Today is International Women’s Day, and there are many nice liberal articles about the reasons for the gender pay gap. Women get paid less than men. Jobs that are traditionally regarded as “for women” are also routinely paid less than jobs traditionally regarded “for men”.
Ever since I started working in IT I’ve been told that I make less than a man with the same skills. I chose to ignore that and focus on doing an awesome job, figuring I’d be paid what I was worth. I chose to believe that employers wouldn’t take me for granted and would reward my skills and abilities. In fact, I once had a boss who coached me to always ask for a pay rise and log my successes to ensure I always kept pace with the men in the company. I thought he was the norm – I thought all bosses wanted everyone to be equal and succeed.
While sexist conditions on work affect the average woman’s pay compared to the average man’s pay – when women take a couple of years off to have children, the work world is arranged so that this affects her promotion and pay prospects: the structure of work and career is fundamentally arranged to suit a man with a wife: a woman with childcare responsibilities may have to take part-time work or look for a job dependent on location and childcare affordability – the overriding factor is just as clear: women get paid less for being female. A women entering full-time work as a graduate will get paid less than a man who has also just graduated.
A man may be more likely to negotiate a rise in salary or a higher salary – but a woman who tries to get higher pay will be regarded as overly aggressive and uppity.
A pair of studies conducted at Carnegie Melon illustrate the problem: In one, male graduates of the school’s management program were four times as likely to negotiate their first salaries out of college than their female peers; in another, women who did attempt to negotiate were seen as overly aggressive, unless they “conformed to feminine stereotypes”—smiles and nods—when asking for more.
Men are more likely to feel able to ask for a rise in pay based on their success and their abilities because they are more likely to have learned since childhood that praising themselves and asking to be rewarded will be met with a positive response, whereas both men and women have been taught that women shouldn’t praise themselves or ask for rewards:
“Girls and women intuit that speaking up can be dangerous to your reputation — that asking for too much can be viewed as conceited or cocky,” says Rachel Simmons, co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute and a creator of the Leadership for Rebels program at Smith. “This may begin on the playground, but it extends all the way into the workplace.”
Research by the Harvard senior lecturer Hanna Riley Bowles and others has found that women who negotiate are considered pushy and less likable — and, in some cases, less likely to be offered jobs as a result.
But a woman who appears too feminine will likely not be offered a job either.
Cultural images of women don’t help:
A recent Women in Journalism report examining the front pages of newspapers found women wrote just 22% of front page articles.
Employment patterns within journalism may go some way towards explaining the relative lack of women’s voices in the news. Over the 15-year time period of the GMMP, the visibility of women as producers and subjects of news media has improved steadily, but relative visibility of women to men remains at a ratio of 1:3.
And men’s voices are generally privileged as being more authoritative when it comes to being used as “expert” sources. Women’s voices, views and expertise are restricted.
The Women in Journalism report found that women account for just 16% of those mentioned or quoted in lead stories on the front pages of newspapers and three quarters of “expert” voices were male.
Hollywood film schools literally teach scriptwriters to focus on men and have women only as subsidiary characters:
Only to learn there was still something wrong with my writing, something unanticipated by my professors. My scripts had multiple women with names. Talking to each other. About something other than men. That, they explained nervously, was not okay. I asked why. Well, it would be more accurate to say I politely demanded a thorough, logical explanation that made sense for a change (I’d found the “audience won’t watch women!” argument pretty questionable, with its ever-shifting reasons and parameters).
At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”
According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story. Only if they heard the name of a man in the story would they tune back in. By having women talk to each other about something other than men, I was “losing the audience.”
Consistently, steadily, across industries and professions, in the public sector and the charity sector, when people are making salary decisions they “just happen” to decide that women employees are worth less money than men.
If you accuse these people of being sexist, they’d get affronted. There is seldom if ever just one factor in deciding an employee’s salary. It’s not like they line up all of the men and make sure they get more money than the women who’ve been working there as long or as well. It just happens. It’s just like that.
And since employees are usually strongly discouraged from sharing information about how much they get paid, it could take a long time before a woman discovers she’s getting paid less than men who have less experience and expertise.
Pay discrimination is a silent offense. Women know when they’re being harassed and abused, of course, and they can often tell if they’re being discriminated against in hiring and promotion—all they have to do is count the men with lesser skills and credentials doing jobs they still aspire to. But in many workplaces, discussing pay is frowned upon; in some, it’s a dismissible offense.
When a trans man who has employed while presenting as a woman, transitions to becoming a man, you’d expect (and of course in some instances this happens) that he would face discrimination and prejudice that would affect his income. But many trans men report that, as men, they find themselves receiving more authority, reward, and respect in the workplace than they received as women, even when they remain in the same jobs. Sexism trumps transphobia.
A few years ago a freelance writer adopted a pen name.
Instantly, jobs became easier to get.
There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.
Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.
And I was thankful. I finally stopped worrying about how I would feed my girls. We were warm. Well-fed. Safe. No one at school would ever tease my kids about being poor.
I was still bringing in work with the other business, the one I ran under my real name. I was still marketing it. I was still applying for jobs — sometimes for the same jobs that I applied for using my pen name.
I landed clients and got work under both names. But it was much easier to do when I used my pen name.
The freelance writer was a woman: the pen name she adopted was James Chartrand.
Men get paid more.