Monday, 9 March 2009

Why I reckon we have a pay equity problem - a response to Psycho Milt

Psycho Milt is a leftie who blogs at right-wing blog No Minister, and he's been playing devil's advocate around the issue of pay equity here and elsewhere, culminating in a post that puts his thoughts together. The below is my response.

I'm going to start by summarising what I think are Milt's points:
  1. Right-wingers simply don't see pay equity as an issue at all, partly because of the way it is framed, eg the Herald report claiming CYF pays it's female staff significantly less than the men, deleting that important phrase "on average", making it easily dismissed as it's obviously wrong.
  2. Many of the occupational groups compared in pay equity investigations are stupid match-ups, eg nurses and police officers, shop assistants and electricians.
  3. Pay equity does seem to be a real problem though, as it definitely does exist and right-wingers are unable to explain it without recourse to sexist explanations.
  4. The main reasons for pay inequity are:
    "[4.]1. Women taking years out of the workforce to look after children or sick/aged relatives.
    [4.]2. Women avoiding additional responsibility/overtime because their family comes first.
    [4.]3. Women not seeking promotion because their husband's career comes first."
  5. Thus the real question should not be "why do [women] average less pay, but why are they the ones most likely to be making these pay-reducing sacrifices?"
  6. And as for female-dominated occupations tending to be lower paid than male-dominated ones, Milt reckons the answers are:
    6.1 Male-dominated professions are more likely to make lots of money for a business owner than female-dominated work.
    6.2. Higher pay does not reflect a higher value placed on your labour, but is related to either supply and demand and/or level of union organisation.
  7. Milt asks why women continue to go into lower paid areas these days, and concludes that "there's a hell of a nature-vs-nurture argument to be had out of that question."
  8. There is a pay equity issue, but it's not something government can resolve; it will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
If I've mis-represented anything there PM please be assured it's not deliberate and if you point out my errors in comments that would be super.

So, to turn to each of these in turn.

1. Framing the issue of pay equity inaccurately
This seems to me to be a bit of a side issue. Yes it's irritating. So is the concerted National-led campaign to misrepresent the situation with ACC (witness the now many many editorial cartoons bad-mouthing the scheme). What can those of us interested in furthering the pay equity issue do about? Continue to put out there information that isn't framed in such an easily dismissed fashion. But can we control the media reporting? Nope. (To be honest I thought that most intelligent people would read that 9.5% thing and work out that it meant on average, but perhaps I was being too optimistic?)

2. Incomparable occupational groups are compared in pay equity investigations
That's somewhat subjective really. I don't think the comparison of nurses and police officers is particularly far fetched, which has been argued about over at Kiwipolitico already. I'm not sure it's all that easy, or indeed possible, to unhitch our views of various occupational groups from our views of traditional women's work as being less worthy. People are often rather sneering about hairdressers, but in my experience a good one is rather highly skilled indeed, and it's definitely not something you can walk off the street and do immediately with a high level of competence. As we've discussed here in the recent past, there is a real problem with our common definitions of skilled and unskilled work. Collecting rubbish may not be mentally taxing (maybe it is, I've never done it), but the physical skills involved are significant. Again, not a job most people could walk off the street and instantly do well. I'm quite happy to leave the really quite hard work of doing these comparisons to the experts. Sadly for many the mere fact that information comes out of the Ministry of Women's Affairs makes it automatically wrong, regardless of content or level of analysis.

3. Right-wingers are unable to explain pay equity without falling back on sexist arguments
No disagreement there!

4. The main reasons for pay inequity are
4.1 "Women taking years out of the workforce to look after children or sick/aged relatives. "
Definitely a contributing factor. In the school teaching profession those who take time out to care for young children can actually get service credits to recognise it, but this is not a widespread practice outside the big education collective agreements (I think).

4.2 "Women avoiding additional responsibility/overtime because their family comes first."
Again, clearly this does have some impact.

4.3 "Women not seeking promotion because their husband's career comes first."
My perception is that this is less of a factor for my generation and younger women. Time will tell.

5. "Why do [women] average less pay, but why are they the ones most likely to be making these pay-reducing sacrifices?"
This is where I think Milt is absolutely bang on. He doesn't offer any possibilities as to the answer though. This point alone is worthy of a whole post, or series of posts. In short I believe it's because we still live in a society that does not see women, and women's work, as equal to men. Here's one such real life example, and here's another. No doubt there are many more that readers could share.

