So, for today’s exciting instalment, I thought I might look a bit at a couple, or to be accurate, three of the arguments which are often raised in response to this point, namely, that women start their careers earning less than men, earn less systematically throughout their careers and end up seriously financially disadvantaged over their lifetimes. This was triggered by seeing this interesting infographic, which, albeit it is designed for the US market, contains some thought-provoking facts, no?
Assumption no. 1: women earn less because they pick careers that are not so well paid as the jobs that men pick. Ah, right. Yep, you got me there. A teacher is not as well paid as an accountant. A nurse is never going to earn as much as lawyer. Oh well, if women will insist on picking the low-paid jobs, what can you do?
But wait……Let’s have a little bit of a closer look at that infographic. Specifically, at the bit entitled ‘Effects of Job Choice’, and the jobs therein. “Common jobs for men”, which pay more, are shown as Software Developer, Project Manager, Construction, and Computer Systems Administrator. “Common jobs for women”, which pay less, are shown as Registered Nurse, Elementary (ie primary) School Teacher, and Human Resources Administrator. Hmmmm….
Because, yes, men’s job choices are all important roles with heavy responsibilities. If you don’t programme software right, your system or your app will be buggy or it may not work at all. You may have to delay launch of the new product, or you may lose sales. The same for a computer systems administrator: if you don’t do your job properly your organisation may be unable to function properly, with potentially drastic consequences. And if a project manager in construction fails to do a good job, the cost of delays and overruns may be huge. So, yes, those are all important, responsible jobs requiring specific, hard-won skills and qualifications, and indeed they should be well rewarded.
But here’s the thing: SO ARE THE WOMEN’S JOBS. Would anyone seriously say that the job of a registered (ie qualified) nurse is not as important as that of a software developer, or the job of a primary school teacher not as important as that of a project manager? A software developer can’t (usually) kill people if they don’t do their job properly; lots of people in business today will use the phrase, when things go wrong, “Don’t worry, nobody died.” When nurses get things wrong, people DO die. And when they get things right, people get better, which is a huge benefit to the individuals, their families and the communities they live in. So, fairly responsible and important, hmmm?
And let’s look at primary school teachers. Again, a most important and responsible job. Primary school teachers can’t exactly kill people, peanut allergies notwithstanding, but they are entrusted with the care of some of the most important and vulnerable members of our society, on whom the quality of their work can have a direct and lasting effect, and therefore, like nurses, they can also have a direct and lasting effect on those children’s families, communities and societies. As the cost to a society of individuals who are not brought up to be full, constructive members of that society is extremely high over the lifetime of those individuals, so the benefit to society of individuals who are brought up to contribute fully is incalculable. Again, an important and responsible job.
And again with a Human Resources Administrator. To work in HR these days requires you to be an expert in all sorts of areas, including the law, regulatory compliance, benefits administration, technology, training and development, etc etc, and just as a bad ITC department can be a drag on an entire company,so too a bad HR department. A bad HR department can cost a company every bit as much as a bad ITC department. On the other hand, a good HR department is an enormous value-add, particularly for the many companies and organisations which depend primarily on human capital to make their money. Again, an important and responsible job.
SO WHY ARE THESE JOBS WHICH ARE MAINLY DONE BY WOMEN, ALL OF THEM RESPONSIBLE AND IMPORTANT, PAID LESS THAN IMPORTANT AND RESPONSIBLE JOBS WHICH ARE MAINLY DONE BY MEN?