The So-called “Gender Pay Gap”

I’m a software developer.  Among software developers we have some superstar programmers, and one of these is Jon Skeet.  Jon has the highest reputation on one of the most influential programming Q & A sites on the net, Stack Overflow, and he has frequently been compared to Chuck Norris in terms of his prowess as a programmer.  Jon’s profile page on StackOverflow: Jon Skeet.

I am happy to say that Jon has finally decided to blog about things other than programming!  He has today posted his second entry on his personal blog, and he picked the title Feminism and Me.  Go check it out: John Skeet’s Blog: Feminism and Me.  I congratulate Jon for his concern for women’s rights, but I don’t think he’s looked at things from all sides.  In a comment, I referred him to an alternative view as expressed by Karen Straughn, a men’s rights advocate: Me, a Feminist?  No way.

I will briefly address one of Jon’s concerns: pay equality.

When it comes to equal pay for equal work, in the USA at least it is illegal to pay women differently just because they are women.  But because women are more likely than a man to stop working in order to raise a family, when they finally return to the workforce they are now working with men (and women!) who never left.  They thus lose out on seniority, and especially in technical occupations (such as computer programming), they have missed out on huge advances and changes in the field.  They thus come back into the workforce having to play enormous amounts of catch-up, and it makes no sense for an employer to pay them the same as if they had never left the field.  This is what actually what causes the so-called “gender pay gap.  Is a woman who stays in her career going to make the same amount of money as a man in the same position in the same company?  Most certainly.

If you know of a situation where a woman is making less than a man who has the same seniority and qualifications, then you know about a situation where the law is being broken.  All you have to do is go find a lawyer who specializes in work-related issues, and sue the company involved.  Or even contact the  government and get them to arrest the nasty perps.

Milo Yiannopolis raises an interesting point when he says that if women were costing their employer’s less money for the same work, why wouldn’t an employer hire ONLY women, just as a cost-cutting measure?  I tried to find the video where he actually says this, but couldn’t locate it.  As a substitute, I thought I would post his very funny video advocating that men be paid more for the same work.  I don’t know if this is supposed to be serious, or he’s being a comedian.  I’m leaning to the latter.  Oh, and by the way, he is gay, and is parodying his own stereotype in the video, not mocking gays:


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5 Responses to The So-called “Gender Pay Gap”

  1. jonskeet says:

    I’ve heard the “there’s a law against it, so it can’t be happening” argument before, and I don’t buy it. This is one of these things where a) the risks involved in suing act as a deterrent even where you *can* concretely identify a single incident; b) it’s much easier to see in aggregate than to point out individual cases, partly due to what I consider the causes.

    I believe a lot of the cause for this is unconscious bias. Many companies *try* to do the right thing – but their pay, bonuses and promotion are based on performance review which is based on peer feedback. That sounds great, right? Yes, until you bear in mind that given the *exact same peer feedback*, reviewers are likely to judge a man as “confident” but a woman as “arrogant” (repeat for various similar connotations). That’s assuming the review has the same feedback to start with – but the peers are likely to have unconscious bias, too. Studies have shown that differences in perception after meetings in terms of who has come up with ideas, who has contributed in other ways etc… based on gender. Then there’s the way that people describe their own work, with men more likely to take credit for their team’s achievements where women emphasize collaboration more, etc. So everyone involved in the peer review (the person being reviewed, the peers giving feedback, and the reviewers) have unconscious biases which can have an impact on salary, bonus and promotion. Is the law clearly and definably being broken, to such an extent that you’d risk hostility from your employer by taking them to caught? No. Are you suffering discrimination? Yes.

    The “career break” argument would also only hold water if the research showed women who *hadn’t* had children yet being paid the same as men – but I don’t believe that’s the case either. (I’ll see if I can dig up some of the relevant studies.) Then of course there’s the matter of business not making adequate provision for women to come back to their professional careers on an appropriate footing, and the cultural side which strongly encourages the women to do a disproportionate amount of child-rearing, making it harder again.

    So yes, I still believe there’s a real problem there – and one which can’t claim to be fixed just because there’s a law in place, any more than we can claim violence and sexual harassment don’t exist because they’re illegal too.

    • Mike Clark says:

      I would never claim that just because there’s a law against something it isn’t happening. I’m saying that there is a law, and those who feel they are suffering because of it must utilize it, or else employers who violate it will continue to do so with impunity. What other solution could there be? If a law is in place already (and in the US it has been in place since the 70’s), then if it isn’t being obeyed what is to be done? Pass another law saying the same thing?