I should also note that I think there are other factors which contribute in a similar way to Milt's threesome above, e.g. levels of education. More on that another time perhaps.

6. Female-dominated work is likely to be lower paid than male-dominated work because:
6.1 Male-dominated professions are more likely to make lots of money for a business owner than female-dominated work.
Milt gives the example of designing microelectrical circuitry delivering lots of possible profit for the boss, whereas care-giving work looking after the elderly is just not a money-spinner. But this ignores the massive government funding that has gone into the Aged Care sector in recent years, and similar in early childhood education and care, which has made these areas that corporates have wanted to get into. Part of the reason they can make a big profit is because of how low the wages are. And the wages are low, I believe, because it's traditional women's work which used to be done within the family unpaid.

Anita's comment on the nurses and police officers comparison goes to the epicentre of this, imho:
"Can I hypothesize that we value manly danger more highly than womanly danger?"

6.2. Higher pay does not reflect a higher value placed on your labour, but is related to either supply and demand and/or level of union organisation.
The supply and demand argument depends on a model which has been shown again and again to rarely work as precisely as my fourth form economics teacher laid it out. In fact it's probably more about the perception of supply and demand, and the power an individual worker (or group of workers) feel they have to determine the worth of their labour. Clearly this is intrinsically linked to the second part of Milt's point, around union organisation.

It's more complex than that though. To generalise wildly, many women are informed from birth that their ideas, their work, their needs, are worth less than the men around them. In the reception example I linked earlier, all three of the workers approached had indicated we were going out that afternoon at some point, yet the receptionist determined that the two men were busy and I was not. I'd worked there the same length of time as one of the men, longer than the other. One is quite a bit older than me, the other is about a week younger than me. We're all white. What could have possibly motivated my workmate to assume that I was more available to pick up her (traditionally female) work than my male colleagues?

In the union movement we sometimes talk about Nice Lady Syndrome. It's the difficulty unionists face with encouraging women workers to stand up for their rights. I think there's a class dimension to it too, and an ethnic factor in many cases; to me though gender is at the heart of the trouble.

7. Why do women continue to go into lower paid jobs?
See 6.2 above, in part. How many women reading this have had the experience of saying as a child "I'd like to be a doctor (or other male-dominated profession)" and having an adult tell them "What about being a nurse (or other related female-dominated profession)"? It was pretty crystal to me as a child what the acceptable occupations were for a girl and I took great pleasure in being contrary about it. I still recall the realisation I couldn't be an All Black.*

And it goes back to 4 and 5 as well. If family is your priority then the message is often that you must put career on the back burner. Many young girls grow up in an environment where it is assumed they will stay at home with the children and make that their career. It's worthwhile, however it's pretty much the supreme example of underpaid important work.

Is there something biological in women that compels us to seek out the cheaper options? I think not.

8. Government can't have much impact on the pay equity issue; it needs to be dealt with case-by-case
As a major employer in Aotearoa the state can have a significant impact by addressing the gender pay gaps within its own workforce. This progress would in turn have an impact on the private sector, as there is competition for workers between private and state. That wouldn't be enough, but it would be a good start.

Saying that pay disparities should be dealt with case-by-case seems to me to be denying that there is any systematic issue. It sounds like arguing that when a woman is paid less than a man doing the same or comparable work it is because of the overt sexism of the person setting those wages. Yes, that will be the case sometimes. But it's simply not enough to explain the significantly gendered differences in pay across single occupational groups. Anita gives the example of law graduates - women are on average paid $5000 less a year than their male counterparts, and this is at the start of their careers, before any time off for children or whatever.



Phew, I don't know about you, but I feel like I need a break. Your turn, dear readers (and of course Psycho Milt).


* Although as I grew older I did determine that even if I had possessed the requisite penis I would still have fallen down in the crucial areas of kicking, catching, running, and throwing.


14 comments:

Deborah said...

"Can I hypothesize that we value manly danger more highly than womanly danger?"

Well, yes. That would be why we have memorials and annual services to remember men who have died in war, but nothing for the millions of women who have died in agony giving birth.

Psycho Milt said...

