Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's our fault - for being ignorant

The Labour government is obviously committed to doing something about the wage-gap between men and women - they've released a study. This study compares the wages in male dominated industries, such a building and painting, with wages in female dominated areas, like hairdressers and caregivers. This research does show that wages in male dominated industries and female dominated industries tend to have similar start rates, but after five years workers in male dominated industries earn over 45% more. However, the conclusion the Minister of Women's Affairs comes to is ridiculous:

I have a theory that if women knew more about the potential earnings and career opportunities in some of these trades more traditionally occupied by men, their choices might be different. We quickly realised however that there was a dearth of information about what young people earn in different trades and occupations. So the Ministry commissioned a piece of research on ‘Wages & Training Costs in Male- and Female-dominated Trade-related Occupations’ and I thought this was a good opportunity to release the findings, because I think they are relevant to any young woman making decisions about her career, something that has always been a priority for the YWCA.

If only women had realised there was a wage gape earlier sooner then we would have solved it long ago!

There are some structural reasons women don't go into male dominated industries. It's not like girls and boys emerge fully formed at 18 to decide what to do with their life. My all-girls school did not have a wood-work department or a metal-work department - there was nowhere within the school was there anywhere where you could learn these sorts of skills.

Being the only women in a male dominated situation is often an extremely unpleasant experience. One of the way men have continued to dominate the male dominated trades is to act in a hostile way to any woman who enters. I haven't personally organised in male dominated trades, but I know women who have, and women who know the female apprentices. Not everyone has a hard time of it - not every male-dominated worksite has a misogynist atmosphere, but enough do that it's not easy - and for many women the risk may not be worth the pay-out.

Knowledge is the last problem that needs to be solved. But even asking the question "why aren't more women painters?" ignores the more pressing question "why aren't caregivers paid more?". If we're going to look at the wage-gap we have to look at the low-wages

For the government to tut-tut about women only being 8% of the modern apprentices is hypocritical. When they set up the modern apprenticeship scheme it didn't cover hair-dressing, or any other traditional female trade. They could have included female trades in modern apprenticeships, but they didn't - that's the reason this scheme is male dominated.

But the bit about that speech that most enraged me is that they studied caregivers. The government is probably the funder for at least 80% of caregivers employed in this country. If they wanted to do something about the wage gap, then getting pay-equity for caregivers would actually be a really good start.

The wage-gap is complicated, I'm aware that I've only covered a few of the many ways in which sexism, misogyny, and capitalism work together to screw women over, but I'm fairly sure I've got a better grasp on it than Lianne Dalziel does.

Note on comments: I'd like the comments to focus on the reasons we don't have pay-equity and how to achieve it.


  1. Anonymous10:21 am

    I'm prepared to pay builders, plumbers & elecricians a lot more than my hairdresser. The investment in my home - not just money - is so much more than a haircut.

  2. Anonymous1:51 pm

    Is there pay inequality between female and male care givers? If so that should be addressed. But to say that there should be pay equality between industries seems plain idealogical rubbish. Why does a 747 Pilot get paid so much more than a bus driver (after all the both bsically just ferry passengers from A to B) - because whilst many people could drive a bus with little training investment the same could not be said for a 747 pilot. You should be asking why so few females eneter more highly paid industries - not why there is a variance in pay scales in disparate and varied jobs.


  3. why do people treat women so bad ?

  4. I agree with this part of your post: the more pressing question "why aren't caregivers paid more?"

    But really, I think that it is almost completely unrelated to the ephemeral concept of 'pay parity'.

    I think that 'pay parity' is a silly idea when it is taken to mean 'the average wage for men and women should be the same'. Now, that is never going to happen. Sadly, average wage is easy to measure, so it is often bruited about.

    However, I fully support pay parity in terms of 'the same pay for the same job, regardless of sex'.

  5. My impression would be that men are more likely to fight for a pay rise (you know more testosterone and aggressiveness - same reasons why they are more likely to beat up women), they are also more likely to be driven by money (partly to impress women - which I guess is chauvinistic - but its true), which explains why women take jobs that do good like nursing and care giving and men take jobs that do evil but make money like car salesmen (heh). And jobs like car sales tend to make a little more than the more “perform a set function within a largish organization” sort of job.

