OPINION: The gender pay gap. It’s a myth, innit? Like climate change or the female capacity for multiple orgasm, you can chuck as many dry-eyed academics as you like at it, and there are plenty who’ll still treat it like the monster of the Loch or a vacant seat on the bus at peak hour in March. Mythical. Unbelievable.
Evidence has trickled in for decades, but this week was monsoon season. On Thursday, the Effect of Motherhood on Pay report from Statistics NZ showed mums earn 17 per cent less than dads. The same day, Massey University’s survey of Kiwi journalists showed women earn 26 per cent less than their male colleagues, despite making up the bulk of the workforce.
Drip, trickle, gurgle.
On Friday, Curtin University in Western Australia reported on data covering 4 million employees. It’s some of the strongest empirical evidence to date that a balance of men and women in a workforce reduces the pay gap. There’s some weird stuff in there. In companies with a balance in leadership, the pay gap shrinks to under 10 per cent. Once the leadership becomes heavily dominated by women, it shoots back up to 17 per cent. The report concludes that where men are scarce, they’re more highly valued.
I talked to Equal Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue. More evidence, I said. Why should New Zealanders care?
With just a hint of bemusement, Dr Blue very reasonably replied: Because it’s not fair. Mums take on most of the unpaid work raising children, and then are earn almost 20 per cent less over the course of their careers. That’s unfair.
Jackie was confused because she knew full well I agreed with her. What reasonable person could argue with that?
Hold on a sec, I’ll tally them all up. Nope, too many to count.
Generally otherwise reasonable people, even if they agree the issue is real, don’t believe it can be solved, so why try? Many find the evidence boring. To them, anecdotes are much more telling. Most of them go something like this: “I work in an office/workshop/timber yard with women and they seem pretty happy. They’ve never complained.”
Well, I’ve got anecdotes, too. In 2004 I was approached to take over the hosting role on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme from Mike Hosking, who’d been “let go” suddenly. I want you to step into the (exact same) role immediately, the Head of News told me. Sure, I said. Just pay me what you were paying Mike. It seemed a reasonable ask; my CV and experience were easily the equal of his, and I’d done the job before. There was a short silence, and then the Head of News laughed right in my face.
Oh come on Ali! That’s over a decade ago! Surely things have moved on since then?
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who works for an iconic, much-loved Kiwi company with more than 10 thousand employees. She’s been in her highly-skilled job for several years and loves it. Her boss was leaving the company and at his farewell drinks, told her the man they’d just hired to work alongside her, with exactly the same job title and responsibilities (but less experience) was making 10 per cent more than she is. She went to her new boss to push for equity, and was turned down. She later heard his reaction went something like “why’s she not satisfied with what she’s already getting?”
How’s she feeling now? How would you feel?
This is the reality of “unconscious bias.” A fancy-pants name for a simple thing; the subconscious beliefs we all have, (women included) but few acknowledge. Women will suffer because of it. University graduates will fail to reach their capabilities; women on low wages will fall into poverty and homelessness by retirement age.
It’s not fair. But you’ve got to want to care about it. Raising pay rates for female-dominated industries would help. Paid paternal leave (specific to men) would help. We don’t have to accept that the biological imperative of child-bearing automatically means a less productive work-life.
My lovely radio producer Mike, a Dad of two, put it best as he gesticulated through the studio glass.
“In the 50s dads came home and expected their pipe and slippers on tap, and don’t-let- the-kids-bother-me. Beating the kids was normal. Just because that’s the way it’s always been, does not mean that’s the way it should stay. Reports and studies and statistics don’t really matter if enough people are willing to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend the evidence doesn’t exist.”
You’ve got to want to care.
Down at Auckland’s Mission Bay this weekend, Katie Read says she likes swimming at the beach – it’s fresher and cleaner. And that was before learning of urine levels in public pools. “I’ll think twice before getting in a pool again.” LAWRENCE SMITH / FAIRFAX NZ
TAKING A WEE BREAK FROM THE SWIMMING POOL
You know you’re getting it right when your kids think you’re embarrassing and a bit weird. The huge font you use for texting. The fact that you can’t get those Nikki Minaj lyrics right no matter how you try. Hilarious.
For my kids it’s always been the fact that I don’t swim. It’s not that I don’t know how, but no matter how hot the Kiwi summers are getting, it’ll never be hot enough. I was born in Australia; it has to be 30 degrees at least before I’ll agree to immerse.
Now I have another excuse to stay dry thanks to horrific (my choice of word) statistics on, ahem, swimmers’ excretions. Scientists in Canada have worked out a way to accurately measure how much urine there is in an average swimming pool. The answer is not good news, people; up to 75 litres.
The NZ Standard for Pool Water Quality points out that every adult swimmer will contribute around 25-50ml of wees to that total per pool session. Urine is sterile of course, but then there’s the up to one litre of sweat the average pool user loses per hour in warm temperatures.
You’re welcome to join me poolside; I’ll save you a seat.
– Sunday Star Times