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Gender Pay Gap: Myth Or Reality?

Updated: Aug 22


Kate Andrews - associate director, Institute of Economic Affairs; columnist, City A.M.

Jessica Butcher - co-founder, Blippar / Inspiral; non-exec director and Angel investor; author, Tedx talk, Is Modern Feminism starting to undermine Itself?

Fiona McTaggart - chair of trustees, Fawcett Society

Rebecca Reid - columnist, Telegraph online; features writer, Metro.co.uk; author, Perfect Liars

Ella Whelan (Chair) - journalist and frequent commentator on TV and radio; author, What Women Want

The panel for an interesting gender pay gap debate

The Frobisher Auditorium played host to a number of debates which explored issues relating to gender identity and the cultural fall out from the MeToo campaign for both men and women. The MeToo movement featured a Twitter hash tag in which individuals publically reported their experiences of sexual violence and sexual harassment. The gender pay gap has been widely discussed, but the reasons for the gap, and whether it provides evidence for discrimination, is another matter. In this shorter sixty minute session the four panellists did not present a five minute argument: instead they were directly asked questions by Chair, Ella Whelan. Then it was straight to the audience for comments, the cornerstone of The Battle Of Ideas format.

According to Fiona McTaggart the gap itself is undeniable. What causes the gap is another matter, although one cause, she claimed, is discrimination. Give or take the different factors that could measure the gap (using means or medians), the gap is somewhere at 14.1%. This gap, though, is narrower for younger women. Kate Andrews also pointed out that there is no one way of measuring the difference between male and female pay. Part time employees differ to full time, for example. Women though, she added, are not penalised for being women.

Rebecca Reid felt that Ryannair was a good case study for discussion. There is a gap, undeniably, but it is not the result of a conspiracy against women. Pilots earn more and men are more likely to become pilots. Jessica Butcher was a little more willing to put across the notion that women make choices, have agency and are very good at exercising their own decision-making. Her peers, middle class and relatively privileged, sought and attained the roles that they wanted in work and in their personal lives. A founder of tech company, Blippar, Butcher was adamant that opportunities for women are not blighted by gender discrimination.

In weighed one female audience member, with the point that women really don’t need to earn their own high salary when they are so good at spending their husband’s money: apparently, some eighty per cent of conusmer spending is decided by women. Reid wasn’t having it: that this so-called counsumer spending is not on women themselves, but the house, home, children and husband. The theme of women marrying into wealth as an indirect pathway to affluence was proposed in different ways by a number of male and female audience members. If nothing else, this contentious point shows that no idea or comment is off limits at The Battle of Ideas. For the sake of any secondary school students, the five female panel members did not recoil in horror at such suggestions, but responded with facts, argument and reason.

Jess Butcher and Fiona McTaggart disagreed on the fundamental point of discrimination: the former maintained that women of her generation knew what they wanted and were keen to balance earnings with family chocies; the latter believed that discrimination was in existence, in addition to other relevant factors, like individual choice. Kate Andrews pointed out that Carrie Gracie, the news presenter who claimed she was underpaid on the grounds of being a woman, did not pursue a case in the courts, for all her high profile complaints. In other words, when push came to shove, Gracie could not prove legally that her pay was related to gender specifically. McTaggart argued that her complaint was taken to the courts, leaving the possibility of gender discrimination open on the Gracie case.

What can be said from an audience member‘s point of view is that all five females on this panel have achieved desirable positions in business, academia and media. If there is still discrimination against women it seems advisable to think pragmatically of the opportunities for career success. Class was barely mentioned here. Apart from Jess Butcher I know nothing of the backgrounds of the other women, but if they are all graduates then their opportunities and achievements are perhaps better understood in class terms, not gender terms. In short, I admire the pragmatism of Kate Andrews and Jess Butcher in particular: think about what is possible as a woman and cross the hurdles when you come to them.

Discussion questions

  • What is meant by equality of outcome and equality of opportunity?

  • Which is the most desirable: equality of outcome or equality of opportunity?

  • What personality traits and characteristics (if any) do you feel are specific to men and women?

  • What do you understand by the term feminism?

  • In what ways are people worse off simply for being either a man or a woman?

  • Is it desirable for laws and government intervention to try to protect men and women from gender-specific problems?

  • Including pay, list the benefits, perks or rewards from a career or job that you feel are the most and least important.

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