• Niles posted an update 3 months, 2 weeks ago

    The gender pay gap? I’m confused as to what this actually is. As far as I know its illegal to pay men and women differently for the same job and its been this way for decades. I understand pay inequality but I’m confused by the gender pay gap.

    Am I right in thinking that its like two people doing the same job in Company A and they both move up through the company with promotions and gained experience and knowledge of how the company works. However one of those people happens to be female and takes a career break, of many years, to have children and look after them at home. During this time the other person, quite possibly male carries on working in the company/industry gaining more experience and promotion over the years to to get a better salary. When the female employee returns to the workplace then they are at a disadvantage of several years not gaining experience and promotion, is this the gender pay gap?

    If so, then is somebody trying to have their cake and eat it?

    Children are born and need to be raised, its a fact of life. So what if the male stays at home too and takes a career break, does this cause the gender pay gap to swing the other way?

    Or are people expected to return to work and get a pay bump on the merit of being away for many years?

    • What you describe is an ‘earnings’ gap not a ‘pay’ gap, however don’t expect the Guardian to make such a distinction.

    • For politicians, the gender gap is a way to get gullible women to vote for you.

    • The Guardian, the Fawcett society etc spent years blaming sexism for the ‘pay gap’ which they calculated as simply being the difference between the average earnings of all men and the average earnings of all women. They completely ignored inconvenient data like career choices, hours worked, subjects studied, time away from the work place an so forth or in short comparing like for like. Even when the ONS published a report that showed women between the ages of 22 – 39 actually earned marginally more then men they completely ignored it

    • Some eejit on Radio 4 said the other day that claiming that a man was in a senior position because they were the best person for the job isn’t acceptable because that suggests that a woman isn’t the best person to employ and is therefore wrong. How does that even make sense?!

    • Gender pay gap is the difference between the salaries of full time employees over the whole economy. Calculating the gender pay gap is about identifying areas where the gap exists and using that information to tackle discrimination. It is to look for areas where education may help young women (or men) in pursuing careers traditionally considered gender biased. A good example might be Ryanair’s large gap explained by highly paid pilots being mostly male and lower paid cabin staff being mostly female: what can we do to encourage women to be pilots?

      The project is about identifying problems not some conspiracy against the male hegemony.

      • That would be a sensible approach but I’ve yet to see it suggested at all in the Guardian etc. Instead the focus seems to be on somehow trying to shame companies like Ryanair, and in some articles men generally, in to doing *something*.

        The ONS gives a lot of detail


        It points out 1/3 of the headline figure of 9% is accounted for by career choice and working pattern differences between men and women, leaving a difference of about 6% which doesnt seem huge. Then it notes education levels and career breaks will account for more, so the overall unexplained gap is at worst small.

      • Why do you need to encourage any women to be pilots? You make sure you provide equal opportunities, going right back to school and selecting the right subjects etc.. and then let women decide for themselves.

        It might be that is some sectors due to maintaining currency etc.. that career breaks are not easy or even possible. So a proportion of women will switch career after children and a natural male dominance will develop. Until men give birth and breastfeed for 6mths I don’t see this pattern changing.

        • Again you’re missing the point. The question should be “Are there gender-specific pressures that discourage women from wanting or applying to become pilots”?

          • I would imagine there are, like how would you maintain currency if you don’t fly for over a year?

            I think I just view the word ‘encouragement’ differently.

            What they should first be looking at is if the female and male pilots with similar experience are paid the same. This is a gender pay gap.

            What this survey highlights are career path variations, not pay.

          • I’m an engineer and have worked in the oil and gas industry for twenty years and while things are slowly improving in terms of women entering the industry we are a long way from parity. My company works closely with several local schools in terms of arranging work experience, attending career fairs or giving presentations to pupils in a bid to promote engineering as a career and to put it bluntly the phrase ‘you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ comes to mind when dealing with female pupils. The teachers I deal with are trying hard to promote engineering as a career to these girls but at the end of the day there is a general disinterest no matter how bright these girls may be. From my observations the boys are the only interested ones when discussing big engineering projects, who ask plenty of questions, who get excited at the prospect of working overseas or domestically in challenging environments or dealing with cutting edge technology and its the girls who are generally glazing over with boredom while staring into their phones. The teaching staff I have dealt with over the years have seen repeatedly girls achieving top grades in physics and maths A levels only for them to go off and study languages or some other humanities degree at uni.

