Gender Wage Gap: Why It's a Myth

We are all told time and time again that women earn on average 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. We are told that this is a huge injustice to women, which is unfair and is often the result of female discrimination in the workplace and that woman feel pressured having to juggle a professional career and raising children. I, however, refuse to believe that this is the reason and that the gender wage gap is the result of some nefarious ploy against women.

Now before the feminists start jumping for my jugular, let me make a couple of things very clear. I don’t deny that there is female discrimination in the workplace. I deplore workplace discrimination and believe a woman who is as qualified and skilled as a man in the same job, and puts in the same level of work should be paid the same amount as the man. Unfortunately, the case in the real world is that women are often overlooked for promotion and salary rises in favour of their male counterparts. However, I do not believe that these contribute in such huge numbers to account for the wide gender wage gap.

A recent article in the London Evening Standard revealed recent statistics from the 2011 U.S. Census report (an online version from the WSJ here) showing that male nurses on average earn 10% more then female nurses. Despite nursing being a female dominated profession, in which 90% of all nurses in the U.S. are women. An explanation of the gender wage gap can be seen in the number of specialist nurse anaesthetists, the highest paid grade of nurses. Within this specialization the gender split is actually 60% women and 40% men). It would seem that part of the reason why the men are being paid more is that they are entering career paths that are more specialised and as a result get more pay. This would mean that a large part of the gender wage gap is the result of men choosing (or women not choosing) more specialised disciplines within a profession.

In my own profession of Public Relations, women have traditional dominated the industry and continue to do so with men only making up 33% of the profession. A cursory glance at my old agency of 72 employees showed only 21 men (29%) working there and 51 women. However, the specialised and higher paying departments of Tech Communications, Government Policy, Healthcare Relations, Crisis Management and Finance Communication were mostly male. While the larger departments of Brand Management, Consumer Goods and Education were largely female. Furthermore, out of the twelve directors within the agency, only four of them were women (33%) an exact reversal of the industries average gender split.

Now I’m not saying that some of those men didn’t get promoted over a woman because they are men. As anyone working in a professional environment knows promotion time is a cutthroat experience where one uses all weapons at one’s disposal. However, these above two industries and many others dominated by women show that men choose to enter more specialised fields within female dominated industries and with increased specialisation comes increased value and in turn increased pay. Out of the top 20 most popular occupations for women, women only earn more then men in 3: bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks. Even secretaries where women make up 96% of the profession earn on average only 86% of what a man earns.

It is this increased level of specialisation by men and, yes I will say it, a level of discrimination within the workplace that accounts for the gender wage gap. However, everyone should be made aware that even if we rid gender discrimination in the workplace, women will still earn less then men and there is nothing wrong with that. The reality of the situation is that more women do choose to balance a professional life with the life of motherhood and as the primary caregiver of children. As a result women choose (or you can say ‘feel pressured into’) taking less responsibility at work for less pay. As a result you can avoid the fact that on average women will earn less then men.

Back in 2005, WPP Group PLC Worldwide Creative Director Neil French controversy answered the questions as to why there weren’t more female Creative Directors within the marketing profession despite being in the majority with, they usually “leave to go suckle something”. Whilst it caused huge outrage and wasn’t the most politically correct way of responding to the question, female Creative Director Jureeporn Thaidumrong, considered the most powerful women in Asian Advertising defended French by saying “You can’t be a great creative director and have a baby and keep spending time off every time your kids are ill ... Everyone who doesn’t commit themselves fully to the job is crap at it.”

Agree or disagree with these opinions, but what I see is that if feminists are so bothered about the gender wage gap. They need to stop focusing on just gender discrimination in the workplace, but encourage women to specialize more in nontraditional disciplines. Furthermore, men need to be encouraged more to also consider being the one to take a step back in their careers and consider being the primary caregiver of children.

Only this will result in there being no gender wage gap. In a nutshell, women need to start working more like men and men need to start working more like women and they will meet in the middle. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? We should work however we want regardless of what the gender wage gap is. Focus on discrimination and let the gender wage gap be what it really is, not as a symbol of gender injustice, but simply what it is: a law of averages.