“I can take away his extra money and just split it between you,” the Skype connection was temperamental but we had definitely heard correctly the offer that was being laid on the table, “so, does that work for you both?”
Clearly our baffled silence wasn’t quite the response my former boss had foreseen in response to his ‘innovative’ suggestion that instead of matching my salary to my higher-paid male colleague, he would simply deduct from his pay-packet and divvy up the difference.
Not only was the amount paltry (we’re talking a respective monthly increase and decrease of hundreds not thousands) it fundamentally belied the principles of gender equality.
The call ended and my bank balance was none the richer for the duration of my employment there.
As much as many people on the internet (looking at you Twitter) believe that those fighting for gender equality are a bunch of man-hating feminists who don’t want equal opportunity - and are secretly hatching plans for female superiority - this isn’t the case.
Individual men don’t need to be, and should not be, punished for the failings of a unfair and unjust system that we are trying to correct.
When we as a society call for equal pay, we don’t ask that men have their reward taken away to help even the scales, we ask that all their peers are given the same reward. Even if they have a vagina.
Maybe to many this seems like a minor point. A nuance of balancing the books on a budget.
But for a sustainable move towards an equal world that exists as a natural state, and not as a token gesture or an adherence to legalities, we can not ask that it is a race to the bottom.
When deciding pay scales, bosses decide how much a role is objectively worth to them as a business. This figure will be indicated by the highest number that they are willing to pay any one individual in that job.
When at a later date that business is called out for the fact they are not paying female staff in that role the same as male staff in that role, they shouldn’t say they overvalued the men, but that they undervalued the women.
Because we all know that deep down, if that business truly believed they were overpaying all their male staff for years on end, they wouldn’t have willingly handed over that money.
Instead, they have been willingly ignorant to the fact they benefit from a system that has always allowed them to pay women less (helped by the fact it is a rarity for colleagues to know the exact salary of their entire office). An entire gender just became a handy cost-cutting exercise.
Asking men to take a pay-cut not only lets businesses off the hook for undervaluing their female staff, but it also makes men less likely to be allies to their female peers in the fight for equality.
Afterall, how many of us would really want to help someone seeking to slash our paycheque?