The gender pay gap is either alive and well or, depending who you speak to, an outright myth. At it’s core, according to a recent Senate Economics References Committee report from April this year, is the theory that ‘a husband is not a retirement plan’ unquote. Hear-hear, I say. But maybe not for the reasons you would think. Let me explain.
An anonymous (aren’t they always?) contributor to an earlier iteration on the issue summarised his (?) view fairly succinctly: ‘Let the bitches pay their own way.’ Apart from the pejorative, it’s hard to argue the contrary: I’m sure they would, if they could. As the SERC report points out: “women and men experience work very differently. Women are more likely to work in lower paid roles and lower paid fields, are more likely to work part-time or casually, and are more likely to take breaks from paid employment to provide unpaid care for others. Over their lifetimes, as a consequence, they will earn significantly less than men“.
First and foremost, this is an extraordinarily complex issue, so those seeking a quick fix will invariably be disappointed. But quick-fix seekers always are, aren’t they, poor bastards. Scanning the report, I felt that a lot of the proposed structural changes to the way we levy tax and pay superannuation makes sense. There absolutely should be dispensations made for low-income earners. But among the flotilla of recommendations is the slippery idea that pay equity means equal pay for “work of equal or comparable value”. My emphasis. What does that mean? We already have the first one, as law, across the public sector, so this two-pronged assault on the status quo must relate almost exclusively to the public sector employee.
Let’s use an example. Let’s for a minute pretend that I’m successful. An architect, maybe. My company, Vandelay Industries, is booming, so I employ two graduate architects, Nora and Nigel. Both do great work. As their contracts expire on the same date, both come to me to negotiate a renewal. Both want pay rises, but Nigel asks for $5K more than his co-worker. Do I refuse him because Nora has asked for less? Or do I pay her more because Nigel asked for a higher raise? This is private enterprise, baby, so guess which way this is going. The victim here will be Nigel, won’t it. Not because he deserves less, but because Nora didn’t ask for more. But what if I gave them both what they asked for, and Nora later found out about the ‘pay disparity’ and cracked the shits? What are her options? Well, she could march back into the office and ask for more. Most likely, though, under the SERC report proposals, she would report me to the Industrial Relations Commission for the heinous sin of paying a woman what she believes she is worth.
I’d love my wife to be paid what she’s worth. For starters, it would take the pressure off me. But she’s a private sector employee, whereas I’m public. I have another five years of guaranteed pay increases, whereas she is overdue for her ‘yearly’ appraisal, having achieved amazing results, yet is not confident of a payrise. Like many women, she took time out to have children and see them through school. Her superannuation balance is pitiful. She is a classic example of the women penalised by ‘the system’ in the SERC report. But isn’t it a choice we made — that I would carry the financial burden while she bore the domestic? Now that she’s back in the workforce fulltime, she faces the task of playing catch-up. What that means is making extra super contributions, seeking promotion, working hard to rebuild her career, etc etc. Why do we need government interference in this? This was a lifestyle choice by us, and nothing else.
I have a daughter at the beginning of her adult life. Work, family, it’s all ahead of her. What employer does not look at a girl, newly engaged in her early 20’s, and think: “Why would I want to employ her? She’ll want maternity leave and paid parental leave, and I’ll lose two years’ wages for nothing.” Let’s be real, that’s exactly what they think, whether the owner of the business is male or female. Quizzically, the same employer probably benefitted from mat/pat leave themselves, once upon a time. No wonder the public service is so enticing for women. And can I point out that if you walk into any police station in the country, you’ll find most of the officers ‘driving desks’ from nine to five weekdays are females who get paid exactly the same as the officers, male and female, who work the streets night and day getting scratched, punched and bitten by drug addicts. Equal pay for equal or comparable work? Watch out, ladies!
End of the day, I’d like to see my wife and my daughter ask for what they are worth, irrespective and regardless of what a man doing equal or comparable work is earning. This formula stifles ambition, because nobody can earn any more than their peers, irrespective of how good they are or how hard they work. The only answer, male or female, is to strap on the gloves, swallow that lump in your throat, fight down the butterflies, and go into that appraisal swinging. Don’t ask the government how much you are worth, because they will always short change you. Convince your boss by showing them the fruits of your labours how much you are worth to them; and if they don’t agree, then don’t be afraid to find somebody who does.
Lastly, nobody seems to be thinking this whole gender equality thing all the way through, because they always stop at the ultimate goal: women being paid at least as much as men for equal or comparable work. Notice nobody is saying women shouldn’t be prohibited from earning more than their male counterparts. So while our mums, wives and daughters march through the streets waving placards and the men either join them or sit at home feeling inexplicably guilty, what happens afterwards? How long before men start demanding an absolutely level playing field, and claiming some of the perks women already enjoy purely by virtue of their gender? I would love to have been a stay-at-home dad, but finances made it impossible. I would love to go part-time right now to pursue my writing, but finances make it impossible. Et cetera, ad nauseum. I say this not because I hate women, for God’s sake, but because, hidden in the mist the true ‘advantage’ of being male is not always what you’re told it is.