Mind the Gap: Explaining Unequal Pay

We’ve heard the statistic over and over. On average, women make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. We’ve also heard the proposed solution over and over: institute policies that require equal pay. Yet, a lack of policy isn’t the only thing dragging down women’s wages.

An analysis of what’s behind that pesky wage problem reveals that even if women were to work in a field with fair pay – on paper – they’d be affected by the type of work they do, how many hours they can put in (skewed by women’s enduring role as caregivers), and how flexible their schedule is.

A consultant, for example, has to be available 9 – 5 to work with her clients. If she has to miss a few hours to pick up children from school, or help look after a sick relative, that time – however equally compensated – is still time lost.

A woman artist, however, might be free to construct her days as she wishes, and as long as she puts in the necessary hours, it doesn’t matter which hours those are. It’s a lifestyle that’s still exhausting, but not one that forces a logistical exclusion of family or finances. An equal wage policy would only help women who have sufficient freedom to take advantage of it.

Tech company Redfin did a little soul searching and found another contributing factor: companies with women in their leadership tend to have fairer pay. It’s an embodiment of what should be an obvious trend: women want to pay women more. Redfin found that in the average tech company, those with fewer women in leadership positions earned the average 77 cents for every 96 cents men earned.

“At companies with more women executives, women earned 98 cents for every dollar that men in similar roles earned. The two-cent pay gap might not sound like much, but for a man earning a $100,000 salary, a woman would earn $96,000 at a company with fewer women executives, compared to $98,000 at a company with more women at the top. This disparity adds up to tens of thousands of dollars over a woman’s career.”

As a result of their analysis, Redfin began publishing their pay rates, a sort of open accountability strategy that has proved effective. (When the BBC released their salaries publicly, for example, female employees went up in arms after it highlighted a disparity between their highest paid men and women).

It’s not all bad news. Pew Research Centre has found that despite its persistence, the gender gap has actually shrunk. And the cultural clamor surrounding the disparity puts immense pressure on even the largest companies to write the same numbers on their employees’ cheques, regardless of gender.

Fight Your Battle One Seat at a Time

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m sitting in a very comfortable seat at London City airport – one out of five airports located in and around London. I’m flying out and into City every week due to work commitments and my regular morning outbound flight is boarding soon. I’m killing the time till then with an overpriced coffee and fruit salad from a local cafe. I’m looking around and what I see is more than a little bit frustrating – just like it was last week and the week before that, and the week before that.

I see men. Many of them! In suits and with suitcases more expensive than the entire contents of my suitcase combined. They hold Financial Times or City AM newspapers, chat to each other (they seem to be here in groups or pairs at least) and discuss the latest football match from the weekend and/or their golf plans for the bank holiday coming up. And there I am – tired of seeing middle aged (mostly white) men in expensive suits chatting about boys’ stuff while women are nowhere to be seen. I’m literally counting and out of the 17 people immediately in my surroundings, there are myself and 3 other women. That’s all.

The airport website proudly explains that the average traveler from London City airport earns 115,000 GBP a year – that’s very high even by Financial district measures, where the airport is located. It also has more expensive flights than other airports, it doesn’t host many low-cost airlines, and you won’t see a Starbucks when you walk in – instead you see a fancy bar/restaurant with high price tags.

Because it’s a convenient airport for well-paid travelers, it reflects the employee base at banks and at financial and business services companies (63% of all passengers work in these sectors). More specifically, it shows the echelons of those who go on business trips – their lower-ranking colleagues mostly stay in the office. A study has shown that 41% of travelers from City hold the position of Chairman, MD, Director or other senior manager. Those higher echelons are largely male dominated, and so, you guessed it – women are pretty much rare species around here.

I’m frustrated because I hear a lot of talk that women have equal opportunities at work and they can get promoted based on merit, just like men do. However, looking around this morning I don’t see those women, where are they? Yes, on paper we are equals in a country with an advanced legal system, but in reality the numbers of women in senior positions are still low. We make up barely 30% of boards of UK companies, let alone the full 50/50 parity we so desire. And while many say promotions should be based on merit and I agree with that completely, I also find it very hard to believe that for the 13 men around me there are just 4 women who match them on merit. It’s just not convincing.

One may think this is a one-off, but I count every week. So yes, I feel a little frustrated when people tell me Britain is equal. If that’s really the case, why do I feel like a rare gem in a sea of city travelers?

Fly safe, ladies and gents, and remember that what you hear is not always true – question it and fight to change it. One seat at a time.

Young Women May Be Driving Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa

Post written by Alexa Hassink, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, Promundo

The Middle East and North Africa often makes the news, and not for it’s progressive stance on gender equality. A new 10,000 person study on the state of gender equality in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine seeks to look behind the headlines. The study finds – among other trends – that young women are leading the way when it comes to supportive views about equality.

Produced by Promundo and UN Women with local research partners, the International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA) is the first study of its kind and size in the Middle East and North Africa. Covering four countries, it takes a big picture view of what men think, and how they act, when it comes to supporting gender equality. This includes asking men questions ranging from if they ever have used violence against a partner, to how they feel about having a female boss.

The study reveals that while the majority of men do have fairly traditional, sexist views about gender equality, at least one quarter of men hold more open and relatively progressive views in supporting women’s economic, social, and political equality. That’s good, but not great news.

