Aug 31, 2010

Underpaid and undervalued: a woman’s work is never done

The problem is that despite nearly 40 years of equal pay legality, there is still evidence that the valuing of jobs is inequitable because there are still gender prejudices operating.

The News limited story this week was very clear:
The growing pay gap between the s-xes is now higher than it was at the height of the women's liberation movement and three out of four Australians say they want it fixed. After improving between 1972 and 1977, the gender pay gap has worsened in the 21st century. Women were earning on average 88 per cent of the male average wage in 1977 but that had fallen back to just 82 per cent in May 2010, research by KPMG shows.
The average pay gap between men and women workers grew by $7.90 per week in the last 12 months from $231.40 a week to $239.30 a week. This means women will have to work three days longer in 2010 compared to 2009 to reach an equal pay packet.
"We need to be focusing our efforts on achieving pay equity for women who are doing work of equal value to men, not necessarily the exact same job," Diversity Council Australia acting director of research Lisa Annese said.
And that shows the nub of the problem. Pay equity is going backwards for a range of reasons but a big one is that there is increasing numbers of the feminised jobs in education, care, health and personal services and increased particularly high paid often masculinised jobs in mining. Pay differentials have various causes, but we need to talk about hourly rates or average weekly ordinary time earnings to compare like with like. Of course, if people work fewer hours they earn less and women often "choose" to reduce hours and take time out because they are the primary carers. These are issues but not in the debates on pay equity. The problem is that despite nearly 40 years of equal pay legality, there is still evidence that the valuing of jobs is inequitable because there are still gender prejudices operating,  in defining merit and the value of jobs. Legal equality of earnings in the same jobs is useful but given the high levels of gender segregation Australia has in jobs and industries, the gender gap is not decreasing but increasing. Part of it is prejudice. Why is human resources valued at lower levels than financial resources? How many often female human resource directors are paid more than the CFO, despite statements about the high value of our workforce? Why do child-care workers get paid less than shelf stackers or car parking attendants? Why did librarians have to fight to be seen as skilled as geologists? The problem is that skills and merit in the workplace are still seen as highly gendered and valued accordingly. Women are caught therefore in the dilemma of moving into male-oriented jobs that may pay more, or follow their interests into the other often vital areas of work where pay is much lower. Recently the New Economic Foundation in the UK came up with the idea of revaluing pay rates for jobs on the basis of their contribution to social wellbeing. On that basis, pay for nurses would rise rapidly and pay for tax planners would fall. A nice idea but not one that we are likely to see the powerful accept! So we are left with the problem that many really essential jobs are grossly underpaid and undervalued. At a recent child-care meeting, many centre directors complained they could not keep staff because of the low pay. This is bad for the children as continuity counts, yet fees would need to rise and parents can’t afford it. And that is part of the problem. Many women’s jobs are in areas dependent on subsidies e.g. health and education, so raising pay rates would mean fewer services, higher fees and those needing the services being unable to afford them. There is a current equal pay case being argued under the new provisions in the Fair Work Act, which would raise the award rates in the community services sector. The Gillard government was supporting the case and did make a commitment to look at extra funding if it was successful; the Coalition has not mentioned it. The other problem is the plain discrimination that continues in workplaces. There were some interesting comments online to the article above. After the usual range of male denials, there were many examples given of women finding out they were being paid less than men who had similar jobs and experience or sometimes even less. As many women are still less likely to be aggressive in claiming their rights, they tend to be exploited by bosses who know they won’t ask too many questions. This we need to address, but the structural differences need government intervention. To quote some of the comments under the story: "To Stephen of South of the City, yes I can. Right here where I work. Up until a few years ago, we always had a male storeperson, we now have a female who has proven to be harder working and always gets the job done plus more, unlike the previous male ones who always used to say they didn't have time. As soon as this female one was employed, she was put on a lower salary than her previous male counterparts." And to idontthinkso of Brisbane, "Yes we have national awards, but what the article says is equal pay for work of the same value, not necessarily the same job. Rest assured, if the situation was reversed i.e. women did the muscle work and the men did the administration work, administration wages would be whole lot different. All I can say is, I hope these people push the issue, it has been going on for far too long." On the other hand, we have the response : "Why doesn't the PC mafia just directly rob men of our dignity and status at gunpoint? It would be much quicker and more straight-to-the-point than the fear, lies and obfuscation (see article) currently being deployed to emasculate us and erode natural gender roles." The battle continues!

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14 thoughts on “Underpaid and undervalued: a woman’s work is never done

  1. Denis Goodwin

    The head of my organization is a women and like many women in senior positions she has no children. Are there any statistical studies of successful women ? How big a factor is parenting and the uneven division of labour in regard to the primary care of children.