            There were just four women on my course at uni out of an intake of about 60 undergraduates. Engineering departments are not exactly known for their bawdy macho sexist culture and the stereotype of nerdy types still kind of holds true today, it is basically still seen by many as being a deeply uncool subject up there with computing.

            I also know from first hand experience such is the demand by companies to recruit more women engineers that if there two candidates of equal merit to choose from with one being female the latter would get the nod every time.

            So long as there are no gender barriers to women pursuing a career in whatever discipline they desire maybe we should just leave them to it rather then trying to achieve 50/50 parity in every industry?

            That said, the cynical side of me has noticed it is only when engineers started to command decent salaries that suddenly ‘something must be done’ to get more women into the profession, nobody gave a shite when we were all paid peanuts to freeze our arses off on construction sites in the middle of winter.

            • Have you got a link to that ONS report, I’ve had a quick google, I’m struggling to find anything that matches your assertion.

            • Something here


              In the Guardian, to be fair. Seems to be condradicted by the ONS link higher

            • “Engineering departments are not exactly known for their bawdy macho sexist culture and the stereotype of nerdy types still kind of holds true today, it is basically still seen by many as being a deeply uncool subject up there with computing.”

              Interesting to hear that. Where I first went to university the engineering departments across the country had the premier reputation as the biggest drinking pools of macho culture. They were essentially the football jocks of the university, and universally so.

              I seem to recall few females expressing an interest in the sector then too. The take home point may be that, if we accept the pay gap is largely a myth and instead focus on “institutional” issues such as the culture in the places of study that lead into these sectors, we might still come up with an empty hand.

              What really concerns me is that in all this clamour to (futilely) correct the differences, we slip from equality of opportunity to equality of outcome. In doing so we are likely to start overtly and legally discriminating against males now coming in the job market – despite most earnings gaps largely being confined to men who entered the workforce decades ago. Not to mention the constant needling at males that they have some unearned privilege.

      • I actually agree, I have no issues with the data being collected. Where I get frustrated though is the way the data is often presented in some quarters where maintaining the approved narrative or editorial line seems more important then actually having a proper discussion.

        I singled out the Fawcett society and the Guardian as they have appalling form for deliberately ignoring unhelpful facts and spinning others to suit their ‘its sexism’ agenda when discussing differences in pay when the reasons for pay disparity are often a bit more nuanced and complex.

        I mentioned the ONS report published a few years back as that actually went to the trouble to do proper statistical analysis and compare pay for like for like jobs. The Ryanair data you cite above, for instance, shows that there is an imbalance between the number of each gender who become pilots and those who become cabin crew. It also is clear that cabin crew get paid a lot less. But this is far from providing a chain of causation and differentiating between social structures and mores, inherent bias, and company policy.

        A discussion needs to be had as to why for instance so few young women study STEM subjects, the imbalance of paternity leave, or the lack of women wishing to pursue senior management positions. Instead we get a moronic argument in the Guardian yesterday titled: “Using the figures reported so far, we’ve converted the gap into the number of days women effectively work for free” and my pet hate a ‘hashtag’ campaign.

    • One of the interesting aspects of this is how the figures can be distorted by a small number of individuals (ie.men) at the top. If, say in a company of a few hundred staff, 8 of the top 10 people are men, and they are being paid a few hundred grand more than the next layer down, that will massively impact the average numbers. It can account for the whole “gender pay gap).

      But it tells us only what every employee knows: that the top few employees are mainly men.

      • Doesn’t quoting a median, rather than mean, largely eliminate this effect?

      • Is it due to lots of perfectly capable and qualified women being denied the opportunity for their careers to progress to that level due to discrimination, or is it due to the pool of women with the desire and the capability to select from being vanishingly small.?

        • Anecdotally, there’s an awful lot of the latter. More about desire than capability, but it would be interesting to see some proper research on it.

          There is a risk that a lot of resources are put into trying to get women into jobs that they don’t actually want to do.

          • I saw a study this week that showed that the more gender equality in a society the less likely the women in that society are to study/work in STEM fields.

