Open letter to Michael White

A new study by the Chartered Management Institute demonstrates at the present progress of gender pay gap, women will not achieve gender pay equality for another 57 years. Women are earning on average about 79 – 85% of what men earn. Michael White comments of the Equal Pay at the Guardian blog that he’s not sure how he is supposed to feel. While there is progress from when the Equal Pay Act was first put in place, he feels that women now have the choice to either work full time, or job share and have a choice whether to have a family or not. Mainly he doesn’t recognize how this is a sexist issue.

Where Michael first fails in his assumption is that he sees the dilemma as linear where it’s simply about making choices between family and work. He doesn’t recognize that we live in a world where a hard worker is defined as someone who works more than your average 37.5 hours a week. We live in a world where ¾ of the houses have dependents at home (whether they are children, elderly aging parents, or ill and sick loved ones). The economy is structured that most households require two incomes to support the family. Exactly where must the sacrifice be to ensure the dependents are taken care of come from?

Michael says that women can choose to use child minders. He forgets that child minders can take a significant portion of a couple’s salary. A parent who stays at home can save the family over £25,000 a year on expenses taking care of dependents combining skills as a cook, a nanny, and a chauffeur. In some cases, a family would save more money having one parent stay at home rather than find work in the labour market. And the choice to stay at home often lies in the parent who earns less financially which in doubt enters the gender question. It’s no wonder women earn 20% less than their male counterparts.

Equal pay would no longer be a gendered issue if society could divorce dependent care giving with earning potential. Michael says that there are more examples of job sharers or people working part time. However as cited in the Guardian, the gender pay gap can be as large as 35% in part time jobs, which only demonstrates that society punishes people who choose to balance family with their work.

Michael questions, how can it be sexism if women don’t have to have children? They can choose to be childless if their work is important to them. However if you look at the recent US supreme court justices, all the women who have gained these positions don’t have any children of their own while the men in the same position each on average have between 2-3 children each. Carly Fiorina, the past president of the computer giant Hewlett-Packard has no children of her own.

So in a sense Michael is right in the work/life balance equation. For women to choose to be successful, they erase the life balance and make it entirely work.

But if you want to go in a strictly economic sense, there have been studies that if men’s wages were reduced to the same level of women, there would be a greater efficiency of allocation of talent to financial compensation which could increase the national GDP as much as 6%! That would more than enough to pay for childcare in the country.

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