Lately there has been another run of media releases highlighting what is supposed to be pay discrimination against workers based on their gender. If we were to believe the various Commissioners and Experts women are being paid less simply because they are female and even more so if they chose to have a family.
This made me sit back and think about my experiences in the Australian workforce over the last 14 years and the following is my take on this rather controversial subject:
I have been in Australia since 2000 and cannot remember a single time in this period where I have ever been offered a position or, as an Employer (which I have been for most of that period), offered a position to an applicant where the salary has a gender bias written into the pay scales. I appreciate this was historically a fact but surely there is no place in Australia where this still happens in 2014 ? I would be appreciate if any reader could prove me wrong.
Then we get to one of the most common causes sited as a reason for the “pay-gap” – having a family.
The typical scenario is to compare two women who started at the same time and place. One chose to have a family, the other chose to keep working. One had a the joys of motherhood and the other furthered her career by gaining experience and skills – nothing wrong with either choice. Our Society’s response to this was to bring in paid maternity leave (which I have no problem with) and increasingly flexible arrangements in regards to children and family issues (often at no small cost and inconvenience to the Employer and co-workers).
Standing back from this I cannot help but feel that the real discrimination in this scenario is against the female worker who, for a variety of reasons, had kept going at work. It is true that she will be earning more than her co-worker returning after a few months/years of absence but is it not inherently unfair to her if that co-worker is paid to be at home being with her family (granted not having a holiday but still with being at home by choice) while she is slaving away at work? To make things worse she then has to adjust her working arrangements when the co-worker returns to work so that childcare and other commitments can be accommodated. Once again I should stress that I have no problem as an Employer or co-worker in being part of this process but I do have a problem when the recipients of the benefits of these changes are still being labelled as being discriminated against.
Is it not even more discriminatory to then start clamoring for ways in which to make sure that the worker who had been at home should start at a similar level to the one who had stayed at work when she returns. We are talking about two workers who may have started off at the same level but the fact is that the one who stayed in the workforce would have gained skills and experience that made her more useful to an Employer and therefore more deserving of a bigger salary.
Now let’s turn to those men – in 2014 there are many men who are deeply involved in the care of their children – from birth onwards. Many of them take time off to help with the newborn’s care and most of this is usually unpaid time. So how does Society and Employers react to this? If a man chose to take some time off in this scenario he would be lucky to get a few weeks paid Paternity leave unlike his wife/partner who is entitled to many months of paid leave.
Let’s move away from the money – if a woman has a child and and elects to return to work a few days/weeks later there would be exclamations of admiration for her tenacity and motivation (and rightly so). The reality for men are unfortunately often very different – should they choose to spend some time at home with the baby their colleagues, male and female, would invariable be sniggering about the fact that they are too domesticated. There are also very dissimilar responses in the workplace to a request from a man to take time off to go and look after a sick child or even, heaven forbids, be a “home husband” for a few months/years.
So this is my take on this matter – is it PC – off course not. Is it my opinion – off course yes. That is why they call it a blogg