  6. I actually think the point that Genius raises (with regards to gender approach to pay rises) is quite a core point to the discussion in terms of pay parity; and one that seems to be frequently ignored.

    It is certainly something that I have noticed in our organization that the majority of the females will wait for the company to offer them a pay rise - and will leave it to the company as to what is offered. While the males are far more likely to seek pay rises, and bargain over the amounts.

    This would also back up alot of the research which shows that males and females do tend to start at the same rates and it is over time that they differ.

  7. Anonymous3:33 pm

    Anonymous 1,2: You twist the real issue by nitpicking about across-the-board pay parity between industries - which Maia didn't suggest. Concern about the overwhelming pay disparity between women's and men's fields is more than just a grumble about plumbers getting paid more than hairdressers. Fields traditionally earmarked as 'women's work' often get paid a lot less than those considered 'men's work' because women's work isn't considered to take any skill - because women are 'naturally' supposed to be able to do such work. I'm talking about childcare, care for the elderly, cleaning and so on. And yet, our society would be stuffed if we didn't have people doing this work. Society's valuation of different types of work is out of kilter - and it has only been able to function as it has because women do a large majority of childcare, cleaning etc without any pay at all on top of their regular poorly paid job in a similar field. Encouraging women into higher paid fields is one good option to address pay inequality but I totally agree with Maia that we also need to address the poor wages paid to caregivers, cleaners, and so on. Yes there will be fields that earn more than other fields BUT the gender wage disparity at the moment reveals it's currently based on sexist assumptions about the value of types of work rather than any inherent value.

  8. Anonymous4:42 pm

    Rubbish - gender has nothing to do with it. Cleaners get paid less because they are in a high supply industry - one that most anyone can do with little training. Even if you increased the wages that a claeaner recieves there woud ultimately be an influx of new market entrants that would naturally drive the price that cleaners can charge downwards. Because the skill set is not a scarce commodity it receieves a low natural wage. It comes down to skills - a plumber should earn more than a cleaner - anyone can become a cleaner quite cheaply and quickly- the same however is not true of the reverse.


  9. Anonymous5:34 pm

    and what of caregivers for children, the disabled, and the elderly? There is a shortage of caregivers yet they still get crap pay - especially for the work required of them.

    I do think market forces come into it - hence I mentioned that of course some jobs will be paid less than others. Yet the wage disparity is largely between one set of jobs gendered as male and one set gendered as female. I think its pretty hard to argue gender has got nothing to do with it - why do caregivers still get terrible wages despite a shortage of workers? Because the value attributed to those jobs is not just based on market forces but cultural ideas about what constitutes 'real' work.

  10. Fiona - personally I would see cleaning as being a male gendered job. Ask most people whether their new janitor is male or female and they would assume male without having seen them. It would only be a minority of cleaning jobs I would assume to be female gendered.

    But I also think it is mis-attributed as to whether it is the job or the gender being under-valued with respect to care-giving jobs. I agree that generally we collectively under-value caregiving; however this is more because we undervalue the person being cared for and it typically happens that those willing to treat the intrinsic reward of helping others over the pay rate happen to be female.

  11. Also it is not to do with the value placed on the work per se - but to do with the value we place on (EG) our elderly.

    As an analogy think of two technicians - one who maintains computers and one who maintains clock radios. There is a shortage of both but the former will be paid more. Why? Because at the end of the day we don't value the clock as highly so we are not prepared to pay as much to have it looked after.

    We see this in more than just our care giving sector; look at the treatment our elderly are given in hospitals in comparison to younger people. My Grandmother had a stroke go undiagnosed for nearly 2 weeks because staff just assumed she was 'old' - it wasn't until someone who actually knew the Auckland Hospital staff hierarchy (my Father) well enough to b*tch to the *right* person that before being brought in she was still playing piano by memory that they ran the tests that would be the first course for a younger individual. Too late of course and she has now lost movement in both arms as a result.