The Gender Pay Gap – Liz Buchanan’s Guide

Gender pay equality

I am a veterinary surgeon and a feminist.

Feminism is an ideal that men and women should be treated with the same amount of fairness.

But even I have sexist brain-cells. Don’t you?

 

Check out Gender Implicit Association tests online. There are many of them available. For example, you may be asked to quickly sort words into two categories (such as ‘home’ and ‘career’), by swiping left or right. This is followed by swiping names into categories of ‘female’ and ‘male.’

The interesting bits are slightly more complicated: female names and home words are swiped to the left, and male names and career words to the right. This task is then changed, so that male and home words go one way, and female and career words the other.

Most people find what I found; that these tests are much easier when female names are swiped in the same direction as ‘home’ words. Google an example, if you haven’t already. However deep our feminist beliefs, somewhere deeper down, our brains link male names with career words and female names with home.

 

Anyway; what’s the gender pay gap?

You probably know by now. Work out the average (hourly) wage paid to all the male employees in a company, from the male CEO to the man who cleans the loo. Then work out the same for all the women. Subtract the women’s average from the men’s average.

There probably is a gap in men’s favour.

For example, in 2017 for one of the UK’s biggest corporate vets, the women’s median hourly rate was 50.5% lower than men’s. The lowest paid quarter of workers were 94% female; the highest-paid quarter were 67.2% female. This information is provided on gov.uk, for all companies with more than 250 employees.

 

Why, in an industry that is dominated by women, do men appear to earn so much more?

These numbers don’t allow for the sort of work that males and females actually do. For instance, I have met plenty of male and female practice owners. Vets are mostly female but male vets aren’t uncommon. I know relatively few male nurses and even fewer male receptionists. I can count the number of male cleaners I’ve met on two fingers.

 

In short, there are more men the higher up the payscale you go?

Even if this completely explained the pay-gap, it would be well worth ranting about. These days, hopefully, no-one deliberately excludes men from reception or nursing, or favours men for managerial roles.

Rather, this is where implicit bias comes in, as I described in the test at the start. Although there are good male nurses and female managers, somehow the assumption remains lodged in our heads that nurses are women and managers are men.

Perhaps this is why it occurs to so few young men to consider vet nursing careers. But it’s possible that, once they’re working in such jobs, implicit bias might work in men’s favour as regards promotion to higher roles.

 

Coming back to the idea that the industry’s lower skilled jobs appear to have fewer men in them: doesn’t this explain the paygap?

The pay-gap data itself isn’t enough to tell us. However, a survey by SPVS published in January’s Vet Record (vol 182, issue 4, discussed here behind a paywall, or here and best of all here without) showed that when the wages of vets alone were compared, male vets were still paid 19% more than the female ones. Male nurses are paid more than female nurses, too. For vets, men and women’s salaries appear closest after graduation; the gender gap emerges a decade into the career and then grows.

 

Sounds as though this is all about biology.

Eh?

 

Women having kids?

Quite. It would be illegal to discriminate on this basis, but it might be hard to spot. Imagine the conversation:

‘Why aren’t I being promoted?’

No-one’s going to say, ‘Because you’re a woman with a two year old and my implicit bias associates you with being less professional.’

They possibly don’t even recognise implicit bias in themselves. Far more likely they’d say:

‘Although you’re great at your job, we felt that Tom was a better fit that you.’

 

Which he well might be!

Well, quite. But when you look at the averages across companies, it’s strange how men were the better fit for pay-rises quite so much of the time.

 

It’s not men’s fault if women aren’t as good at negotiating their own salaries in a world where people don’t reveal what they earn.

I think you are probably a man [and not a very reflective one either! Ed.].

OR

Isn’t there something we can do to make things fairer?

I hope so, yes. Publishing the pay-gap is a baby-step, but it’s hard to make sense of the numbers. I think the SPVS study, comparing male vets with female vets and male nurses with female nurses made more sense. Unfortunately it is a smaller, lower profile study. We should do bigger, better studies. Or maybe all be honest with one another about what we earn……..

 

Meanwhile, at least it’s encouraging conversation about the issue and making bosses check their bias?

Time will tell.

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