Discrimination isn’t accidental

This is probably not surprising to any women who are in academia:

New research show there’s a considerable gap between men and women when it comes to being promoted to the top jobs in the country’s universities.

I don’t like the language of “gaps”. Gaps are natural or accidental – whoops, I didn’t measure that carpet properly, there’s a gap. But systemic discrimination – the kind in play when there aren’t as many women doing the “top” jobs in academia – isn’t natural. And in 2016, after decades of activism and research and shifting of the way we think about gender and work, there’s no excusing it as accidental.

But we still do, on some levels. Look no further than that Radio NZ article, from the headline “Women missing out on top uni jobs” to explanations like:

Emeritus professor Steve Weaver, who chairs Canterbury University’s academic promotions board, said the lack of female professors could partly be explained by the fact only half as many put their names forward for promotion compared to men.

To Weaver’s credit, he also says managers need to play a bigger role in encouraging women to apply for promotions. But saying “men put themselves forward more, women are more risk averse” implies this is simply the way things are – and that there isn’t a basic problem with sexism in our society.

Women are just risk averse, and men aren’t, and since men are getting all the important powerful well-paid positions, we can logically conclude that there isn’t any risk at all. It’s all in your heads, ladies! Stop imagining risks and the job’s yours!

But what if we assume that academic women aren’t all nervous fillies shying away from every shadow? What if we consider the risks they face?

The risk of being told your whole life that girls just aren’t as good at science.

The risk of being harassed at university by a “mentor” whose good opinion will determine whether you even graduate.

The risk of being downright disrespected and ignored by colleagues, superiors and even students. The risk of being assumed to be the secretary or the teaching assistant.

The risk of doing all the work and having the men in charge of the lab publish the results under their name.

The risk of getting pregnant, and not getting the promotion. Or being assumed to be a person-who-will-get-pregnant-at-some-point, and not getting the promotion.

The risk of being seen as “ambitious” or “aggressive” – words which are turned to praise when they’re describing your male colleagues.

The risk that even when your manager is encouraging and supportive, it all comes down to an appointment process which favours men, gives more weight to men’s achievements, hears more authority in men’s voices, and is simply more comfortable with the familiar: men. Why set yourself up to fail when the game’s rigged against you?

What’s not to be averse of?

These are the things we ignore when we fall into the language of natural phenomena. That’s how things are. People do the things they do. Women don’t put themselves forward. It’s out of our hands.

At a meeting last week I overheard a conversation between some very progressive, liberal folks, about school kids and homework. It was along much the same lines. Girls are “just” better at homework because they’re “naturally” more thoughtful and better at planning ahead. Teenage boys by contrast are simply “not wired” to put in effort before a deadline. ‘Twas ever thus.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t start asking why – why are young women more conscious of the expectations on them? Why don’t young men think about consequences? Why do women still do the bulk of housework and child-rearing?* – we cannot be surprised if nothing ever changes. It cannot be mysterious to us that organisations will keep promoting men over women, that employers will keep paying women less than men, that our society will continue to be unequal and unjust.

Women are not “missing out on the top jobs”. They are being denied the same access and support as their male colleagues. A lot of it will be unconscious. The product of thinking and assumptions we don’t even know we’re making. Which is why we need to change the way we talk about it.


*The instinctive response to many of those questions will be, “not all young men!” etc. But that just goes to show that there’s a lot more going on than the simplistic, “we ticked the “male” category on the birth certificate so obviously he’s going to love trucks and hate personal responsibility” argument we keep accepting. And that’s the point.

AFFCO, t-shirts, and the “jobs jobs jobs” mantra

Talley’s AFFCO have literally stood down five people from going to work wearing union t-shirts:

AFFCO said the t-shirts, with the slogan ‘Jobs that count’ on the front and ‘Meat Workers Union’ on the back…resemble gang insignia.

[CTU President Richard Wagstaff said] “These t-shirts were simple t-shirts that said they were Union members, and they would have been covered up when they got to work by the uniforms at work so it’s really petty and silly and beyond any sense of credibility for this employer.”

This is a company cartoonishly terrified of the people who work for them – people they consider their inferiors – showing any ability to act as a collective. Talleys are the kind of boss unions are accused of making up, the bad employers who we’re told don’t really exist, whenever National is trying to take more basic rights away from people who work.

