Before the full broadcast was aired, a brief teaser / trailer was released via YouTube which attracted a large number of adverse comments on social media, based largely on the title of the debate and a brief clip with me stating that Guernsey is behind the UK in the area of gender equality. From my perspective, there is nothing particularly controversial about the gender pay gap – it is after all a straightforward piece of statistical analysis that shows, on average, that men get paid more than women. I fully accept that you can debate about the size of that gap by using different statistical methodologies, or you can debate why that gap exists and what (if anything) we should be doing about that. Likewise, Guernsey currently only has a fairly limited sex discrimination law, although approval has recently been given by the States to introduce a new comprehensive equality framework, so in that regard it is clearly behind the UK.
I have to say I was genuinely surprised about the reaction on social media, and it is true to say when you are on the receiving end it is a different experience. Those comments ranged from it being entirely imaginary, it has been created by feminists, it is one step away from Marxism, that the panellists didn’t understand the calculation of the gender pay gap or that I should go back to the UK. As a lawyer my natural reaction was to contest these views and immediately write numerous replies to the various posts and argue the points with the individuals.
Unfortunately social media is not the best place to have these kind of debates, and anyone who has ever seen some of the tweets from Donald Trump on subjects such as climate change, COVID or any number of subjects can attest. However, equally, one of the reasons I agreed to appear on the panel, and one of the points I made on it, was that as a man I actually can get away with saying more than a woman on subjects like the gender pay gap, because people are less likely to throw accusations back at me of feminism etc. (although this did actually occur here), so because of that I feel it is important for male leaders to join in the debate, rather than stand on the sidelines.
Accordingly, because I have an ability to respond to some of the criticisms made I feel that I should take that opportunity:
- The gender pay gap is imagineered – No the gender pay gap isn’t imagineered, it is simply a piece of statistical analysis and is based on a standardised methodology that is then used on a comparative basis between jurisdictions. Obviously to understand what it means, needs you to have an understanding of the underlying basis for the calculation, but equally you do not need to have a degree in statistics given that the methodology is actually straightforward in that it takes the average man’s pay and compares it to the average woman’s pay.
- The calculation of the gender pay is flawed – I fully accept that there are many different methods of undertaking calculations of this type from at the simplest level looking at means or medians, to much more in depth analysis which then seeks to apply multiple factors and exceptions to the equation. Though before anyone starts quoting clever sounding phrases like “multivariate analysis” at you, it is probably useful to look at the source of that, and if it comes from someone like Jordan Peterson (who was cited in some of the posts) a psychologist who appeared on a Channel 4 programme which argued that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist, it should be noted that his research takes into account factors such as temperament, choices and the agreeableness of women. As such, it is probably fair to question the efficacy of that research. For the record the research which indicated the most recent gender pay gap in the Channel Islands is at 21% was carried out by PWC, and thankfully they don’t factor in how agreeable women are to being paid less in their computations.
- The gender pay gap is just about men being paid more than women for the same work – Whilst there is an element of this that still exists, the reasons behind the gender pay gap are multi-faceted and far more complex – it’s not about whether employers are inherently bad or sexist. Some of the differential is linked to the fact that the overwhelming primary carers in most families are women, and so there may be cultural reasons or economic ones that lead to decisions being made that result in sacrifices in the career of women. Equally, there are other systemic issues at play, such as the fact that certain roles which tend to be dominated by women, tend to be paid less than different but comparable roles which are more typically undertaken by men. Probably the best one that we can all recognise is nursing, especially after what they have been through over the last 12 months with COVID, if you compare their salaries given the demands on that role, to other professions dominated by men – the reality is they are underpaid.
- Is it a bad thing that there is a gender pay gap and do we need to do anything about it? – The simple answer to these questions are yes and yes. What we do about it is a different matter. In economies like Guernsey and Jersey, where the number one “people issue” for most employers is attracting and retaining talent, the fact that we have such a large gender pay gap indicates that we are not making the most of 50% of the population. This is where the systemic issues come into play, around hours of work, the culture of a business, even how you seek to recruit staff. Rather than looking to the UK for the next hire, as a business if you are able to successfully tap into this under-utilised talent pool it will not only be cheaper, they are far more likely to stay with your business and you will ultimately reap the long-term benefits.
- If you don’t want a gender pay gap don’t have kids – Wow where do I start with this one! The entire point is that it shouldn’t have to be one or the other. The discussion is really about removing barriers, if we can do this then we can all succeed whatever our personal choices. The removal of those barriers is not always easy, and because of cultural norms around women being the primary carers and closing the pay gap entirely may not ever be possible, but if we simply make the choice a binary one of career or family you will never get the diversity of views around a board table that is needed to make businesses successful.
- The people pushing the wage gap myth are doing so to demonise men – Even though we may often get the advantages of inequality in society, that makes it even more important for men to be involved in this debate to show that this is not a “women’s issue” as it is often labelled, it is about fundamental fairness, and the basic premise that people who do work of equal value should be paid the same. I fully appreciate that basic principle is fraught with many practical differences, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aiming for it.
The issues around the gender pay gap are undoubtedly complex and not easy to resolve overnight. From experience there are not many Channel Islands employers, who have a systematic pay and grading structure that would survive the scrutiny of an equal pay claim and there remains work to be done ahead of the introduction of legislation around the right to equal pay for work of equal value. Even those that have introduced structures of this type, almost invariably have legacy issues, where individuals for historic reasons (very often men) are in positions where they are paid more than their peers – who themselves can be either men or women. In such instances you can’t simply unilaterally reduce the pay of the one individual, nor can employers afford to increase the pay of everyone else. There are of course other explanations too, not least that most employers in the Channel Islands are relatively small, and even what we consider to be our large local employers, who might employ a few hundred staff, still lack the dedicated specialist HR resources around the area of pay and reward.
So where does this leave us? The gender pay gap is real, but it is also only a piece of statistical analysis and as such is merely a symptom of the real underlying problems and barriers that women face in the workplace, and as such debating the methodology of its calculation is actually to miss the entire point. It is not there to demonise employers or all men, it is just one simple tool to illustrate that work still needs to be done on the topic of gender equality. However to end on a positive note as we did on the Table Talk debate the very fact that we have finally got equality legislation coming into force and people are engaging on the topic of the gender pay gap itself is progress, and let’s hope we continue in the same direction of travel.