Posts Tagged ‘pay gap’

in my earlier post concerned with treatment of official statistics by certain groups of activists and by various officials who fully commited themselves to end gender discrimination in all forms and shapes, i briefly looked at the figures behind the so called gender pay gap. while in the previous entry i looked at these numbers only to demonstrate discrepancies between the official data and the manner in which this data was reported and utilised by aforementioned organisations and individuals, this entry is devoted entirely to the notion of gender pay gap itself.

however, being myself way too lazy to do any real (desk) research and report the findings but also taking into account my admittedly limited intellectual capabilities, i would gladly make use of the work of others and much better qualified authors and who are behind bbc show, “more or less”.

for those not familiar with the show i would say that “more or less” is a half an hour long, bbc radio 4 weekly broadcast presented by renown financial times’ undercover economist, tim harford; and as stated on show’s website it is “devoted to the powerful, sometimes beautiful, often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers.”
such a statement not only sound neat and encouraging but also, sadly seems quite true. in any case, among other issues featuring on the most recent episode of the show (18 June 2010), the authors happened to look at statistics behind the gender pay gap and also made an attempt to take somewhat broader look at this particular issue trying to identify some of its potential causes. on their journey they briefly interview researchers who looked at the issues behind the low numbers of women in top positions in large financial institutions and on how different age at which women decide to become mothers affects differently their careers and future incomes.

the episode can be accessed and downloaded here (itunes).

just today in the morning:

Mornings with Joanne Malin: 15/06/2010 – BBC WM – BBC iPlayer Console

and that was perfectly well balanced comment

oh sweet irony. just few days after i posted a piece treating about frivolous attitudes towards official statistics and facts in general, among certain advocacy groups and policy making bodies, feminist blog the f-word published an article by Naomi Mc, “Fact is a Feminist Issue”. and even though the title could be reasonably regarded as promising (if not exciting considering where it was published) the article itself is a bit of a disappointment.

in short the author gives her opinions on scientific reporting in the media, which in her own words is … well, “piss poor”; nothing new here i guess. then we hear yet once again this old hackneyed phrase that “science or medical articles rely on the readerships’ preconceived ideas about women and men and feed gender stereotypes that are straight out of the 1950s;” which is followed by similarly overused short list of such stereotypes. subsequently author elaborates to some very limited extent on reporting of biological differences between men and women and provides “a few tips for approaching scientific and medical press stories that tackle biological sex differences”, which pretty much closes her argument about fact as a feminist issue. so much for excitement.

without paying to much attention to the tedious content of the article i was curious about the authors opinions on reporting of facts by more or less mainstream media outlets in relation to issues which are preoccupying feminist agenda and which on many occasions would have to be described as undesirable, damaging or prejudicial and most definitely as “piss poor”.

i wrote a comment under the article, at first agreeing with the author’s main point that “fact is a feminist issue”; however in order to show my somewhat different take on the subject i quoted Fawcett Society’s “Equal pay, where next? Changing Hearts and Minds” (pdf) with it’s poor treatment of official statistics; together with two quotes referring to publications from Eaves; and which could be best described as a forms of “creative writing” rather than social research. so, first of the two quotes was taken from article by Julie Bindel entitled “Why men use prostitutes” in which Ms. Bindel proudly proclaimed that “the reasons why many men pay for sex [were] revealed in the interviews that make up a major new piece of research; Read the research project’s report on men who buy sex (pdf). the second quote was taken from “Sexual violence fact-sheet” (pdf) published on Eaves website, containing examples of intentional misrepresentation of official statistics by this advocacy group, which was clearly aimed at strengthening misconceptions about the issue of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

overall, my comment was fairly short and in my opinion could hardly be regarded as provocative for it was mainly composed of quotations from feminist publications and this i suppose is a fact perfectly suitable for discussion on feminist blog. nevertheless, comments submitted to f-word are subject to some very general rules which are neatly explained under every article published on the website. among other things the rules state that the f-word:

“… is a safe and friendly space for feminists and feminist allies. Debate and critique are welcome where it is constructive and deepens analysis or understanding. Anti-feminist comments will not be approved. We get to decide what’s anti-feminist.”

so far, it seems that i am neither a feminist nor a feminist ally; and apparently quotations submitted in my comment in order to shed some light on “fact as a feminist issue” were not constructive enough; and elaborating on them could not possibly deepen analysis or understanding of the issue.