Importantly, we also get to look at women’s side of the story. What we find is that young women have less traditional attitudes than the older generation. This may seem intuitive, and it is supported by global data and trends, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted in the MENA region, where, among men in Morocco, Palestine, and Egypt, younger men’s views on gender equality do not differ substantially from those of older men; in some cases, they were even more conservative.

We know that when it comes to men taking on less traditional, sexist attitudes, personal histories, family influence, and life circumstances are among the factors that can help drive us in the right direction. This is in addition to things like having greater wealth, higher education, a mother who had more education, or a father who carried out household chores.

So what impact might progressive women have on men’s support for gender equality?

In two of the countries, men whose wives worked outside the home were more likely to do more of the unpaid care work. Others had come to see their wives as strong and capable after they (the men) had spent time away from home, either migrating for work, or otherwise.

The reality though, is that women do not always have the opportunity or support to take action when it comes to seeking and achieving equality in employment, politics, or at home. Indeed, men frequently dominate or control household decision-making, political and leadership spaces, and the daily lives of women and girls: only about a quarter of women in the region work outside the home. Furthermore, the burden should not fall on women to drive this change – we need everyone to be partners in the process.

In this context, men – as friends, partners, siblings, citizens, and importantly, as fathers – can play a key role in raising and supporting strong, independent young women. Fathers who encourage daughters to take on non-traditional professions or to work outside the home, or who allow their daughters to choose their own husbands, seem to contribute to the emergence of more strong, independent women.

In all four countries, men whose fathers had participated in traditionally feminine household work and caregiving, as well as men who were taught to do this work as children, were far more likely to report contributing in this way within their own marriages. This points to the importance of parents’ positive examples in setting the stage for future generations of both women and men who will support relationships and societies based in equality.

This research helps us to better understand how we can raise progressive girls into women. The challenge ahead is to create a supportive environment where these women can thrive, and where the men in their lives support them to do so.

Download the full report here.

Cover photo credit: Promundo

When Feminism Became a Marketing Technique

Marketing to women has been a tried-and-true tactic used by American marketers for centuries. While the benefits of designing and selling products to women, for women, appear to be plentiful, capitalizing on an entire gender of consumers leads young women and girls down a path that is feminist in name only.

Brands are often ready to adopt a feminist persona to appeal to women, who make up an powerful sector of the American consumer base. Traditional gender roles have rendered women the primary purchasers of groceries, clothes, and other household products for family needs.

Yet, some marketers still treat women as a niche audience, creating gendered versions of everyday products, from writing utensils to disposable razors. A quick look at some major advertising campaigns from the past years show how marketing can push a product masked under a feminist agenda.  

  • Big Tobacco: Perhaps one of the longest-running marketing-to-women campaigns, tobacco companies have been advertising cigarettes to women for over 100 years. Nursing@USC’s online Family Nurse Practitioner program created a timeline that shows how tobacco companies branded cigarettes as a symbol of feminist emancipation while highlighting false benefits of smoking, like weight loss and stress management. With slim, light and flavored cigarettes designed to appeal to women and girls with celebrity-sponsored ads, the tobacco industry overpowered public health officials’ attempts to educate women and still sells cigarettes to 15 percent of American women today.
  • Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign: The company’s “Real Beauty Sketches” spot became the most-watched video advertisement of all time in 2013. It featured women describing their physical features to forensic sketch artists. The ad was part of Dove’s decade-long Real Beauty” campaign, and attempted to show that people are their own worst critics, and that they have more to celebrate about their “real beauty” than they realize. However, critics claimed that Dove simply capitalized on women by rendering them “insecure about their insecurities”. Dove went beyond the campaign to partner with youth organizations to prove that they were committed to changing beauty standards for women and girls, yet still received criticism for photoshopping female models in their ads to appeal to the same unrealistic ideas of beauty.
  • Swiffer’s Rosie the Riveter: Perhaps the most obvious appropriation of feminism since the American Tobacco Company sponsored Amelia Earhart in the 1920s, Swiffer featured a model dressed like Rosie the Riveter to sell home cleaning products in 2013. The company quickly apologized for the ad, but not before critics took to Twitter over the controversy, citing sexism throughout advertisements for many cleaning companies that repeatedly feature women as the primary users of their products.

Marketing failures like Bic’s Pens “For Her show us that women are increasingly aware of the superficial ways that brands try to appeal to female consumers — particularly through the unnecessary gendered labeling of would-be unisex products. In the ill-advised 2012 campaign, Bic launched a set of pens in feminine packaging that featured a “thin barrel for a woman’s hand.”  Following a storm of criticism on Twitter, Amazon and an entire episode of The Ellen Show, Bic discontinued the line. It’s clear that the internet makes it possible for more women to be educated about the story behind marketing campaigns and the quality of products, but it also serves as a watchdog for companies that are seeking to capitalize off of women as a niche consumer base.

While many women and girls appreciate the exclusivity of products that are made for women, they also deserve to know why and how products are made for them. As long as women are watching with an analytical eye, brands will have to stay authentic through their manufacturing and advertising strategies.

 

Halah Flynn is the Content and Outreach Manager, Nursing@USC

Nursing@USC is the online FNP program from The Department of Nursing at the University of Southern California. The program prepares family nurse practitioners to treat physical and behavioral health, address social and environmental factors, and lead positive social change.