QOTD: Aunty Helen on women, leadership and NZ

Great interview of our former Prime Minister in the Sunday Star-Times yesterday, including these gems on the campaign to elect a woman Secretary-General of the UN:

“I’m of the view that all the great citadels of power should be aiming to have women as leaders on a reasonably regular basis,”

And the distance yet to go for women’s equality in NZ:

“When I was Prime Minister, we had a lot of women at the top of things and I always had a slight concern that there might be a relatively small group of over-achieving baby boomers that made it look like we were doing really well as a nation on these things, and then when the over achieving baby boomers move on to other things, was there a critical mass behind? The answer is not yet – but it will come.”

“There are still structural issues. Women are still more likely to have the care of small children, of the elderly, frail and otherwise indisposed relatives, and there’s more call on them for family duties than men and that impacts on career structure.

we are not worthy

Older white men paid double young ethnic women

That’s not my headline. That’s Stuff’s business section’s headline.

Middle-aged white men might be sick of being cast as villains, but a report suggests they should check their privilege.

And that’s not my first sentence, that’s business reporter Richard Meadows’ first sentence.

I’m going to try to not just copy-paste the entire article – because it’s all good and it’s all quoteable – but seriously:

Young Middle Eastern and African women are at the bottom of the heap, with median pay of just $14.75 an hour, on par with the minimum wage.

At the other end of the spectrum, white men aged 45-64 command top dollar, earning a median hourly rate of $28.77.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue said it was only fair that wages should increase with time and experience.

These are the kinds of statements which normally get sneered at – when it’s Social Justice Warriors making them. There are cries of “ew, politics of envy!” and “that’s just because you all go off and have babies!” and “just upskill if you don’t want to flip burgers your whole life!!!”

Sorry, dudes: pay discrimination is a real, documented, mainstream idea.

The Human Rights Commission’s interactive Tracking Equality at Work tool is amazing, and I strongly encourage having a look – especially if you still want to pretend that we’re all living on an even playing field.

The only way to ignore these statistics and pretend they don’t matter is to openly admit that you really do believe that women, people of colour, and people with disabilities “just aren’t trying hard enough” and somehow “deserve” to be paid less, hired less, and promoted less.

Statement of the bloody obvious: of course different types of work and different levels of “skill” are always going to be paid differently in the economic system we currently have.

Other statement of the bloody obvious: but that cannot justify the widespread discrimination and disadvantage which is playing out in workers’ lives every day. It cannot justify paying women like Kristine Bartlett, with 23 years’ experience caring for elderly people in rest homes, $14.46 an hour.

If we took a serious look at the “value” produced by low-paid workers – the people feeding us, caring for us, keeping our workplaces and public spaces tidy and hygienic – we could not condone the miserable wages they are paid. We would not write off their jobs as “unskilled” or “women’s work”.

But the first step is admitting there’s a problem. And when it’s right there in black-and-white on a major news site – even listed as an “editor’s pick” on the front page – I think we’re ready, as a society, to take that step.

Sexism, babies, and our assumptions about work

It’s 2015, and we’re constantly told that sexism is over, feminism has had its day, and would you nagging witches please just simmer down already?

And then this happens:

An Auckland mother was told that having her kids in daycare could affect her job prospects because she would need too many sick days to care for them.

The mother rang O’Neils Personnel Recruitment Agency about an administration-manager job advertised on its website this week.

“The woman I ended up speaking to asked me if I have any children,” said the mother, who did not wish to be identified. “When I said yes, she asked if they would be in daycare, which they would be.

“She then proceeded to tell me that the client would not be interested in me as an applicant. Why? Apparently because daycare is a hotbed of illness, and I would have to leave work all the time, because they would be sick all the time, and when you are employed you have to be there, to do the job.”

A better headline might be “Sexist assumptions cost woman job chance.”

I’m going to be honest, here: I do not believe that Ms Sleep, the recruitment agent quoted in the story, asks men the same questions. Maybe she asks, “so does your partner take care of the kids when they’re sick?” Or maybe the topic of kids comes up in an interview and she thinks “gosh, he sounds like a nice family man.”

But I sincerely doubt that she’s ever told a man “look, you need to come back to me once you have a Plan B for childcare, because this employer won’t hire you if you have kids.”

We live in a society which makes a huge number of assumptions about work and child-raising.

Women are assumed to be the main carers of children

I know a couple who decided dad would be the stay-at-home parent. This caused shock, because the assumptions are so ingrained – people actually asked her, when she was back at work, “but what have you done with the baby?” – and people asked him, when he took the baby to daycare, “oh … *sad face* what happened to the mum?”