Thanks for taking the trouble to discuss this in such depth, Julie. I'm on my lunch break so will just make a couple of quick responses for the moment:

Re point 1: I don't believe it's just the media failing to clarify the numbers - it seems to me like this debate is too often framed in terms of "women are paid less," as summed up in the poster "Women - like men, only cheaper." Anyone like me who actually hires people immediately writes that off as foolishness from the mathematically challenged. If I have to hire a new technician, they're going to cost around $45,000 pa whether male or female - a woman would not be cheaper. If we mean "women earn less on average for various reasons that we should try and do something about," let's say it that way. That has more likelihood of being taken seriously.

Re supply and demand in pay rates, this is something that can't simply be written off with earnest stuff about how complex or demanding a job is. My organisation has a comprehensive job evaluation system that works very much along those lines of determining the "value" of a particular job. All well and good, until the job evaluation system declares that network administrators are roughly equivalent to librarians and should be paid around the same as them. Net result is that the IT services always have a bunch of vacancies and endless trouble actually hiring anyone to work for what are, by industry standards, ridiculously low salaries. The network suffers accordingly.

Re point 8: all the reasons I came up with for women tending to concentrate lower down the organisation's pay scales are to do with their family relationships. So when I say I don't see what govt can be reasonably expected to do about these things and that they have to be won or lost on an individual basis, I'm talking about those family relationships. If your husband demands his career comes first, what can Tony Ryall do about that? If your husband thinks the child-rearing is your job, what can Tony Ryall do about that? If your husband thinks it's unfair on the family for you to take on more responsibility at work, to retrain in a better-paid profession, to work overtime, to do any of those things that lead to men getting more pay on average, what can Tony Ryall do about that? I think those would be entirely reasonable questions for him to ask.

Julie said...

It's a good point about the "women are cheaper" poster PM, I'll give you that. If women really were so much cheaper, across the board, then they'd be given jobs ahead of men (all other factors being equal, which they aren't), but that's not the case.

What do you think is wrong with the job evaluation tool that your workplace uses?

What can Tony Ryall do about those intra-family reasons why women are paid less? He can send some messages from the Govt level for a start.

(I'm not even on my lunch break, so I'd better go too!)

Anonymous said...

I've been hiring recent immigrants preferentially because it's easy to find wildly over-qualified people who will do whatever it takes to keep the job and work for low wages into the bargain. It's not really very fair, but I do give them better jobs than much of what they can access. Or at least, judging by the ease with which I fill vacancies that would appear to be the case :)

When people have the choice between driving a taxi or working as a building manager while requalifying as an architect or engineer, it's easy to see why the latter job is popular.

A related question is why women look at the options and choose (say) teaching instead of engineering. I went through engineering school with a bunch of bloke who would have preferred to be artists or poets (or whatever), but chose engineering because it was a career that paid well. Also ask: if you think more women should study engineering, why don't YOU study it?

To put it another way: what makes women think they can choose poorly paid work when men don't feel they have the same choice?

Moz

Anonymous said...

Certainly the reason why women are on average in lower paid occupations compared to men are complex, probably just about any reason you can think of contributes, at least in some way, to this situation. I do wonder though if the main reason is the obvious one, women are psychologically and physically different to men, in fact the most aggressive women are often compared to men (Margret Thatcher is said to have had more balls that the rest of her cabinet combined), similar things can be said about Clark and Shipley, these individuals had characteristics that enabled them to be highly successful, characteristics that women typically are less well endowed with compared to men.
Another fact that I think is useful to consider is that gay men earn higher pay that straight men, (I'm not sure how the average lesbian pay compares) why is there this difference, is it a result of their psychology, or a product of their being less likely to have lots of kids taking their focus away from their careers?

Andrew W

Psycho Milt said...

What do you think is wrong with the job evaluation tool that your workplace uses?

I don't think there's anything wrong with our job evaluation system, just with the institutional determination that jobs have a set value based on complexity, qualifications required etc. That view simply ignores the very real forces of supply and demand. In our case, the result of ignoring those forces is that we have an indisputably excellent library, but our IT infrastructure is far from excellent.

"..why are they the ones most likely to be making these pay-reducing sacrifices?"
This is where I think Milt is absolutely bang on. He doesn't offer any possibilities as to the answer though. This point alone is worthy of a whole post, or series of posts. In short I believe it's because we still live in a society that does not see women, and women's work, as equal to men.


Well, I don't think my opinions on possible solutions are likely to go down too well, but here goes: if you don't think you should have your career put second, be made wholly responsible for childcare, be expected to put your family ahead of work, take low-paid jobs, do the cleaning and answer the phone, etc etc, then don't accept it. Society is you, and if you won't stand up for your rights why should anyone else?