In response to this latest shocker, Helen Kelly tweeted a link to a piece she wrote in 2012, when, no surprise, the Talleys were once again trying to deprive people and their families of basic financial security. She opens with a question:

Is it the ultimate result of colonisation unresolved, that one family, of European origin, is able to determine the economic future of a workforce that is more than 60 per cent Maori and which, for centuries, derived its living from that same sea and land from which the Talley family now make its wealth?

These are the broader questions I’ve been yammering on about all year (every year.) When the left talk about focusing on the real issues, or not getting distracted, or not confusing our message with a hundred different policies, the risk is that we forget that no worker is an island. No worker is just a worker.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs” is a great mantra. Jobs are pretty important in a capitalist society which demands we exchange money for goods and services. But jobs like the ones controlled by the Talleys family are inseparable from issues of race and colonialism. Jobs like aged care and teaching are inseparable from issues of sexism and the gender pay imbalance. Jobs governed by zero hour contracts are inherently unfair, but far more likely to affect young people or migrants.

If we keep acting and talking like the only jobs which matter or the only picture of the future of work features middle-class white kids who know how to code and dream of an affordable townhouse in Hobsonville, we’re not going to reach a lot of people. We’re leaving out a lot of people who are already underrepresented in our democracy.

A lot of people who are so terrifying when they get to use their voice that Talleys AFFCO can’t let them walk into work in a union t-shirt, in case they start a revolt.


Some meat workers have now been locked out for 90+ days and counting. The Meat Workers Union is supporting them with food parcels, and if you’re feeling a bit of the Christmas spirit, you can contribute to the fund – details on the Jobs That Count Facebook page.

The myth of hiring on merit: James Shaw at the CTU conference

Green co-leader James Shaw announced at the CTU conference last week that in any future government, when the Greens are at the Cabinet table, at least half of their seats will be filled by women.

Cue the #manban headlines.

hermione unimpressed clap

But seriously, Shaw showed some good, clear thinking here on an issue which so often gets swamped with #notallmen whining or #butwhataboutmerit or #reversesexism!!!

Take a look at our current Parliament which is seventy percent male. Or Cabinet, which governs the country, also seventy percent male.

No one seriously thinks all those guys are there because they’re the best of the best, or that they’ve all got so much more merit than any female politicians.

The reality is that it’s a traditionally male institution.

There were legal and social barriers preventing women from entering. And those overt barriers are gone but many subtle barriers remain.

And just to really reach the psyche of ~middle New Zealand~ (I’m joking, James, you’re doing good work here) he goes for the king of metaphors:

I’m going to steal a trick from our friend John Key here – this is his only trick – and use an All Blacks analogy.

Imagine if we had a coach who almost always picked players from only the North Island, or only the South Island to join the squad.

And they said ‘We pick whoever is best for the team,’ but the team kept losing all its matches.

How long would the nation put up with that? I think you could measure it in seconds before everyone said, ‘This is stupid. This isn’t working. You need to pick players from the whole country.’

That’s what’s happened with the representation of women in politics for decades.

And it isn’t working.

It’s trite but it’s true. You have two options: either admit you think women as a group aren’t as good as men as a group, or acknowledge that there are barriers – human-made, inorganic barriers – to women’s advancement on a par with men.

Or as Catherine Delahunty put it:

What do you earn?

Helen Kelly linked to an advice column in the Herald which suggests that while it’s perfectly okay to ask people how much they paid for their house, it’s a no-no to ask about their income.

It’s a great collision between two myths which reinforce a lot of terrible ideas we’re told about people, and value, and solidarity.

Of course you can ask people – with proper etiquette – what they paid for their house. House-buyingness is next to godliness. Buy a house young and you’re an entrepreneur. Own multiple properties and preach the virtues of “treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen” and you get headlines. There’s no shame in owning one house, five houses, or making millions of dollars literally being subsidized by a state which won’t provide decent housing for people in need.

But there’s plenty of shame in asking people what they earn. That’s private information, after all, and you’re an individual standing on your own two feet and by god, if other people (who aren’t as good and productive as you) find out what you get, they’ll try to steal it!

Or as advice columnist Lee Suckling put it:

Asking somebody about his or her salary is far less permissible. This is purely because it’s none of your business.