We would sooner assume that a woman would leave her six-week-old baby totally unattended at home, and that a man’s wife has died tragically in the first six weeks of baby’s life, than “she went back to work and he takes care of the kid.”

Ironically, this creates a vicious circle. If you’re having kids in a heterosexual relationship, and one of you needs to take time off after a baby’s born, and the woman in the relationship is far likelier to be paid less or promoted because people assume she’ll be the one taking time off … guess who ends up reinforcing the stereotype?

All women of child-bearing age are assumed to want/be planning children

I have friends who are childfree, and have been for many, many years. And even the women who are most outspoken about never wanting children face the same condescension: “oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older!” and “you’ll feel differently once you meet the right guy!”

There’s a few other poor assumptions right there: all women are cisgender, all women are heterosexual, all cis women can physically have children.

And of course, we can never take a woman’s word for anything because the ~biological clock~ is far more powerful than a silly ~ladybrain~. This points us towards a simple truth: women are seen as less intelligent, capable, and autonomous than men. You could almost argue that the “risk” of pregnancy or childcare impacting on work is a smokescreen; an excuse to justify simply not valuing women as equal human beings.

Children are the only reason people ever miss work or leave jobs

In this 2013 article, recruiter Ryan Densem complains

… he had dealt with employers left “frustrated” from employing a pregnant women after investing time and money into the hiring process and training, only to have to go through the same process a few months later to cover their maternity leave.

Has Ryan Densem really never encountered a man leaving a role within a few months? Does he refrain from head-hunting great candidates who’ve just started new jobs because it would be unfair to their bosses? Do men never get really sick, or injured, or decide to move to a new city?

I’ve worked places with huge turnover. Multiple people quit less than six months after starting. Huge amounts of time and money wasted on recruitment, and work left undone because everyone else was so stretched – and not a pregnancy in sight. There was a poorly-trained team leader and a toxic culture of managerial bullying, but for some reason that’s viewed as unfixable. Much easier to just not-hire an entire gender.

Besides, as recruiter Annette Sleep says in the top article,

It’s risk management and clients don’t pay us a handsome fee to send them risky candidates. The candidates don’t pay us a brass razoo. In business you work for the people who pay you.

Plenty of “handsome fees” to be made off a managerial class who drive good non-pregnant candidates away, I imagine.

What about sick days? Can I refuse to hire young men because they might go to the Sevens every year and I can’t afford to cover their hangover-sickies? People who play weekend sport, because they might get injured?

Ryan Densem wants to pretend that this is all about six-months-pregnant women switching jobs and forfeiting their entitlements to paid parental leave (because this ever actually happens), not systemic and deliberate discrimination against women on the basis of gender. But researcher Annick Masselot notes

“Women are not merely discriminated against because they are pregnant and are about to take a period of parental leave, they are discriminated on the basis of the next 15 years of school holidays”

Because all women will have children, and all children will get sick, and all women will be the ones taking time off because their sick and wanting school holidays off and leaving their jobs at the drop of a positive pregnancy test.

Given all this it’s not surprising that that our Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex – including

preferential treatment relating to pregnancy and childbirth, and family responsibilities.

At least Ryan Densem has the good grace to be honest about the lies employers tell:

“They’d never say, ‘Sorry, we won’t hire you because you’re pregnant’. They’d say, ‘Sorry, your background and experience isn’t exactly what we’re looking for’.”

It’s okay, Ryan. We know exactly what you mean.

So there’s the gendered, identity-politics side of the argument. But there’s a slightly broader set of assumptions in play, around work and workers, regardless of gender – and my thoughts on that got a liiiiittle bit long, so tune in tomorrow.

Hekia Parata challenges the gender pay gap!

It’s great to see a senior Government Minister addressing serious issues of inequality and structural discrimination in one of our most important professions:

“I’m interested in how we attract the best and the brightest into teaching… I haven’t focussed very much on whether they’re men or whether they’re women but if it is a higher-paying profession, I think that will attract more men,” she said.

She’s got a really good point. Work which our society views as “women’s work” – usually involving caring for others, or children, or more “domestic” duties – is systemically underpaid compared to equivalently-skilled “men’s” work. Primary school teachers start on a whopping $46,000 after doing a three-year degree. Probationary police constables who have undergone 19 weeks’ paid training and need NCEA level 2 math and English get $58,584 more.

