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

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

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.

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 Basically, it’s outdated cultural expectation based on the patriarchy that expects women to miss work due to parenthood, but not men.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.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Arsène Wenger: The Innovator in Old Age

As the Arsenal manager announces his departure from the club after more than two decades, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, appreciates English football’s first true cosmpolitan. 

How to account for the essence of a football club? The players and managers come and go, of course, and so do the owners. The fans lose interest or grow old and die. Clubs relocate to new grounds. Arsenal did so in the summer of 2006 when they moved from the intimate jewel of a stadium that was Highbury to embrace the soulless corporate gigantism of the Emirates. Clubs can even relocate to a new town or to a different part of a city, as indeed Arsenal also did when they moved from south of the Thames to north London in 1913 (a land-grab that has never been forgiven by their fiercest rivals, Tottenham). Yet something endures through all the change, something akin to the Aristotelian notion of substance.

Before Arsène Wenger arrived in London in late September 1996, Arsenal were one of England’s most traditional clubs: stately, conservative, even staid. Three generations of the Hill-Wood family had occupied the role of chairman. In 1983, an ambitious young London businessman and ardent fan named David Dein invested £290,000 in the club. “It’s dead money,” said Peter Hill-Wood, an Old Etonian who had succeeded his father a year earlier. In 2007, Dein sold his stake in the club to Red & White Holdings, co-owned by the Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, for £75m. Not so dead after all.

In the pre-Wenger years, unfairly or otherwise, the Gunners were known as “lucky Arsenal”, a pejorative nickname that went back to the 1930s. For better or worse, they were associated with a functional style of play. Under George Graham, manager from 1986 to 1995, they were exponents of a muscular, sometimes brutalist, long-ball game and often won important matches 1-0. Through long decades of middling success, Arsenal were respected but never loved, except by their fans, who could be passionless when compared to, say, those of Liverpool or Newcastle, or even the cockneys of West Ham.

Yet Wenger, who was born in October 1949, changed everything at Arsenal. This tall, thin, cerebral, polyglot son of an Alsatian bistro owner, who had an economics degree and was never much of a player in the French leagues, was English football’s first true cosmopolitan.

He was naturally received with suspicion by the British and Irish players he inherited (who called him Le Professeur), the fans (most of whom had never heard of him) and by journalists (who were used to clubbable British managers they could banter with over a drink). Wenger was different. He was reserved and self-contained. He refused to give personal interviews, though he was candid and courteous in press conferences during which he often revealed his sly sense of humour.

He joined from the Japanese J League side, Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he went to coach after seven seasons at Monaco, and was determined to globalise the Gunners. This he did swiftly, recruiting players from all over the world but most notably, in his early years, from France and francophone Africa. I was once told a story of how, not long after joining the club, Wenger instructed his chief scout, Steve Rowley, to watch a particular player. “You’ll need to travel,” Wenger said. “Up north?” “No – to Brazil,” came the reply. A new era had begun.

Wenger was an innovator and disrupter long before such concepts became fashionable. A pioneer in using data analysis to monitor and improve performance, he ended the culture of heavy drinking at Arsenal and introduced dietary controls and a strict fitness regime. He was idealistic but also pragmatic. Retaining Graham’s all-English back five, as well as the hard-running Ray Parlour in midfield, Wenger over several seasons added French flair to the team – Nicolas Anelka (who was bought for £500,000 and sold at a £22m profit after only two seasons), Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès. It would be a period of glorious transformation – Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup “double” in his first full season and went through the entire 2003-2004 League season unbeaten, the season of the so-called Invincibles.

The second decade of Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal, during which the club stopped winning titles after moving to the bespoke 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, was much more troubled. Beginning with the arrival of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, the international plutocracy began to take over the Premier League, and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, much richer than Arsenal, spent their way to the top table of the European game. What were once competitive advantages for Wenger – knowledge of other leagues and markets, a worldwide scouting network, sports science – became routine, replicated even, in the lower leagues.

Wenger has spoken of his fear of death and of his desire to lose himself in work, always work. “The only possible moment of happiness is the present,” he told L’Équipe in a 2016 interview. “The past gives you regrets. And the future uncertainties. Man understood this very fast and created religion.” In the same interview – perhaps his most fascinating – Wenger described himself as a facilitator who enables “others to express what they have within them”. He yearns for his teams to play beautifully. “My never-ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man.”

Arsène Wenger is in the last year of his contract and fans are divided over whether he should stay on. To manage a super-club such as Arsenal for 20 years is remarkable and, even if he chooses to say farewell at the end of the season, it is most unlikely that any one manager will ever again stay so long or achieve so much at such a club – indeed, at any club. We should savour his cool intelligence and subtle humour while we can. Wenger changed football in England. More than a facilitator, he was a pathfinder: he created space for all those foreign coaches who followed him and adopted his methods as the Premier League became the richest and most watched in the world: one of the purest expressions of let it rip, winner-takes-all free-market globalisation, a symbol of deracinated cosmopolitanism, the global game’s truly global league. 



Arsène Wenger has announced he is stepping down, less than a year after signing a new two-year contract in the summer of 2017. A run to the Europa League finals turned out not to be enough to put off the announcement to the end of the season.

Late-period Wenger was defined by struggle and unrest. And the mood at the Emirates stadium on match day was often sour: fans in open revolt against Wenger, against the club’s absentee American owner Stan Kroenke, against the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and sometimes even against one another, with clashes between pro and anti-Wenger factions. As Arsenal’s form became ever more erratic, Wenger spoke often of how much he suffered. “There is no possibility not to suffer,” he said in March 2018. “You have to suffer.”

Arsenal once had special values, we were told, and decision-making was informed by the accumulated wisdom of past generations. But the club seems to have lost any coherent sense of purpose or strategic long-term plan, beyond striving to enhance the profitability of the “franchise”.

The younger Wenger excelled at discovering and nurturing outstanding young players, especially in his early seasons in north London. But that was a long time ago. Under his leadership, Arsenal became predictable in their vulnerability and inflexibility, doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, especially defensive mistakes. They invariably faltered when confronted by the strongest opponents, the Manchester clubs, say, or one of the European super-clubs such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

Wenger’s late struggles were a symbol of all that had gone wrong at the club. The vitriol and abuse directed at this proud man was, however, often painful to behold.

How had it come to this? There seems to be something rotten in the culture of Arsenal football club. And Wenger suffered from wilful blindness. He could not see, or stubbornly refused to see, what others could: that he had become a man out of a time who had been surpassed by a new generation of innovators such as Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. “In Arsene we trust”? Not anymore. He had stayed too long. Sometimes the thing you love most ends up killing you.


Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.