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4 April 2018updated 01 Aug 2021 12:09pm

What to say when someone tries to mansplain away the gender pay gap

“It’s just about the best person for the job…”

By Anoosh Chakelian

It’s deadline day for companies to declare their gender pay gap. A momentous day that will forever be a cornerstone of the feminist struggle against injustice – and the dumb opinions of insecure men.

Here are some of the ways to respond when yet another man tries to explain away the gender pay gap:

It’s not about gender – it’s just about the best person for the job

Ever the basic bitch, John Humphrys asked this on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, and to be fair to him, it’s what a lot of people say – even in supposedly progressive workplaces.

If someone uses this argument on you, maybe ask them why the “best person for the job” always seems to be a straight, white, middle-aged, middle-class man.

If they accuse you of generalising, hit them with the facts: professional jobs are dominated by white, male, well-off graduates; just seven of the FTSE 100 companies have female CEOs (there are more Daves than women); 66 per cent of senior roles in UK newspapers are held by men (and only 22 per cent of frontpage stories are written by women); only 208 out of 650 MPs are women.

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Proportionately, it’s unlikely that the man is always the best person for the job.

Women have children so aren’t in the highest paid jobs

There are many responses to this, if you can keep yourself calm enough. The easiest is that men also have children. We’ve had shared parental leave for three years now, so that men can share time off to look after the baby. Parents can take time off separately or can be at home together for up to six months after having a child.

Yes, the scheme hasn’t had much take-up yet – partly due to the cultural stigma of men taking time off work. Sounds a bit like there are gender norms at play here, doesn’t it? Basically, it’s outdated cultural expectation based on the patriarchy that expects women to miss work due to parenthood, but not men. Employers, couples and society need to wise up to it.

Looking at the pay gap, women pay a huge financial penalty for being parents. Men don’t.

Women are also more likely than men to play a non-parental care role – unpaid work looking after relatives, partners or friends with illnesses or disabilities, to the value of £77bn per year. Of the 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK, 58 per cent are women, according to Carers UK.

This kicks in mainly at the age when people move into top jobs: women aged 45-54 are more than twice as likely as other carers to have reduced working hours as a result of caring responsibilities, and one in four women aged 50-64 has caring responsibilities for older or disabled loved ones.

So the whole system basically relies on unpaid labour by women, and women earning less as a result of men being less willing to take time off work for parenting.

It’s a societal issue.

More women work part-time or flexible hours, so earn less

Yes, women are more likely to work part-time than men (see reasons above), but even when part-time work is taken into account, a pay gap remains. The pay gap for senior officials and chief executives working part-time is 30.6 per cent – higher than the full-time pay gap in the same kind of jobs (24.7 per cent), according to Office for National Statistics data.


Women aren’t in the highest-paid positions

First of all, this is a terrible message for your company: Oh, our gender pay gap’s actually fine – it’s just because only men are in the top jobs!

Yes, the measure for the gender pay gap doesn’t discriminate between the highest and lowest salaries in a workplace, but if your argument is because the top, top salaries are warping your figures – because these are all paid to men – then you should probably… promote more women rather than think this is a good excuse. Also, the bonus pay gap – from 41.5 per cent at Facebook to a whopping 86 per cent at HSBC – suggests that however senior men and women are, men are simply paid more.

Women just don’t want to do that kind of work

This was the argument of Jordan Peterson, the guru of beta male privilege, on the radio this morning. He said that women simply don’t want to do the kind of roles that require you to work for 80 hours a week, so don’t end up in those kinds of positions.

There are two problems with this. The first is the unpaid, invisible labour that women do in society (see the care work data above) and the fact that men have more free time, even though they do the supposedly most time-consuming jobs. According to the ONS, men have five hours more leisure time per week than women – and it’s an inequality that’s growing.

The second is that if women aren’t coming forward, that’s your fault not theirs: you have failed to provide a work environment that treats men and women equally. Because men have shaped our pay structures, management practices and all other aspects of our workplaces over centuries, the majority of our workplaces are friendlier and more familiar to men. Why would women find that attractive, particularly if they are being offered lower pay than their male counterparts to do it? Sort it out.

Men are just biologically more competent than women

 Probably not worth being in the conversation at this point, but women are equal according to standard intelligence tests, and have a higher emotional intelligence than men: emotional intelligence is responsible for 58 per cent of performance in all types of jobs, and 90 per cent of top performers are high in emotional intelligence.

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