    One strategy Eva has not listed is getting more men to be primary careers for children. I also think that some well paying male dominated industries are unacceptable to many women because the jobs involve heavy manual work and/or dirty working conditions.

  2. JonoMatt

    My wife is a HR manager that has decided to stay in the public sector due to the more flexible conditions that exist for new mothers. She could get a much higher paying job in the private sector but doesn’t do so for lifestyle reasons. I reckon that this needs to be looked at when considering pay disparity, as I know many 40 plus women with young children that have foregone work commitments to care for kids.

    As Denis has noted, perhaps if more primary carers were men then the gap would close?

  3. Jenny Haines

    One aspect that is not mentioned here is that trade unions seem to have dropped the ball on equal pay. Being a baby boomer, I well remember the campaigns by the ACTU, the State Labor Councils, and State and Federal unions for equal pay for work of equal value in the 1970s and 1980s. The most recent claim in the 2000s for equal pay is that being currently run by the ASU for hospitality workers. Without the workplace organisation that trade unions offer and the industrial advocacy in an Industrial Commission that allows for the presentation of cases based on more than the narrow values of Fair Work Australia, no wonder women’s pay is falling behind men

  4. [email protected]

    It has often been noted that in a democracy everyone earns the same, that being the value they bring to the marketplace. If an individual in that environment earns a sum different to this, the market invariably applies it’s subtle pressures to correct the anomaly.
    Capitalism tends to encourage larger differences in income whereas socialism tries to provide corrections where the discrepancies are considered to be too extreme. Both  forces when applied thoughtfully can provide an acceptable balance to society.  

  5. Gavin Moodie

    I agree that much progressive activism has shifted from sex pay equity to other pressing issues – so much to be done, so few to do it!

    But it at least disproves the assertion frequently made as recently as a decade ago, that women’s under representation in senior jobs is due to the pipeline effect, the now disproved fiction that once women increase their representation in junior jobs the meritocracy will see them promoted to the top jobs.

  6. Scott

    I think people also forget the domographic factors at work here. In 2006 according to the ABS, in the peak earning years of 45-54 years, 61.9% of men have a non-school qualification as opposed to 56% of women. This will no doubt have an impact on earning capability and could account for the slight widening in gender pay.
    However with the new generation, ages 25-34, the stat’s are 65.2 vs 64.1 Males/Females (but with Females winning the higher earning “Bachelor degree of higher “percentages 32.2 to 26.1)
    Just be patient ladies, you will get ahead of us in a few more years.

  7. Gavin Moodie

    As I posted above, the pipeline hypothesis has been disproved. For example, the 2009 Australian graduate survey reported that the median starting wages of bachelor graduates under 25 years in their first full time employment was:

    accounting – males $45,000, females $45,000
    architecture and building – males $46,800, females $40,000
    biological sciences – males $45,000, females $44,500
    computer science – males $49,500, females $49,800
    business, economics – males $47,000, females $44,100
    engineering – males $58,000, females $56,000
    humanities – males $43,000, females $41,500
    law – males $53,000, females $48,600

    and so it goes in that pattern in the rest of the fields of education.

  8. Scott

    Says who Gavin? If you check out this ABS release from 2009 (6310.0 – Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009) , you see that women’s earnings are at their highest at age 25-35 (which matches the qualification theory). They are still below the men (as your graduate survey shows), but not by much. Currently though, men’s earnings keep on improving through ages 35-45 and beyond while women’s earnings go down after their early peak, hence the gender pay gap grows. If we want to reduce this pay gap, we need to keep women’s salaries increasing in those later years, same as men. I think this will happen in the next 10 years as more women will have the qualifications for those management positions.

  9. Peter Phelps

    So, Eva, I presume that you will be supporting Tony Abbott’s PPL scheme, as a ‘proper valuing of women’s work – as opposed the the minimum wage being offered to mothers by Comrade Julia and the Emily’s List collective?

  10. Gavin Moodie

    The Australian graduate survey is a survey of all Australian university graduates over the previous year. Results are published by Graduate Careers Australia, and I extracted a few figures from table 3 of GradStats no. 14 December 2009.

    While the ABS survey of employee earnings is useful, the Australian graduate survey is a far more precise report of what new graduates are paid. It shows clearly that female graduates start by being paid less despite not working part time and nor having their careers interrupted by spending more time raising children during their initial years of employment.

    More women than men have been qualified for senior advancement – for example in law and medicine – for decades now, yet still their representation in top jobs is a third of men’s.

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