The only people that need to know how much you earn are your boss and your spouse.

It’s the gospel of self-interest. You’re an individual. You’re think as an individual. You function as a good little rational economic unit working purely for its own gain.

One of the terrible aspects of our current system is how it unnaturally pits us against each other. You certainly shouldn’t look at the other people working around you and think “we’re in this together. We’re in the same situation! We should be treated fairly and given the same pay for doing the same work.” They’re not comrades. They’re competition!

We’re meant to take it on faith that each of us – the “you” who has to protect your good deal from the avarice of your fellow labourers – is getting the best deal. And we’re meant to see this as a good thing, because the boss wants us to sit at his table in the cafeteria, not them.

We’re meant to trust that the boss is properly sharing his or her profits with the people who created them. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t.

That’s what a lot of people working at Google discovered when Erica Baker created a shared spreadsheet of the salaries of people working at the company. Surprise surprise – they found people weren’t being paid equally for their work. And apparently managers at Google didn’t like this. Erica Baker isn’t working there any more.

The defensiveness is kind of understandable, but also shows the benefits of transparency for everyone involved. We know about unconscious bias. Most people don’t twirl their moustaches and announce “I’m going to pay women less because I hate them”. They don’t realise they’re doing it until it’s all laid out in front of them. And if they think of themselves as good people who aren’t sexist or racist, etc, it can be a shock to discover you were being sexist or racist, etc, in practice.

(In the same way, I doubt Lee Suckling sat down at his keyboard and thought “Haha! How can I reinforce a cult of individual self-interest today? Muahahahaha!”)

A final point: if you’re in a unionised workplace with a collective agreement – and I acknowledge they’re the minority – you do see what your coworkers are earning. You know that the same job is paid at the same rate, or that everyone in your team sits in the same pay band. It doesn’t ruin morale.

What do we see when the people in a workplace or industry are in the union? Higher wages, better conditions, and fairer pay for men and women.

the incredibles coincidence

So I’m sorry, but I’m going to keep on being impolite. Because “politeness” is capitalism’s way of tricking us into not comparing notes and realising just how much we’re all getting exploited.

Midwives deserve equal pay

It’s another one of those less-easy-to-grasp pay equity cases: the College of Midwives has filed a discrimination suit on the basis that midwives aren’t paid as well as equivalently-skilled/trained/responsible workers in male-dominated industries.

The College of Midwives says the midwifery-led system in New Zealand has improved the outcomes for women and their babies to the extent that it is a world leader in maternity care and it has never been safer to be born.

Despite this however the LMC Midwife is paid the equivalent of someone considered unskilled, semi-skilled or junior staff. This is untenable and must be urgently addressed.

The thing is, unless you’ve had a baby yourself, you probably don’t know a huge amount about what they do or how they’re paid.

Thank god for living in the internet age: here’s a fantastic post on the subject from a Kiwi midwife:

Who do you compare the midwifery workforce to?  What group of  mainly men are specialized, medical care providers, with a responsibility for two lives, a 24/7 52 week a year responsibility for care provision, and the responsibility of two lives in every decision they make?  For that, I don’t have an answer.  But I am sure that as a group, we could come up with some ideas.  Leave a message in the comments if you have a job description that compares.  I am thinking maybe electricians?  Or something?

So.  i can’t resolve the “how do we decide who to compare to” question.  But I thought I would try and add a little light to the subject of “what do midwives actually get paid?”

Seriously read the whole thing before posting another snotty tweet about how ~unqualified~ midwives are.

I’m sad to see a bit of sneering and scoffing on this – from people on the left. I expect the “ew, be grateful for your scraps, peasants” attitude from the weirder parts of the right, but come on, people. We knew it was shady when Cameron Slater was trying to smear Ports of Auckland workers over their salaries. We know that capitalism seeks ways to devalue people’s labour in order to exploit them economically. We know that our healthcare system is stretched and our present government doesn’t value the long-term benefits of properly investing in skills and services.

This is part and parcel of the same project, to undermine women’s work, to paint midwifery as “just holding someone’s hand and telling her to breathe”, not “real qualified medicine”. This is one battle in the wider workers’ struggle. So get over the fact that 99% of the workers involved are women and back our midwives.