Gender pay gap: myth or reality?

Saturday 13 October, 12:0013:00, Frobisher Auditorium 1Identity wars: Feminism after #MeToo


The gender pay-gap has long been an issue for feminists, but in the past year it has hit the headlines more than ever before. The BBC pay scandal, which alleged that female journalists were being paid less than their male counterparts, resulted in several high-profile male commentators taking a voluntary pay cut. Most famously, the BBC’s China editor, Carrie Gracie, quit her post after discovering that the Beeb’s other foreign editors, all men, earned more than she did.

Outside of the media world, new government policy forced all businesses with more than 250 staff to state the difference in average pay between male and female employees. You can even search the pay gap for your industry using the government’s handy online tool. Among the headline figures were that 78 per cent of firms pay men more than women, in 82 per cent of companies women were under-represented in the highest-paying jobs and no sector pays women more than men.

There has been much confusion between equal pay (which has been protected by law since 1970) and the gender pay-gap. Critics of the gender pay-gap claim that the numbers show that women are discriminated against at work. But most of the statistics quoted are based on averages, which fail to take into consideration different skill levels, working hours and job roles. The limitations of these statistics have led several commentators to argue that they don’t allow a fair analysis of the pay gap.

Despite this, feminists argue that women are less likely to get to senior positions, while work done disproportionately by men – from piloting airplanes to working in warehouses or on oil rigs – seems to attract higher pay than the kinds of jobs women choose to do. Feminists have called for quotas, pay-cuts for men and pay incentives for women to help level the playing field in the world of work.

Is there a gender pay-gap? Is the world of work hostile to women or are the barriers that women face more complicated? What effect does access to childcare have on women’s ability to achieve successful careers? And has the gender pay-gap debate turned into a discussion about a select group of highly-paid women, without any consideration for the masses of working men and women on far more modest wages?