it’s hard for me to say whether my comment was anti-feminist. i would say it was not but then again it is them who get to decide what is and what is not anti-feminist. but i must admit that the f-word did inform me about means of appeal to the decision made by the moderator and the rules on commenting are very clear about this:

“We do not seek to censor debate: the beauty of the internet is that anyone can set up their own blog or website to express their views.”

which i duly did.

ironically, even though i was unable to find out what would be Naomi Mc’s (or other f-word readers) opinion on my approach to the issue represented in the title, one thing seems to be quite certain: FACT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE.

the story behind this post started with an article about one of Eversheds former employees who took the company to employment tribunal which subsequently found that he has been unfairly dismissed and sexually discriminated against and awarded him £123,300 in damages. nothing very unusual apart from the fact that the claimant was male.
i posted a link to this article on my webpage and one of the comments that appeared under the link stated bluntly that it is “so rare it makes headline”. this, strictly speaking set me off into something comparable to DEFCON 3 mode, with yellow lights quietly blinking in my head.
at first i had to agree with this sad truth behind the comment but at the same time it was clear to me that just because cases like this one are rarely reported, does not make them less of a discrimination. what’s more, it is not inconceivable that discriminatory practices as reported in this case are common among the employers. the important question to ask is how common are they? i concluded that considering prevalence of attitudes as reflected in the comment we might never be able to find out; for what the comment reflects is the position that sex discrimination against males is at best insignificant or even non-existent; at worst it should be regarded as well deserved punishment for years of “patriarchal oppression”. while those who do express their concerns about such a discrimination are treated at best with contempt and at worst are branded as male chauvinists, woman-haters and misogynists. effectively we find ourselves in a climate where all available resources are directed at research concerning discrimination against women, which further perpetuate true inequalities between sexes. what upsets me the most is that it makes it impossible to even discuss the issue of discrimination against men which necessarily undermines actions taken by policy makers supposedly directed at eradication of inequalities.
this answer, which i my opinion was reasonable and clearly directed at some meaningful idea of equality, was greeted with more taunts and i learned that men should “do what women do -work hard towards the changes [they] believe should occur.”
well, what can i say, the mode changed again, this time to DEFCON 2 meaning further increase in force readiness just below maximum – red lights all over the place, sirens wailing on airfields, crews in ICBM silos on full alert and so on.
first of all, one might think that if this is what women’s liberation movements was fighting for then it is not unreasonable to see its actions as an attempt to replaced one set of discriminatory mechanisms and procedures with yet another one. however, the difference between old and new scheme was that the latter gained its legitimacy and was effectively institutionalised because of its apparent appeal to “equality”. with this in mind i must say that i never doubted that I’m a hopeless case of naive ignorant who’s ignorance is beyond powers of educational establishments and even modern medicine, psychology or, for that matter healing spells from Hogwarts; but this was too much even for me.
secondly, what drew my immediate attention was the distinctive wording of the comment and i must admit that this unfortunate use of language painted mischievous smile on my face. the author of that comment talked about beliefs! (“do what women do -work hard towards the changes [they] believe should occur”). quite clearly i was not and would not be willing to “believe” but would rather insist on “knowing” what the current state of affairs is.
which leads me to my main point. how can we successfully deal with inequalities, or for that matter any social ill, without even knowing what the true state of affairs is? and how can we know this when mere indication of certain matters triggers nation-wide hysteria of certain groups within society, which subsequently finds its reflection in media and influences attitudes of leading politicians. to illustrate my point i would use as a case study recent conference organised by Fawcett Society commemorating 40 anniversary of equal pay legislation coming into force in the UK.

the conference commenced on Friday 28th May 2010 and while i was not that much interested in the subject i noticed few intriguing comments posted live on twitter which lead me to visit Fawcett website where i learned that:

“… women working full-time earn on average 17% less per hour than men working full-time. For ethnic minority women, the gap is even higher at 20%. For women working part-time compared to men working full-time the gap is 36% per hour – rising to 45% in London.
Equal pay is a fundamental right!”


