Australia, the gender pay gap, and everyday sexism

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Sexism made explicit

In the past it was easier to not notice the everyday sexism and misogyny that permeates life in Australia. But with the advent of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister it seemed that it was permitted to openly denigrate women.

It shocked me. It was breathtaking. I spent the entire Gillard regime gobsmacked at what people, mostly men, felt that it okay to say in public about women, or about a woman.

Those same things would have been unlikely to be uttered aloud if one replaced the notion of a woman with that of a race.

I, along with many other women, cheered when Gillard make her famed anti-misogyny speech in Parliament. She said what many of us felt. We didn’t care what precipitated her speech, it articulated our feelings.

Former Prime Minister, John Howard, said recently that Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was ‘nonsense’. Yet another man rejecting the reporting lived experience of a woman. And research indicates that sexist attacks – sexist language, gender-based name calling – in the media damages women political candidates.

Calling out sexism makes women a target

Sexism and misogyny remain part of the everyday experience of women everywhere. To call this out often makes women the targets of vile attacks.

Anita Sarkeesian knows all about what happens when women call out sexism online – call out sexism and get attacked by cyber-mobs. Or as Caroline Criado-Perez discovered, just ask for some women to be put onto your national bank notes and you can expect to receive rape and death threats.

Social media is an amplification medium for both good and ill.

Unequal pay – gender wage gap

It was no great surprise to hear a well known business man spell out his policy on hiring women in a recent talk. Evan Thornley spoke at Blackbird’s Sunrise startup event in Sydney week. He spoke about how he is able to hire women at lower rates than men. He illustrated this point with a slide titled:

“WOMEN. Like men, only cheaper”

Thornley has since backpadalled, saying he “stuffed up” in trying to say that there is a problem with women in technology that needs to be fixed.

But the fact that he said this, and demonstrated that he has used the information asymmetry between women and men in the labour market to pay lower rates to women, is an interesting thing to note.

If one were to replace the word “women” with a racial group the truly offensive nature of the original comments becomes apparent.

Jenna Price makes the useful point that this kind of thing is helpful as it “shines a light” on the issue.

As a woman in business it has been clear to me for many years that unconscious sexism is the enemy. Hardly anyone gets up in the morning and says “I’m off to work today to oppress women”. Instead it is a myriad of unconscious moments, such as assuming that women do not want to work on certain projects because they have children therefore not offering them the opportunity.

However, the important thing the Thornley revealed is the information asymmetry between women and men about market salaries. Because of the secrecy that attaches to what people get paid, women often do not realise how much more men doing the same work get paid.

It’s time for women to start asking colleagues how much they get paid, and then to start asking for the same.

Women, sexism, and negotiation

But this raises another issue. Women are often ill-equipped to negotiate on their own behalf and women who do negotiate for better wages and conditions are subject to sexist thinking, as Margaret A. Neale notes:

“If I negotiate for an increase in my salary, and I have a male boss, the research suggests that I will be penalized in a way that my male counterparts will not be. If I have a female boss, she’s going to penalize both males and females, so it’s not like I get any benefit for working with a woman.”

I’m grateful to Mr Thornley for raising the important issue of the gender wage gap. It’s tied up with other key issues about sexism and it’s time we got all of this onto the business agenda.
 

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