            So especially, for example, in developing countries where there is less choice of degree, more women go into Civils, in the Nordic countries, where there is a wide range of degree and career options, women much less likely.

            In that sense it looks much more that the gender pay gap argument is not about equal pay, it’s about getting women the wage they want for the jobs they like doing.

            I think you’d have to agree that Theresa May has been very weak on this again, claiming that the figures showed a ‘burning injustice’ when they do nothing of the sort.

            May seems to be jumping on the passing bandwagon rather than offering a considered, leader’s approach.

            • The rationale I saw for that was that the countries where women more readily gravitate towards STEM tend to ones at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. That is, if you are lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to university you damn well make sure you choose a field of study that will afford you the greatest employment and earnings possibilities.

              More developed and wealthy countries, where we have social welfare and minimum incomes, take that pressure away and people can instead choose to study areas they desire – be that art history, underwater ballet, or applied mathematics.

        • There is evidence towards the later, it being argued that if you compare the normal distributions of any traits between males and females you find greater variability in the male bell curve. You simply get way more males at the top and bottom ends of any distribution – more geniuses and more dunces as they say.

          This is also entirely compatible with there only being very small differences between males and females on average. For example, if you looked at how many woman and men were 5’10” tall, you might get a 30:1 difference. But if you then looked at the number of men and women who were just a little bit taller, say 6′, the difference would swing to about 2000:1. Distributions simply get more skewed the further you move from the mean.

          Naturally, the top positions in any company will be held by people at the top end of the bell curve. Based on normal distributions alone, for much the same reason that prisons are full of men, so would be the upper levels of corporate structures. That’s before you even start accounting for different desires and interests in careers.

          Of course, this difference between average traits might be open to debate. And it may even be we are rewarding the wrong traits in business. But if not, even GCSE level mathematics is enough to explain a difference that this may have nothing to do with discrimination.

    • I work in a large engineering and manufacturing company. Here women earn more than men on average.

      In this case I think things are skewed because the shop floor is dominated by men to a greater extent than the design/engineering side. Shop floor earns less on average.

      It’s an interesting flip to the norm but not sure what other conclusions I can draw.

      • Likewise, a BBC article this week showed that in the mining industry the ‘gender pay gap’ favours women. They didn’t see fit to comment on this but my guess is that more women work in higher paid administrative roles than as miners themselves. Let’s see a campaign to get more equality in the mining industry! #morewomenunderground or something…..

      • These are both good points and echo my observations.

        Most of the women I have worked alongside with in my industry are not actually UK nationals, they generally hail from Malaysia, Iran, Nigeria, Azerbaijan etc (other oil centres basically) and it is obvious that a huge emphasis is placed on university courses that offer decent careers and remuneration.

        As an example (anecdotal I know) there is a Malaysian Process Engineer I know who actually wanted to study English Literature at uni but her parents basically told her ‘no way’ and steered her towards chemistry as she was bright enough and had the grades to enrol on such a course. She resented her parents at first but now concedes that in hindsight her parents were right to intervene as she now has a career that has seen work on four continents and pays exceptionally well. Humanities subjects are often seen as very soft or the preserve of the very wealthy to pursue.

    • I teach on a bioinformatics MSc course – essentially computational biology. I always find looking at the demographics of the cohort and their career choices interesting. In most years, the course is split roughly 50:50 male:female, but the majority of the females will be new graduates from the Indian subcontinent or SE Asia whereas the males tend to be European or North American and generally older, usually with a year or two of experience in a graduate job.

      In terms of career choices, women are more likely to go into (lower paid) roles where they provide data analysis as a service to other research groups, whereas the men are more likely to go for something where they can drive the direction of research themselves. Those who move away from academia into biotech/pharma or take on data analysis roles outside the context of biology for other companies are almost exclusively male.

      Anyway, just by looking at gender distribution on the course it looks like we are relatively equal, but examining the situation more closely makes it clear that there are biases in both uptake and progression. However, the whole thing is so confounded that it is hard to pick apart what is happening as it is difficult to distinguish the effects of ethnic/cultural background and age/experience from the effect of gender in this case.

      I realize this only touches vaguely on earnings but I thought it was relevant to the questions bought up about women in STEM, cultural differences in what women choose to study and the kinds of career choices that women make.