If you don't have equality of opportunity for women then it follows that you are not going to pay them the same as men. So the question has to be what is a woman worth?
To answer this we need to examine some old thinking about women in the workplace. Many men still believe that women belong in the home and certainly in the research I have carried out into Chief Executives only two out of the sample of 65 had working wives. So three attitudes relate to this:
- Women are not the breadwinners
- Women are working for 'pin money' ie additional income
- Women should be at home with their children
If these attitudes still pertain today, and they are certainly antediluvian, then you can see why women after they return from maternity leave are paid less and promoted less. I have heard a male leader mention that they didn't want to stress woman returner with the travelling involved in a promoted post. They were looking after her best interests in a paternalistic way. But the woman responded saying that she would have liked to make that decision herself rather than having her options limited by someone else.
There is of course the argument that women should simply negotiate a better deal themselves. If we look at how senior women negotiate their pay either for promotion or for a new job, what is revealed is that they will ask for a lower rate than men. It isn't that they have lesser skills but what they do have is less chutzpah than their male counterparts to think of a number and double it. But does that justify the gap? I don't think so. What it does mean is that companies get skilled women on the cheap. And it also means that the value of women remains low.
Agnes Wold's research on gender differences in Academia where men were 5 times more likely to become a professor than women, concluded that men were 'enriched' throughout their careers by other men at the expense of women and that included salary.
So clearly there is work to be done with women valuing themselves more and negotiating their true worth. But if companies want equality in their workforce and want be seen as good employers then is it a stretch to say that they need to pay an equal and fair rate for a job?
Looking at the positives, the gap has reduced from 23% in 2003 to 18% today. But roll on salary transparency because then the cat is out of the bag and companies will have to justify why these gaps exist. Beware a woman scorned!