      I applaud your desire to make things more equal, but when you say “… men [are] more likely to take credit for their team’s achievements where women emphasize collaboration more…” you may be right, even though I’ve plenty of examples where men in charge have emphasized the success of collaboration, but if there is a biological basis of how men and women think differently, how can you really expect to make an improvement? Educate men to think more like women? It is also a fact that men are more likely to ask for a raise in pay than women are. What is to be done about this? Educate women to ask for raises more, or men to ask for raises less? Or pass a law about it?

      You wrote “The “career break” argument would also only hold water if the research showed women who *hadn’t* had children yet being paid the same as men – but I don’t believe that’s the case either.” Hmmm. My boss is a woman developer. She’s had children, but has never taken a career break. She is younger than me, and is paid more than me. Even though I have more experience and programming knowledge than she does — I’m a .NET dev with a COBOL and mainframe background, and she’s only a mainframe COBOL dev. I should ask for a raise just based on that? But I’m a year from retirement and they won’t do it! Well, I realize that this is purely anecdotal.

      Apparently, someone did do a study that found that “…unmarried women who’ve never had a child actually earn more than unmarried men…”, and you can read the entire article (from CBS News) here: The Gender Pay Gap is a Complete Myth The same article references a study conducted for the US Dept of Labor in 2009 which stated:

      “This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

      • jonskeet says:

        Thanks for the studies (here and below) – will look into those.

        As for the “what can be done” – lots of things, including unconscious bias training for managers. If we take it as read that men and women will write performance self-reviews differently, we need to train those *reading* them to focus on solid data and read past the differences.

        Likewise if a law is shown not to be working (and I acknowledge that’s a premise you’re questioning), we should neither hold our hands up and claim there’s nothing to be done, nor pass another law that says the same thing – we should work out why the current law isn’t working, and amend it. It can’t just fall to individuals who may (individually) be at risk of suffering significant disadvantages if they try to use an existing, possibly-flawed law – it’s up to others to recognize the flaws and help fix them.

    • nicholascloud says:

      Christina Hoff Sommers provides some background to the other relevant factors (supported by US Department of Labor statistics) that affect the pay gap (e.g., Her “Factual Feminist” series of YouTube videos also explores the wage gap as well.

      One thing to consider is that the “unconscious discrimination” argument usually relies on un-falsifiable premises, since the motives of those hiring are impossible to objectively analyze in absence of physical evidence. We are just asked to assume that employers have ill motives. I think that if discrimination does occur it is more likely to be caused by a conscious or unconscious consideration of the factors that Sommers enumerates.

      Consider this scenario. An educated person who falls on hard times and has to look for work wherever it may be found. In spite of his need he will likely be turned down for retail or food service jobs, even in a hiring market. Why? Because an employer knows that the more educated person will likely have other opportunities for much higher pay sooner than later (and will almost certainly take those opportunities), and decides that the non-wage investments in hiring that person are better spent hiring a teenager who won’t be going anywhere for a few years. This *is* a form of discrimination, but not one rooted in malicious intent; it is simply a consideration of the factors relevant to the labor a potential employer is buying and a potential employee is selling. (Labor *is* a market.)

      I think this same kind of “discrimination” likely happens with women. Employers know that women will, in the short term, often make other life choices that will impact their work. Employers have to make a decision: invest in training, benefits, salary, etc. for someone who will likely work less hours, take more time off, take more sick leave, and potentially make radically career-altering decisions like leaving the workforce to care for children (or transition to a part-time position, or work from home, or a myriad of other hybrid compromises that still involve some perceived loss on the part of the company and usually involve a decline in a woman’s upward career mobility within the company), or hire a man who is statistically far LESS likely to make these choices.

      (Note: I am very much in favor of exploring hybrid work approaches like remote working, desk sharing, etc. I believe these can be cost effective choices for companies and more conducive to work-life balance, so perhaps, as more companies adopt these models, the different choices that women make will have *less* of an impact on how their careers play out, thus eliminating these types of “discriminations” entirely. We shall see.)

      • jonskeet says:

        One thing on unconscious bias – and your later point. I believe a lot of this isn’t malicious at all – but it’s unconscious. Unconscious bias can be shown with studies providing large samples of recruiters with CVs which are identical other than the name at the top, and seeing what their reactions are. Making people aware of their biases won’t remove them entirely, but can reduce them – and other measures such as making as much of the hiring and promotion process “gender-blind” can help. Of course, this mostly affects very large companies rather than small ones.

        Maybe it’s because I’m an optimist and like to think the best of people, but I believe an awful lot of discrimination is unconscious – and that even those who defend catcalling with “it’s only a bit of fun” or “learn to take a compliment” would change their behaviour if they really understood the effect it has on people. I think culture change is much more important than legal change, in general.

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