I’m not entirely comparing apples with apples there, nor am I saying that police officers don’t deserve to be paid well for doing a vitally important job (would be nice if their senior officers stopped mishandling sexual violence cases, but you know.) But Parata has a really important point: if teaching paid better, it would probably attract “the best and brightest”, and some of those would undoubtedly be men.

Wait … sorry, I’ve got it all wrong. Tracey Martin of NZ First informs me that Parata actually said,

“..if it is a higher-performing profession, I think that will attract more men,” she said.

Yes, the problem is actually that men’s standards are just too high. They want prestige and a sense of contributing meaningfully to their society, unlike women who clearly just want to go home at 3:30 and get really good holidays.

(I can feel every teacher in my family – and there are a few – glaring at me right now!)

If you all just bucked up, ladies, maybe the men would flock to get paid what I got as a receptionist in my first job out of uni. (Graduating in the middle of a recession is super fun.)

But that’s the National government for you, with its typical sneering attitude to teachers. Parata hasn’t quite met the standards set by predecessor Anne Tolley – who once read a children’s book about a rat who “learned to be happy with a lot less” to a meeting of secondary school teachers right before they entered collective bargaining – but I reckon she gets a gold star for effort.

The pay gap in Hollywood – and the rest of the world

The Sony hack just keeps hurting, with revelations about the pay gap between male and female actors leading one leading lady to demand a raise:

After leaked emails in the Sony hack showed unequal pay between male and female actors, Charlize Theron insisted she get the same pay as her male co-star Chris Hemsworth for “The Huntsman.”

She succeeded, netting a $10 million increase that puts her on par with Hemsworth.

It seems pretty straightforward: in case after case, women were being paid less than their male co-stars. Even, to be blunt, male co-stars who no one was going to see that film for:

For their work in the movie “American Hustle,” male actors Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and the director David O. Russell all got 9 percent of back-end profits, while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s two female leads, were each getting 7 percent. (Lawrence was originally going to get 5 percent but her pay had been raised.)

But not everyone see this as a problem. One of the top comments when I read that article said,

Charlize Theron was free to negotiate whatever she wanted to be paid as part of the movie. The fact that her co-star was a better negotiator doesn’t mean anything sinister is at play.

This is one of the major myths of wage-setting in general, and the gender pay gap in particular. The biggest hole in the argument is this: most people do not have detailed information on (a) pay rates in their industry, (b) pay rates in their workplace, (c) the financial status of their employer. The idea that every worker – from a checkout operator to an A-List actor – has a perfect idea of what they should be able to negotiate for from their employer is a fantasy.

When Charlize Theron was offered X, and Chris Hemsworth was offered X+10, they obviously didn’t compare notes and go “okay, that pay gap’s totally fine.” They didn’t have an industry-wide collective agreement setting out pay rates for their roles.

The only reason Charlize Theron knew she was getting paid less is because of the Sony hack.

Look at the other examples in that article. For American Hustle, the  (male) director and male co-stars got 9%, while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence got 7% each. Surely it’s a coincidence all the guys were on the same, higher payrate? They obviously just negotiated better.

Do we really believe that the studio itself saw no problem in paying Jennifer Lawrence – one of the biggest, most-beloved stars of cinema at the moment – less than Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper?

Are we really going to pretend that Jennifer Lawrence just “didn’t negotiate” as well?

There are many factors to the gender pay gap, including the fact that jobs which are traditionally women-dominated are paid less than jobs which are traditionally men-dominated, despite involving just as much skill, qualification, and hard work.

But there is also just sexism, and the Sony hack has highlighted this.

I’m not suggesting that studio executives sat in smoke-filled rooms twirling their moustaches, saying “Muahahahaha, we’re going to pay Charlize Theron less than Chris Hemsworth because she’s a lady!” (Though that hacked email calling Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” means we shouldn’t 100% discount the possibility.)

It’s far more insidious than that. Sony probably offered Theron less money, and agreed to pay Hemsworth more, because it just seemed natural to do so. It’s just automatic to treat a male co-star of a movie as The Star and a female co-star as The Supporting Actress.

If actors’ pay was about qualifications or pull, we might look at the fact that Charlize Theron is a critically-acclaimed performer whose list of award nominations is can’t be captured in one screenshot on my monitor and includes an Oscar. And Chris Hemsworth is a hunky bit of man-flesh who’s mainly been nominated for Teen Choice Awards for starring in comic-book adaptations. Which might suggest that if there’s going to be a $10 million pay gap, it should go in the other direction.

But that would be weird.

And that’s why there’s a gender pay gap in Hollywood.