Every now and then an article comes across your desk that challenges the little grey cells. One such article was Scrapping of pay equity inquiry sparks protest in last Wednesday’s Dominion Post. The article was describing a protest at the governments’ decision to scrap a pay equity investigation and to disband the pay and employment equity unit at the Labour Department.
Articles like this are a trigger for me, so I had better explain why. Way back in the day I was your typical boarding school brat who went on to University, and as such whilst encountering some feminist theory at university, gender issues were not really important except for a vague ambiguous thought that equality was a good thing, but didn’t women have it? Then a number of things happened that made me much more aware of gender issues. First was a lasting relationship J, then I entered a “woman’s profession” librarianship and lastly I took nearly four years off work to be the principle care giver in our family.
All these things brought an awareness of gender issues that challenged my naturally conservative background and philosophies. I got interested in gender issues, to the extent that I volunteered to join LIANZA’s Gender Equity committee. A committee that was wound down as lot of its work was being duplicated by the above mentioned pay equity investigation.
So a number of things ran through my head as I read the article.
Firstly, now that these government initiatives have been scrapped, it will be interesting to see the approach LIANZA takes to gender equity. Will a new committee be put together? What would their objectives be? Would I be interested in joining again if it was?
Secondly a lot of my old misgivings resurfaced from reading the article. It seems to me that a lot of what was spoken of in the article and a lot of the debate around gender equity is wrongly framed.
The argument is that on average women are paid less than men and that the government should legislate to fix the gap, but not enough focus is given to WHY that is so.
When you look at some professions, our own for example, statistically you could see that men are paid more. But you have to look more fully at the figures than to take a simple average. If, like in librarianship, you have more women and a large number of those women are in the lower paid positions, then the average will be lower. A single large salary will be diluted easily amongst a larger sample than a small. So this emphasis on a numerical value is misleading.
Are there then more men in higher paid positions? In librarianship it doesn’t seem to me to be so however this does lead to my second point. Women are more likely to take time out from their career, to remain in positions of lower responsibility, or to take part-time work, to ensure that there is a parent available for their children. I think this is the principle reasons for the higher pay of men.
When I came back into the workforce I was aware that I had a career gap of several years. I came back, happier, more confident, with better time keeping skills and a lot more patience. I had little expectation that employers would recognise the value of my time as a full time father. But maybe they should.
And if they should, how? How can you legislate for people to take into account personal growth through parenting or other life experiences? How can you quantify that? How can you compare that experience to work place experience? How do you make it fair to those who stayed in paid work and grew there instead?