Women are disadvantaged in the workplace. This is an ugly, but unavoidable truth backed up by statistics. They are likely to earn, and be promoted less than their male contemporaries. On an intellectual level we are all well aware of this and probably agree that it is appalling. But it’s a little less clear how individuals should respond to this in their daily lives. Keeley and Tom from our Project Engagement Team give their thoughts on this contradiction.
Gender prejudice and inequality in the workplace has been a topic of conversation for as long as I can remember. We are so oversaturated with data and coverage of workplace gender bias that it’s becoming slightly overwhelming; I don’t have a problem with it, if it’s factual, as the more it’s talked about the more likely it is that these issues are tackled. And hopefully, eradicated. With all the information out there I question what it means for me, a 29 year old woman living and working in London? It raises questions; should I have a better job? Should I be earning more? Have I been discriminated against? Am I immediately on the back foot when it comes to my career? What is my position as a stakeholder on the issue?
I’ve always been a pretty independent and hardworking person so why am I earning considerably less than my male counterparts and potentially missing out on promotion opportunities? The Office of National Statistics findings show that for full-time employees the gender pay gap “widened in April 2013, to 10.0% up from 9.5% in 2012”. There are variables that come into question like hours of overtime, part-time workers, and the difference in rates of pay for comparable jobs. But, I’d still like to know what these men are doing differently? 35+ hour week, tick. Comparable responsibilities, tick. Equivalent degree classification, tick. And who is an agent for this inequality, shouldn't we all take responsibility?
Maybe it comes down to cultural norms within a workplace? Over the course of my career, I’ve been asked more than once to grab the coffees for everyone, been introduced at the beginning of a meeting with a job title two levels below the one I actually have or, next to a man with a similar role, it’s assumed I’m more junior. However, nothing in the job title ‘Receptionist’, ‘Co-ordinator’, ‘Director’ or ‘CEO’ for that matter denotes gender, (although I do wonder whether certain pronouns would be used to describe them), so why am I potentially being judged on anything other than job responsibilities and performance?
I’m relatively new to the working world and have many years ahead of me so I’d like to think that for the next 50+ years I won’t have to fight for what should be freely given such as equal pay, fair treatment and respect.
Is the promise of equality in the future good enough? No. It’s not.
I’m a white man. Society apparently loves me and wants me to do well. So much so that it stacks the odds in my favour. I’m likely to earn 10% more than my female counterparts and 23% more than my black and ethnic minority peers. It’s easy for me to understand what to do with this information on a political level. I understand that it demonstrates deep and worrying social bias and that we need to take swift and decisive measures to correct it. But when it comes down to a personal level, it’s a little more difficult to put into perspective.
Given that I’m in the socially advantaged demographic; Does it mean that I don’t deserve the position or pay that I have? That if the interview panel here at the RSA hadn’t known my gender or race that I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now? Should I resign in protest? Or do I just need to #checkmywhitemaleprivilege once in a while? It would be really easy for me just to assume that I’m the anomaly – the exception that proves the rule, but surely everyone in my position will think that. So I am left asking “do I deserve to be here?” but it is unclear if an answer to this question exists.
As we can see from the above, trying to place big social problems like the gender pay gap into a personal context can lead to some rather uncomfortable questions. But it is important that this doesn’t stop us asking them, and talking about how it makes us feel.
We want you to get the discussion going where you work by asking yourself the three questions below and talking about the answers with your colleagues. We might not arrive at clear answers, but at least we won’t be ignoring a problem.
1. What is your gender?
2. Do you feel that gender has influenced your career so far?
3. Is there an identifiable gender gap in your workplace?