The gender pay gap highlights clearly the gap in how we value – or undervalue – certain jobs in certain sectors.
Statistics can be misleading, as we know. And certainly whenever we do any polls, it is clear the devil is in the detail, in how you ask the question, in what you ask and what you omit. A lot of the statistics published at the moment relating to Covid claim to show big changes when it comes, for instance, to working hours or vacancies or intentions to change work, but it is hard to tell how significant these statistics are if they are only comparing this year’s figures to last, given that last year nothing much was happening at all and many people chose not to change jobs because it was better to stay put in a situation of great uncertainty.
When it comes to the gender pay gap things are similarly unclear if we just compare this year and last, when reporting was suspended and when last year was not in any way an average year. The figures never did tell the whole story, in any event. Mostly what they do show is the lack of women in senior positions with motherhood being a big factor. But they can, nevertheless, be interesting.
The CIPHR published its analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics earlier this week, highlighting which jobs, industries and UK cities have the widest and smallest gender pay gaps in 2021. Based on median hourly earnings, they found that 65 of the top 78 jobs (83%) with the largest number of workers in the UK pay men more on average; that women make up the majority (64% or higher) of the workforce in seven of the top 10 jobs with the most employees and that in all but one of these gender pay gaps favour men; that Derby, St Albans and the City of London are the top three cities with the widest gender pay gaps while the top three jobs with the widest gender pay gaps in favour of women are midwives (-54.9%), barristers and judges (-34.2%) and veterinary nurses (-33.1%).
It’s no big surprise that men are paid more on average than women. They are usually in sectors that pay more, in roles within those sectors which pay more and at more senior levels. Women’s jobs and the sectors where they predominate are generally valued less, be that in care-related sectors, or in jobs in supermarkets where working in the shop is valued less than warehouse roles or on the board of a big corporate where an HR role is valued less than a Chief Finance Officer.
So much of the difference in pay will be due to not just the job, but a combination of the job and the sector or the type of organisation in addition to what the person negotiated based on their previous salary. A finance manager in a top corporate is going to be paid a lot more than one working for a charity, for instance.
Interestingly, the CIPHR analysis shows that even for the jobs where women predominate, they are often paid less. Take sales and retail assistants, care workers and home carers and administrative / clerical assistants. The analysis shows the average gender pay gaps for these three roles are 5%, 1.7%, and 10.5% respectively, despite women comprising most of the workers in them (women make up 64%, 83%, and 76% of the workforce). Nursing also has a 4% gender pay gap.
The analysis also shows where the gaps are widest, taking into account role and sector, including how male-dominated that sector is. For instance, there is a 44.7% gender pay gap for production managers and directors in mining and energy.
The geographical issue is similarly affected by the particular roles and industries present in any one area. All in all, the figures show how embedded issues related to the gender pay gap are. It’s not just that the jobs that women tend to do are valued less, but that the other roles women tend to do – such as caring – are often not regarded as important enough when it comes to policy and support.
Some people would say that not everything is about money. But undervaluing what women do seeps into every aspect of how women are treated, not just what they earn, but also what they draw as a pension. It affects every aspect of women’s lives from their ability to leave abusive relationships to their ability to retire when they need to. Why should women accept less than men? We have a long way to go.