women, who were integral on sending America into orbit during the "great space race". Many members of the general public were shocked to hear this story. It highlighted a major issue not only in the way we remember history, but also the fact that we need to look at feminist issues through a more complex lens: this includes examining something we call "intersectional invisibility".
There are various theories about this "intersectional invisibility" - it highlights the analytical blindness we tend to fall into when we look at women's issues. Examining intersectionality is to recognise the complex interactions between issues such as gender, ethnicity, age and even motherhood. Women that fall into a number of these categories often face the issue of "multiple jeopardies": they have numerous types of biases functioning against them at once. This means that their voices go largely unheard - as the more factors they have working against them, the less their voices are audible above those of white males.
For us to progress, we must move past the realm of simply reporting and observing. Even though examining the difference between male and female salaries is an excellent place to start, we must begin to broaden our understanding and endeavour to undertake contextual analyses of women in the working world so we can combat the roots of gender inequality, rather than the symptoms that come to fruition as a result of them.Suggest a correction