Over the last few years gender equality has appeared to be making leaps and bounds throughout our society, but it has become apparent that despite women being employed in greater numbers than men, they are often found in lower pay grade jobs. In 2013, six months after graduating the average salary for women was just below £20,000, whereas for men the figure rose to just over £21,000. This gap continues to widen at an alarming rate the higher you climb up the income ladder. As a man you are twice as likely to earn over £30,000 in your first job. This rises to four times as likely to earn over £40,000. Figures of this consistency are unlikely to be just a statistical blip, so how have they come about? Does it come down to discrimination against women in the work place, or do women lack the motivation that may drive men to be higher achievers? It is likely to be a combination of the two.
Aside from a general competence and willingness to listen, we are told that character traits such as confidence, determination, and assertiveness are key for managerial positions. It could be argued that these sorts of traits are more expected of men than women. But why? Take sports as an example. As children, the vast majority of our sporting heroes were male. Immediately a link is formed between gender and likelihood of sporting success, and so for boys it seems natural and expected to participate. Sports are seen by many as key for building team and leadership skills, and for developing competitive attitudes. This same competitive mentality can be applied when looking at other often male-dominated areas of society from politics and science to stand-up, and everything in between. Men appear to have greater expectations placed upon them and so are more likely to develop the skills that give them a professional advantage. A recent study found that in general men will apply for a job with 60% of the required qualifications, whereas women will only apply if they are 100% qualified. It exemplifies a stereotypically masculine confidence and ambition that will inevitably lead to more job opportunities.
The traditionally-held view that the prospect of juggling motherhood with work blunts professional ambition must also be taken into consideration. If a woman wants to have children then it is likely she will want to give them as much input as possible and hence won’t prioritise work. A reluctance to push for higher powered jobs is therefore understandable. This argument does assume that for most families the man brings in the primary income, something that is slowly changing. This change in attitude could then be an explanation for the slowly narrowing pay gap, as more stay-at-home dads allow more mothers to work. That attitude shift has also progressed gender equality legislation which may have had more noticeable effects.
However, maternity leave in the UK also helps to enforce gender stereotypes. In the UK women are given up to 52 weeks off after pregnancy, whereas men only receive two weeks paternity leave. This is legislative and as such is an inequality dictated by law. Though it may be more practical, it is hardly an incentive for men to stay at home and allow mothers to work.
Though it would be easy to imagine upon first glance at the figures that gender discrimination is rife within the world of work, and that men in suits with climbing hair lines and cigars sit around filtering through candidates on a gender basis, the truth is likely to be a little more complex. Whether the figures have a perfectly rational breadwinner-based explanation, or whether deeper, more subtle, institutional sexism is to blame, the cause is probably multifaceted. The challenge for our generation will be to keep examining and pushing gender roles within our society so that we can promote a truly equal workplace.