posted Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 at 11:01 pm
August 27 is Equal Pay Day, down under that is. The day that women’s average wages catch up to what men have earned by June 30. This day is also recognised around the world, in sinc with the different financial years, with the US having their Equal Pay Day on April 22. But the concept is similar with a 4 month lag for American women to catch up to their male counterparts in the workforce, experiencing a 20 per cent wage gap. While here in Australia the gap is just over 16 per cent (see ABS stats May 2008 below) with Aussie women earning 84 cents to the male dollar. The figures may vary from country to country, and even state to state, but the bottom line is, that despite ‘equal pay for equal work’ being legislated for over 30 years, women still earn less than men! Less weekly pay, less annual pay, less superannuation. Even when women work full time, have equal qualification, and the same job, a study of American academics showed women make 76% of the salary of their male colleagues.
Anna McPhee, director of the Equal Opportunity Workplace Agency commented in a media release:
The impact of pay inequity in our society is costly not only to women, but also to families, government and the community. Women’s life time earnings are low, leaving many women in poverty after the significant contribution to society of raising children. Most families are forced to assume traditional roles of male bread winner and female carer, rather than equally sharing the load of both paid and unpaid work.
Therefore it seems, without closing the gap in wages, men and women earn, it is going to be very difficult to change the way we decide who is responsible for paid and unpaid work. Patterns of inequity, perpetuate patterns of inequity. Now I know it’s not always so clear cut, many parents are finding ways around the trap, but it still remains a trap for many. Unequal pay has a limiting affect on choices parents can make because of the financial constraints imposed.
There’s a great interview with Anna McPhee, here, where she talks about the broader issues of pay inequity. But the bottom line is that there has to be a massive change in workplace culture around greater flexibility in jobs, a ‘culture of permission’ for men to participate more fully in care work, and promotions on merit, not face-time in the workplace. I do admire the men out there, and I know of one dad who took 2 years off to care for his children, and is just returning to part-time work, despite an absolute lack of a culture of permission at his workplace.
But then of course there is always some backlash. An article from the Independent Women’s Forum, in the US this year , reported ’Equal Pay Day has Lost its Relevance’. According to reporter Carrie Lukas, Equal Pay Day is considered as a ‘gender grievance’ cooked up by ‘old school feminists’. Further she reports, ‘studies of pay differentials reveal that it’s not discrimination, but the choices men and women make, that are the primary cause of the wage gap.’ Oh I get it, I have chosen to be poor. No, no, Ms Lukas gives a more definite explanation, ’that women are less likely than men to negotiate their starting salary and to ask for raises.’ Oh I get it now, if only we could act more like men, then we wouldn’t be poor.
No, I am quite serious, it is becoming more common to blame women for their lack of aggression in the workplace for not getting better pay or promotions. Recently, there was an article complaining that ‘Australian women are too timid at work’. My first reaction to this headline, was to change a couple of letters, and we’d have, ‘Australian women are too tired at work’. Tired from all the juggling and loads of unpaid work they come home to after finishing their paid work day. The article which draws on data from a career networking survey, by US researcher Shannon Goodson is amazingly ept out churning out new cultural stereotypes of women’s behaviour, to replace any old stereotypes you may have had. On remarking about the timidity and lack of boastfulness of Australian women, ‘Ms Goodson said she was surprised by the results, given the stereotype of the meek English woman and the brash, outspoken Aussie.’ I’m just not sure, what is the usefulness of such findings which seem to victimise women for not being more ….. It just seems that in this debate about equal pay, and workplace discrimination, it is really time to challenge the workplaces themselves, their policies, underlying cultures, and the inequitable behaviours of individuals within them.
Would love to hear your say on this issue, and feel free to kick that ‘timid’ stereotype out the window as you comment!