Saturday 25 November 2017

Why women are still earning less than men

Actress Jennifer Lawrence got everyone talking about the pay gap, but for the Irish women who earn 14pc less than their male colleagues, it's a fact of life

Unfair: Jennifer Lawrence has berated Hollywood moguls for paying male actors more.
Unfair: Jennifer Lawrence has berated Hollywood moguls for paying male actors more.

Tanya Sweeney

We've lost count of the number of ways in which Jennifer Lawrence is just like your average everyday girl (aside from the fringe benefits of A-list living). She falls over a bit, eats burgers and… in a rather unexpected twist, doesn't want to be seen by her industry cohorts as an uppity bitch. A commanding screen presence, certainly, but not so commanding in real life, after all.

In a confessional essay for Lena Dunham's new project Lenny, Lawrence finally gave her side of the story of the infamous Sony 'hackgate' scenario of last year. In a leaked email exchange between executives, it was revealed that Lawrence was paid considerably less for her role in American Hustle than her male co-stars.

Weirdly, at the time, no-one was all that shocked at the salary revelation, but Jennifer's reflections have pretty much broken the internet (or at the very least, made it sit up and think). Meryl Streep and Patricia Arquette have shed light on similar issues (the latter from the Oscar stage), but Lawrence's candid words appear to touch a nerve.

"I don't think I've ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It's just heard," she writes. "Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I'm sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share. Again, this might have nothing to do with my vagina, but I wasn't completely wrong when another leaked Sony email revealed a producer referring to a fellow lead actress in a negotiation as a "spoiled brat". For some reason, I just can't picture someone saying that about a man."

It's not just in the upper echelons of conservative Hollywood that this happens. Closer to home, new Eurostat research currently puts the gender pay gap in Ireland at 14.4pc (calculated on gross hourly earnings of employees). That means that women, on average, work for 55 days unpaid per year, compared to men.

The same research cites that across Europe, the financial and insurance sectors are the ones in which there are the widest discrepancies, while younger employees report a lower gender pay gap. Shockingly, a survey done by Grazia magazine show the gender pay gap between men and women in their 20s in the UK has doubled in the past three years.

"A lot of women are on shorter hours on non-fixed contracts, meaning that women are also likely to be getting fewer hours," explains Alice-Mary Higgins, policy and campaigns officer at the National Council for Women in Ireland. "While 50pc of women earn €20,000 or less, women are also half as likely as men to earn over €50,000.

"The cost of care falls on women too, in that women end up taking roles lower than they are qualified for because of hours and flexibility," she adds. "The sectors where women work predominantly, like retail or hospitality, tend to be the ones at the front line when it comes to erosion of hours, wage reduction and job conditions.

Adding insult to injury, women account for a larger percentage of casual/part-time work (a definite factor in the pay gap), and manage the largest percentage of caring responsibilities to dependants, most of which is unpaid.

An Accenture report from 2010 also reveals that most women tend to wait until they have absolutely every criteria on a promotion opportunity totally satisfied before taking the leap to apply for promotions or new roles within a company. This isn't the case for male counterparts.

Sabrina (not her real name) is a recruiter for a number of high-end roles in engineering, legal and science fields. She has noticed a consistency in women pitching themselves lower, both in terms of responsibility and salary expectations, than men with the same qualifications and experience.

"In the last 10 years, despite consistently working full-time and continuing to keep my skills up to date, my salary has stagnated and employees 10 years younger are now catching up," she reveals. "It was most markedly obvious at the beginning of the year when I was hiring a number of internal legal positions for our Cork and Dublin offices; the spec was for qualified solicitors and I received roughly a 50/50 response from men and women. I had a phone interview with the candidates to discuss their notice period and their salary expectations.

"The guideline salary for the role was €85k. Most of the candidates came within range, looking for €70k-€85k, with two of the candidates (both male) looking for six figures. One of the female candidates however, shocked me when she looked for €35K.

"I asked her why she was asking for such a low salary and as we chatted, it became apparent that as a new parent, she was worried about job security in her current role," adds Sabrina. "She was also worried that having been out of the workplace for a number of months, she would be perceived as out of touch. The conversation caused me to review the overall salary expectations of the applicants and, without fail, the female applicants were looking for on average 10pc less than the male applicants."

While salary expectations and actual pay cheques are two different entities, there is something in Sabrina's experience that clearly follows through into women's real-life experiences. So why exactly does this exist?

