No, I won’t stop whining about the pay gap


Victor Gonzalez | Staff Illustrator

“The Hot Tea” is a weekly column dedicated to  unearthing the intricacies of London’s social, political and millennial issues in context of Pittsburgh’s own complex culture.

The dairy aisle is where the magic happens — or at least that’s what a creepy British guy at Sainsbury’s thought when he made a few crude comments to me, followed me around the store and then tried to pay for my chocolate milk.

Yet, standard manners tell me I shouldn’t complain about this interaction. I’m supposed to be flattered. Everyone knows a woman’s life mission is to have someone ogle her and buy her things — because clearly, we don’t have our own integrity or purchasing power.

When I went to the London School of Economics last week to hear panelists discuss their new report titled “Confronting Gender Inequality,” I learned one rather unfortunate truth — gender inequality, particularly in terms of earning power, rages on in the United Kingdom, as it does in United States.

Sexual harassment doesn’t solely quantify gender injustices— they’re quantified by basic economic statistics. Social discrimination against women indicates their stance in society. So it’s nothing short of damning when people tell me to quit whining.

In January, I mentioned the gender gap in a column about minimum wage work, only to receive an email detailing how delusional I am. At the time of publication, American women, overall, made 81 cents to the male dollar, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

My adversary told me these statistics lied.

“The statistic you cited is made by taking the average pay of all women and comparing it to that of men, which doesn’t prove that equal pay isn’t given for equal work.”

In a way, this is true — we can measure gender gap indicators, as with any statistic, in different ways and at different levels and find different results. So, when I say that the London School of Economics found that the United Kingdom’s gender pay gap was 19.1 percent in 2014, the sixth highest in the European Union, I fully disclose this as a measure of total median incomes for both men and women. In that, the comparison doesn’t control for how many hours men work per week versus women or account for the types of jobs that men and women typically hold.

Not that it makes a pay gap acceptable.

But what does this pay gap even look like? According to a survey by Chartered Management Institute and the pay analysts XPertHR, the difference in pay between genders in the United Kingdom equates to about 57 days of free work a year. Not too bad — women get paid the same as men the other 308 days of the year.

The email concerning my past column continues, “gender imbalances in certain fields don’t prove anything. No one is crying gender discrimination in nursing.” True, in the United Kingdom, as well as in the United States, there is a surplus of women in care-driven jobs.

There’s a reason for this surplus, though — this field is perceived as a woman’s domain because it involves taking care of people. Why are there so many female nurses and so few women as doctors and management positions?

A 2013 survey by the Health Service Journal discovered that while U.K. women make up three-quarters of the National Health Service workforce, just 37 percent of senior roles on clinical commissioning group governing bodies and NHS provider boards are held by women. Two-thirds of these women felt they faced a greater pressure to prove themselves than their male counterparts. Others felt they struggled against a “boys club” mentality.

Their struggle can’t be institutionalized discrimination.

If it were, that would mean social barriers keep women in the United Kingdom from achieving higher paid positions — and that would explain the ever-mystifying median gender pay gap.

Of course, there are explicit examples of pay gap inequities in both the United States and United Kingdom. Recently, Jennifer Lawrence illustrated the chasm in Hollywood in an essay for her friend and fellow writer and actress Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter newsletter.

Lawrence wrote that she made considerably less than her male co-stars when making the film “American Hustle,” despite the fact that she had more screen time. Lawrence never challenged her pay because she was afraid to ask what her co-workers about their pay.

Her fear isn’t surprising— when we bring up gender inequality, especially in terms of cash, people get uncomfortable. They send you emails telling you there’s no evidence of a legitimate gender gap or harass you for being greedy. The tension only reinforces the fear, and the cycle of gender inequality wages through the silence.

But I do not expect everyone to read this and join their voice with mine.

Anne Perkins, a columnist at The Guardian and member of the Confronting Gender Inequality panel at LSE, put it bluntly. “Feminist economics is a minority interest.”

At the current rate of change, it will take 30 to 50 years to eliminate the gender wage gap for full-time workers and 300 years for female part-time workers, according to the LSE’s findings.

The only way to speed up this process is to have more women in upper positions who can reach down and pull others up. To do this, LSE suggests imposing quotas to eliminate the pipeline problem of women in upper management.

To the critics who claim quotas eliminate merit-based hires, I have one question: If women are, in fact, proportionally more educated than men and populate the world to the same degree as men, is it out of line to think at least half of the competitively paid workforce would include women?

So when my female peers graduate from Pitt and move into their respective fields, I hope they aren’t afraid to ask for a raise or a promotion. I sincerely hope we’ll empower each other in hiring practices once we enter leadership positions and fight to close the gender gap in our generation.

I want to be paid the same as the man working next to me all 365 days of the year. 

Because I never want to have to let the sleazy guy in the checkout aisle buy my chocolate milk for me.

Courtney Linder is a senior columnist at The Pitt News, primarily focusing on social issues and technology.

Write to her at [email protected]