There's a similar theme to this bit:

Milt gives the example of designing microelectrical circuitry delivering lots of possible profit for the boss, whereas care-giving work looking after the elderly is just not a money-spinner. But this ignores the massive government funding that has gone into the Aged Care sector in recent years, and similar in early childhood education and care, which has made these areas that corporates have wanted to get into. Part of the reason they can make a big profit is because of how low the wages are. And the wages are low, I believe, because it's traditional women's work which used to be done within the family unpaid.

Maybe. But I can't get by the thought that if I'm running an aged-care business and I'm having no trouble finding people to work for $13 an hour, why wouldn't I continue to pay $13 an hour? It's simple supply and demand, once again. Employers don't just decide to give you more money because it's the right thing to do, you have to exercise some kind of leverage to get improvements in pay and conditions, and I doubt any National govt Minister would apply that leverage for you if you won't do it yourself.

As a major employer in Aotearoa the state can have a significant impact by addressing the gender pay gaps within its own workforce.

Yes, but what does that actually mean? Tony Ryall can't force more women at CYF to apply for promotion to management, or to retrain in IT. He could perhaps arbitrarily decide that nurses should be paid the same as cops - but then, being a right-winger, couldn't he equally justifiably decide that cops should be paid the same as nurses? It's still not clear to me what pay equity activists are actually asking for.

Danielle said...

network administrators are roughly equivalent to librarians and should be paid around the same as them

And librarians are mostly... women. Who get paid very little for quite complex work (yes, it really is!) in libraries, because we're meant to be calmly nurturing people and reading books with our glasses on and our hair in buns. It's a race to the bottom! Meh.

Psycho Milt said...

I don't disagree with you, Danielle - I'm a librarian myself (although no-one expects me to be nurturing or to wear my hair in a bun). The problem is, librarians don't stand to be headhunted by private sector employers offering much higher salaries, unlike system administrators. If pay rates don't take that kind of thing into account, your organisation has no problem retaining good librarians but a hell of a time retaining good system administrators. It may not be fair, but life generally isn't.

I occasionally ask myself if I shouldn't retrain as a systems engineer as it's a better-paid profession, and so far the answer has always been no - basically, it isn't all about the money.

Psycho Milt said...

Very quiet on this thread, I notice. Apart from Julie, are none of the people who were so keen to fax Tony Ryall willing to explain exactly what it is they want from him?

Anonymous said...

Yep, the silence from the feminists on this thread is a little surprising PM.
The best comment I've seen is that by PaulL over on the thread at No Minister. He nails the ideas I was grasping for, and does it brilliantly. So I'd be keen to see Julie address his comments, here or there.

http://nominister.blogspot.com/2009/03/yes-i-really-am-posting-about-pay.html?showComment=1236164580000#c8597029273278405312

Andrew W

Danielle said...

It may not be fair, but life generally isn't.

Um. Isn't that why we should be investigating... pay equity?

Psycho Milt said...

Only if pay equity were capable of eradicating the effects of supply and demand on salaries. But I doubt Tony Ryall or anyone else in govt could be persuaded to throw wads of taxpayer cash at that pipe dream.

Julie said...

Sorry to not get back to this discussion sooner, and in fact I'm not back now, work is rather overwhelming. Hopefully I'll be back to respond further on the weekend at the latest. Thanks for your patience and do keep commenting!

Julie said...

Ok to focus on the family relationships issue, ie that decisions within families can't be influenced by Govt action (or inaction).

I think part of what Govt does is influence the broader environment that individuals and groups (including families) act within. The stuff that gets attacked as "social engineering" is often actually social engineering, but that doesn't make it intrinsically wrong. Take for example Homosexual Law Reform - made homosexual sex between men legal, and had a significant impact on societal views of those who weren't heterosexual. It wasn't the only contributing factor, and we're not there yet, but it was a significant signal.

So when Tony Ryall cancels pay equity investigations, or doesn't consult the Minister of Women's Affairs before doing so, he sends a message - that fair pay for women doesn't matter. He reinforces all those who hold the view that men should be primary bread-winner, that women should consider exiting the workforce during the recession to allow the real workers (ie men) to keep their jobs because they are the providers. He makes it easier for husbands who make the decisions you give as examples to (continue to) do so without question or criticism.