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Women’s Pay in the Workplace

Not All Differences Mean Discrimination

LONDON, NOV. 22, 2003 ( Women still come in behind men on numbers of top executives and in pay levels. In the United States, women hold about 13% of the board seats in the top 500 firms listed by Standard & Poor’s, the Wall Street Journal reported July 8.

In Britain, just 12 companies out of the 107 surveyed have female executives on their boards, according to a study published Aug. 1 by the daily Guardian. The number of female senior executives rose from 10 in 2001 to 15 last year, leaving more than 95% of board posts in men’s hands.

On Nov. 11, the Financial Times, another British paper, published research data showing larger gains for women than in the Guardian study. There are now 101 female-held seats in the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies, compared with 84 last year, and the number of women directors has risen to 88 from 75, with some holding more than one board position. Yet, women still hold only 8.6% of FTSE 100 board seats.

Similar levels apply in Australia. There, women hold 8.4% of the board positions in the country’s top 200 companies, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Oct. 2. The second annual survey of women board directors and executive managers, conducted by Macquarie University for the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, also shows that only four of Australia’s top 200 companies are run by women.

Norway is seriously considering introducing quotas to boost the number of women at board level. The government threatens legislation to oblige companies to reserve 40% of their board seats unless companies voluntarily comply with this target by 2005, the New York Times reported July 14. At the start of this year women accounted for 8.4% of company directors in Norway. Sweden is contemplating a similar measure unless the number of women on the boards of publicly listed companies increases to 25% by 2004 from the current 8%.

A shrinking gap

Greater progress for women is evident in the pay area. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2002 show that full-time female workers made 77.5% of what men were paid. This figure represents a slight improvement for women compared with past years, the New York Times reported Feb. 17. The median full-time female worker received a 5% raise last year, while the median pay for men rose only 1.3%.

A similar situation exists in the United Kingdom at management level. A national management salary survey, by the Chartered Management Institute and Remuneration Economics, found that women received average pay rises of 5.9% in the year leading up to last January, compared with 5% for men. It was the seventh consecutive year that female managers’ pay rose faster, the Financial Times said in its Nov. 13 report on the survey.

A number of recent studies have looked into the factors behind the divergences in pay levels for men and women. A study by Maureen Paul, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Warwick, found that women in the United Kingdom are not worried about the pay gap, the Wall Street Journal reported May 7.

Paul’s research showed that the average male worker is 44.67% likely to say he is unfairly paid, while the average female is 34% likely to say so. And the average male worker is 49.86% likely to say he is fairly paid, compared with 56.2% of women.

Moreover, only 5% of cases before UK employment tribunals were brought by women on grounds of unequal pay. The relatively few women who take their cases to court are often more upset because of a lack of respect at work due to their gender, rather than because of their pay, stated Paul.

Another study, by Jennifer Smith, an economics professor at the University of Warwick, showed that women tend to have lower expectations and aspirations for pay and promotion than men. Her research, based on 10,000 responses from a representative sample in the United Kingdom taken annually from 1990 through 2000, found that men tend to list pay and promotion as the most important factors in job satisfaction, while women say relations with superiors and the work itself is the priority.

And a third study, by Arnaud Chevalier, an economist with the Institute for the Study of Social Change at University College in Dublin, looked at 10,000 UK workers three years after their 1995 college graduation. It found that men were earning an average of £21,200 ($34,060) a year, compared with £18,500 for women. The study found that almost all of the difference was tied to different motivations, expectations and choices, with differences in long-term values accounting for 26% of the pay gap.

“Due to social pressures, men think they ought to be successful and earn a lot of money, and maybe that pressure is less on women,” Chevalier said. “Men really think in order to be successful you need to earn a lot of money, and women want to do work that is more socially useful, and they are happier to arrange work around their family commitments.”

Further explanations on the causes of a wage gap between men and women were covered in an Oct. 1 article in the Washington Post. Women work fewer hours, 39.8 a week, compared with 46.1 for men. They are also less likely than men to make the overnight business trips that the report’s authors note are “extremely important to employers.” The study also found that women are more likely to work in lower-paid administrative support jobs.

Element of choice

In Britain, a joint study by the Department of Trade and Industry’s Women’s Equality Unit and the Institute of Employment of Studies found that women’s full-time earnings are about 81% of men’s earnings, the London daily Times reported Oct. 13.

But this gap reveals “relatively little about discrimination against women, and rather more about the differing skills, experience and professions of the sexes,” according to the Times’ reporter, Lea Paterson. She argued that focusing too much on the pay gap risks diverting attention from the real issues at hand.

Many women, she commented, choose to take time out of their careers to care for children. And women are employed more in relatively poorer-paid professions than men. Although some of this may reflect discrimination, Paterson argued that “there is also an element of choice.”

John Paul II had something to say on these choices in his 1988 apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem.” “The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different,” he explained in No. 10. This difference, he continued, means that “a woman, as well as a man, must understand her ‘fulfillment’ as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the ‘image and likeness of God’ that is specifically hers.”

The Pope was very clear that unjust discrimination is not to be tolerated: “For whenever man is responsible for offending a woman’s personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation.” Not all differences between men and women in the workplace are due to discrimination, and to the extent they are due to deliberate choices, they are worthy of respect.

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