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Equality campaigners sowing the seeds of resentment

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NO ONE has control (yet) over whether we are born male or female. We all take a ticket in the biological lottery of life. So how would you feel if, by mere virtue of an additional X chromosome, you were perpetually classified as oppressed and exploited?

It would appear that the Fawcett Society have adopted a bizarre form of biological determinism. 

This is the news that the gender equality charity announced on their annual ‘Equal Pay Day’, November 18. This is the day when women are supposedly no longer earning relative to their male counterparts. According to the society, the ‘gender pay gap’ means that women are working for nothing from mid-November until the end of the year.

If you’ve seen the headlines, it would appear that matters are only getting worse for women. For years, we have been told it will take a long time to close the gender pay gap. In 2015 it was supposed to take 118 years. By last year this figure had more than doubled – it would now take a colossal 257 years. These claims would have you believe the struggle for financial parity between the sexes is far from over. Women were just going to have to put up with a workplace environment rife with institutional sexism.

So, is the fairer sex really being kept down by an omnipotent patriarchal presence in the office?

The problem is that the data can be presented in a number of ways. By focusing on a relatively small-scale dataset or through the selective omission of certain factors, the results can easily be skewed to show almost any potential outcome. Thus the ‘[insert years] of sexism’ claim relates solely to the small number of men and women who earn more than £100,000. This figure doesn’t apply to the vast majority of the population, for whom the median annual income is £31,285. The positive news – the sort of thing that doesn’t foster a good victimhood narrative – is that in the last five years the number of top female earners has grown by 75 per cent, twice the rate at which men passed the £100,000 barrier. 

Within the world of statistics, it has become somewhat fashionable to label any disparity as evidence of discrimination. When it comes to claims of discrimination, once a multi-factorial analysis has been carried out, these claims tend to disappear, or shrink to insignificance. This is the position we find ourselves in with the gender pay gap. 

In order to arrive at their claim, Fawcett uses figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS arrives at a mean figure by adding up a company’s salaries then dividing the total by the number of salaries, a simple piece of arithmetic. But this calculation ignores a like-for-like analysis. The ONS data ignores factors such as age, education and background of the employee. In other words, the salary of the CEO is being compared with the intern. 

Despite the Fawcett Society’s portrayal of an oppressive, sexist workplace, women seem to be doing just fine. Surveys suggest that women are on average happier at work than men. The pay differentials in employment may simply be a trade-off with the free choices individuals make. Contrary to propaganda, only biological women give birth. Childcare is not only expensive, it is time-consuming. Perhaps this is one reason why women choose to work fewer hours, favour work flexibility and prioritise a shorter commute to work than men.

On the other hand, men tend to evaluate employment opportunities around the risk/reward ratio. According to research for GoCompare, men account for 97.3 percent of all workplace fatalities. These jobs are often offset with higher-than-average pay.

In the end, pay-gap statistics tell us very little about the realities of the working world. It is illegal to pay men and women different rates when they are doing the same work. Equal pay has been on the statute books since the 70s. What we get from Fawcett is not a comparison based on men and women doing the same job with the same experience, we get a comparison based on men and women doing different jobs. 

With misinformation like this, the Fawcett Society are sowing the seeds of grievance resentment. It is extremely unhelpful and divisive to suggest that women – when doing the same job – are not only being remunerated at a lower level than their male colleagues, but will have to work longer to see the same results. It sets in motion the idea that no matter how hard they try, women will never be as financially successful as men.

Surely that is the real sexist issue here.

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Noel Yaxley
Noel Yaxley is a freelance writer with an interest in politics and culture.

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