"Who knows how it really happened, but I assume that there are people, mainly men, in roles around the world that subjectively decide that a man doing a job is more valuable than a woman doing the same job," theorises Morgan Pierce, a software company director and president of Network in Dublin, an organisation for businesswomen in the capital. "I can't imagine there's a HR policy anywhere in the world [that dictates that women are paid less], but my guess is that it's line managers or executives that have put that action in motion and are the ones who make the offers."

Pierce also observes a cultural factor that means that many Irish women don't feel comfortable making 'demands' of employers (even if that demand is equality): "In the US, where I'm from, you're taught from day one to get out there and fend for yourself, but in Ireland, guys tend to question and girls get on with it, and that is the way it's been in their households."

Adds Olwen Dawe, president of Network Ireland (a network of Irish businesswomen): "I think, sadly, we're dealing with an overhang from historical issues and 'norms' in terms of women's roles, their perceived career choices and, as a result, the level of attainment, financially and career-wise."

Certainly, a lack of transparency around salaries in Ireland has a part to play. "Organisational and societal perceptions (and a lack of challenge in this regard) has allowed it to continue," says Dawe.

"Unconscious bias plays a big role too, and while Ireland's equality legislation disallows any employer to discriminate on nine grounds, including gender, unless we're talking openly about the gender pay gap, how will it be challenged?"

Higgins is in agreement that transparency across the sectors will make a huge improvement: "We know it's against the law to pay people different wages based on gender, but the problem is that people don't know each other's wages," she explains. "We see people working alongside each other and being paid differently in the equality tribunals, but how many people aren't willing to take that sort of case, or even know they've been paid differently to their colleagues?"

When it comes to the cultural perceptions of women and men, Dawe echoes Jennifer Lawrence's sentiment.

"If we consider the way in which we're likely to think of a man in a leadership role, the sorts of traits he's likely to possess - decisive, forthright, focused, ambitious - transposing them onto a woman in a similar position, what do we hear?" she asks. "Bossy, sharp- elbowed, harsh, aggressive… in essence, women are often seen through a very different prism to our male colleagues when it comes to assertiveness."

Pierce asserts that a change for the better looms large.

"Millennials are a lot more capable of speaking up for the things they want," she says. "They are a lot better prepared and feel more ownership and a sense of authority in terms of what they expect from a job and career."

For those of us still muddled by Snapchat and Kylie Jenner, all is not necessarily lost. If there is indeed solidarity in numbers, taking advantage of the people power of networking initiatives like Network Ireland, Network in Dublin and Women Mean Business is a good place to start. And change needs to happen soon, because the gender pay gap as it stands also follows through to a gender pension gap of a staggering 37pc at present.

"People live with the consequences of a gender pay gap for a very long time," says Higgins.

"Having a support mechanism is vital," surmises Pierce. "Knowing there's a mentor or support mechanism behind you really helps when it comes to negotiations or knowing more about your own worth."

Feel undervalued? Here's how to get a pay rise...

1 Be prepared This goes for men as well as women. "Know what the median pay is for the job you have. This information is freely available online, so get a feel what the average pay is for each job function that you do. A lot of people who don't spend time preparing can't construct the right response if they get rebutted."

2 Think about your worth "It implies that you're not afraid to barter for what you feel you're worth - and why shouldn't you?" says Dawe. "If you're likely to wait until every last box is ticked on your capability list, rather than showing what it is you can already do very well, and what you're aspiring to do, then it's likely negotiating a pay increase is something you'll have difficulty with."

3 Open up to the idea of rejection Not because you have to expect it, but because once you realise that it's not a foregone conclusion, it becomes less scary. "There's a fear among women that if they say something, and they don't get the job or the salary they want, their bosses won't like them," says Pierce. "Personally, I've never gone into a negotiation and had someone say, 'That's ridiculous'."

4 Be confident and be direct Positive body language will also impart an air of confidence. Use clear examples to demonstrate how you've gone beyond your basic job description. Highlight a few instances where you've taken initiative, improved business or helped support the wider team.

5 Avoid complaints and ultimatums Never start the conversation with a grievance or threat.

6 Remember it's a skill you need to learn "Ultimately, it has to come down to confidence and learning how to value and sell your skills," suggests Dawe. "I say this as someone who had to learn and improve these skills over time!"

Irish Independent

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