Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Shocking" gender pay gap found in UK finance

Thus screamed the headlines from a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK. In their report, they made fantastic allegations – Women earn 80% less performance pay than men in the financial services industry in the UK. There was also a 30% gap in basic pay between women and men. Every newspaper in the UK carried this story of how women are discriminated against.

This is precisely the sort of research and conclusions that we can do without. I have some experience of this sector and this country to know that this large a discrimination does not exist. So I read deeper. What has this worthy Commission done ? They’ve simply added up the salaries of women they surveyed and compared with the men they surveyed. And found this difference. So what does this say ? It does not say discrimination. It just says women are doing less senior jobs than the men. Or a greater proportion of women are doing lesser paying jobs than men. The right comparison , in case there was gender discrimination, is if a man and a woman were doing the same job and were being paid different. That is unlikely in any significant scale – its against the law anyway.

But we live in the day and age of instant soundbytes. Message in 140 characters or less. Somehow there’s an air of authenticity to surveys and reports. And therefore you can get away with headlines such as “Shocking gender pay gap”.

Do women face a non level playing field ? Sure. Is there a glass ceiling ? Absolutely. Do companies have friendly policies that are conducive to balancing work and home? No. Do women drop out of work because of having home responsibilities ? Certainly. Are the senior levels in companies filled with testosterone ? Completely. Is there a machismo culture ? For sure. But is there a “shocking gender pay gap” ? NO.

Shame on you – Equality and Human Rights Commission. By such sensationalism, you actually harm the cause of women. By not addressing the real issues they face.