“There are three main reasons. Firstly, there’s straight-forward discrimination by employers – paying women less than men to do the same job. Some researchers estimate that straightforward discrimination accounts for up to 40% of the pay gap.”

in the paper “Equal pay, where next? Changing Hearts and Minds” (pdf) prepared by Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the society and Poly Trenow, and presented at the conference i read that:

“In 2010 celebrations of the forty years of outlawing pay discrimination are marred by the reality of a persistent pay gap of 16.4% for full time work, rising to 55% in the financial services industry. Can we afford to tolerate the implication that in the 21st century women are worth 55% less than their male counterparts?”

disregarding clearly charged language of these extracts, the numbers quoted were quite astonishing – 55% pay gap in the banking sector!? if these numbers were true shouldn’t we celebrate 40 anniversary of equal pay legislation being out of force in the UK rather than being in force? what were these people celebrating?! total and complete failure?! that’s what it seemes judging by the numbers presented above.

but once i took a closer look at those figures together with issues around methods of obtaining them i immediately realised that the picture painted above is … well, at best misleading.

for those with at least two enquiring brain cells the first point of reference would be Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (2009) published by Office for National Statistics as this was the source of the data quoted in “Equal pay, where next?”. however, according to Office for National Statistics, gender pay gap narrowed between 2008 and 2009 (pdf):

“The 2009 gender pay gap for full-time employees is 12.2 per cent, down from 12.6 per cent in 2008, comparing median hourly earnings excluding overtime. For part-time employees the gap is -2.0 per cent (the figure for women is 2.0 per cent higher than the figure for men) compared with -3.7 per cent in 2008.”


“The figures show that the gender pay gap has fallen by around five percentage points for the full-time employees and all employees measures from 1997 to 2009. The gender pay gap for part-time employees has remained at a similar level over the years, with women earning more than men when the median is used.”

interestingly enough the main figure provided by Office for National Statistics was 12.2%, so what was the deal with 16.4%, 17%, 20%, 36%, 40%, 45% and/or 55%? where are these numbers coming from?
answers to some of these questions together with an interesting twist could be found on UK Statistics Authority’s website. in the correspondence section i stumbled upon an interesting document entitled “Government Equalities Office Press Release: 27 April 2009”, dated 11 June 2009, from chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar to Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, Government Equalities Office (pdf)(preview and download on scribd). in this document we read:

“I am writing to you about the Government Equalities Office (GEO) Press Release on the Equality Bill, issued on 27 April, which states that women are paid on average 23 per cent less per hour than men.
GEO’s headline estimate of the difference between the earnings of women compared with men (generally referred to as the gender pay gap) is some 10 percentage points higher than the 12.8 per cent figure quoted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Yet both estimates are derived from the same source, the 2008 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). Such a difference in headline estimates is likely to confuse the general public. The Statistics Authority is concerned that this may undermine public trust in official statistics.
… the figure of 23 per cent quoted in the GEO press release relates to the median hourly earnings of all employees (full-time and part-time combined) whereas ONS’s figure of 12.8 per cent is based on the difference in the median hourly earnings of full-time employees only. Neither measure is entirely satisfactory as an impartial and objective headline estimate. The former rolls together the quite different levels of hourly earnings for part-time and full-time employees; while the latter excludes the earnings of around one quarter of all employees.

These considerations suggest the need for a more extensive set of measures to present the differences between the earnings of men and women. Indeed, it is the Statistics Authority’s view that use of the 23% on its own, without qualification, risks giving a misleading quantification of the gender pay gap.”

the document goes on clarifying intricacies of measuring pay gap and simply speaking, explanations given by the author serve as very explicit proof that what we neatly refer to as “gender pay gap” is not a neat concept at all. nevertheless quickly scanning through the latest ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings we would find that:

  • median pay gap for full-time employees (excluding overtime) has decreased from 12.6% to 12.2%; that
  • women’s hourly rate rising by 4.3% to £11.39 and the men’s by 3.8% to £12.97; and that
  • mean pay gap also narrowed, from 17.4% to 16.4%;
  • 22.0% pay gap is a result of combining full and part-time work (decrease from 22.5% in 2008); however,
  • when working part-time women were paid 2% more per hour than were men.

that would explain some of the figures quoted by Fawcett while according to society’s website figure 36% (bundled up with 45% as a corresponding figure for London) refers to pay gap between women working part-time when compared with men working full-time. this comparison might seem quite odd, and it is hard for me to imagine what kind of inferences could be drawn from such a comparison.

nevertheless referring back to UK Statistics Authority’s correspondence section we find a letter dated 7 August 2009 and entitled “Gender Pay Gap”. this time Sir Michael Scholar tells off Baroness Prosser of Battersea, Chairman for Women and Work Commission (pdf)(preview and download on scribd). Sir Michael writes:

“It would be an easy mistake for a casual reader to conclude from the Foreword that if the overall gender pay gap stands at 22.6 per cent and the full-time gender pay gap stands at 12.8 per cent, then the part-time gender pay gap must be considerably greater than 22.6 per cent. Indeed, the Foreword appears to confirm just such a conclusion when it states that ‘pay gaps are even greater for part-time workers (39.9 per cent)’. The casual reader would be surprised to learn then that median hourly earnings of women and of men (excluding overtime) are very close, with women’s median pay actually being slightly higher than men’s (by 3.4 per cent).
While the Foreword to Shaping the Future refers to 39.9 per cent as an estimate of the pay gap for part-time workers, it does not explain what this is a measure of. Looking at the numbers presented in the Authority M&A note, 39.9 per cent appears to be a measure of the difference between the median hourly earnings of part-time women compared with full-time men. The M&A note looked at a similar measure presented by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (based on mean rather than median earnings) and concluded that such a comparison needs particularly careful presentation and justification if it is not to mislead. If this comparison is indeed the basis for the 39.9 per cent estimate, I am disappointed that it should have appeared in the Foreword to Shaping the Future without any explanation.”

after these revelations i am inclined to leave remaining figure of 55%, but i have a strong feeling that the high number might be a result of compering average earnings of men working full time in financial sector in the City of London with female employees working as part-time cleaners for small branch of local bank somewhere in the poorest part of UK.

summing up, the closest figure depicting “gender pay gap” according to UK Statistics Authority would be 12.2%, a figure which interestingly is not mentioned even once in Fawcett’s “Equal pay, where next? Changing Hearts and Minds”.
regardless of this unimportant fact, the report goes on to identify issues behind the existing pay gap (whatever it might be) by citing a report “Modelling Gender Pay Gaps” by Olden and Walby and published in 2004 by Equal Opportunities Commission. according to this study, factors associated with gender pay gap as for 2002 were:
•        Women have less full-time work experience (19%)
•        Interruptions to female employment (childcare, etc.) (14%)
•        Gender segregation (concentration of women in female-dominated occupations) (10%)
•        Education (older women have less education than males) (8%)
•        Institutional factors such as firm size (women tend to be in smaller firms) and union membership (8%)
•        Years of part-time working (women have more part-time work experience: this has a negative effect) (3%)
•        ‘Being female’ (unexplained, possibly discrimination and preferences/motivation) (38%)

(after Shackleton, J. R., Should We Mind the Gap? Gender Pay Differentials and Public Policy (October 21, 2008). Insititute of Economic Affairs Monographs, Hobart Paper No. 164. Available at SSRN:

in other words, if one would be really determined to arrive at some one-figure-estimate of wage differences among men and women, working full time (based on current data) and which could be regarded as resulting from sex discrimination (as presented by Olden and Walby) the figure would be 4.63%. however, such estimate would exclude large number of factors and would have to be seen as quite simplistic and most likely misleading representation of the real issue.

now, referring back to “believing” and “knowing” as legitimate drivers for change. one might think that institutions like Fawcett Society and Equality & Human Rights Commission would insist on “knowing” rather than “believing” when attempting to, according to their own words, “build a robust roadmap for the future of equal pay”. on the other hand if insignificant individual like the author of this blog, using his laptop seems to be perfectly capable of scrutinising the various figures popping up during debates on gender pay gap, it is not unreasonable to expect that organisations like the ones mentioned above with all their resources should be capable of doing much more. unless of course “knowing” is not on their agenda, and proposed “robust roadmap for the future of equal pay” is based on set of convoluted beliefs – i guess some form of very peculiar religious dogma proclaiming its crusade against pay differentials as means to salvation.
unfortunately, one would be wrong thinking that this is the only area of policies and legislative process affected by such frivolous attitude towards facts. and short scan of other issues raised by Sir Michael Scholar with various public bodies published by UK Statistics Authority on its website could indicate similar misinformation campaigns surrounding issues of domestic violence, rape and other areas blighted by “institutionalised discrimination against women” all of which are at the heart of policy orientated endeavours of Fawcett-like organisations and pressure groups.

finally, considering the advice that men should “do what women do -work hard towards the changes [they] believe should occur” one might ask whether men should start to “work” towards their goals in a manner similar to the one described above and employed by Fawcett Society, Harriet Harman and the likes?
i believe they should not, but then again I’m just a hopeless case of naive ignorant who’s ignorance is beyond powers of any educational institution.