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Thursday 8 December 2016

Sinead Ryan: We'll never get pay parity if women can't see their own worth

Patricia Arquette
Patricia Arquette

The Oscars is an unlikely forum for a discussion on the gender pay gap, but that's exactly what it became after Patricia Arquette dedicated her Best Supporting Actress speech to "every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights.

 It's time to have wage equality once and for all".

Her timing was no accident. Hacked Sony emails had shown Hollywood treats its stars differently depending on their gender, rather than their talent or A-Lister appeal.

For example, the male actors on American Hustle were offered a deal of 9pc of the movie's profits while the females (including Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence) shared only 7pc.

While not too many of us would be crying over someone who already earns millions taking home slightly fewer millions, the problem doesn't just apply in La La Land.

The gender pay gap is universal, but a new study seems to point the finger in part, at least, at women themselves.

Consultants Universum Global point to research that shows women have lower expectations than men when it comes to asking for pay.

In Ireland, for instance, a female graduate in engineering or IT expects to earn around €37,000 a year while her male counterpart, with exactly the same qualifications, thinks he's worth €45,000. That's not necessarily what they will earn, but what they genuinely believe their value to be in the workplace.

Is it just a macho sense of importance, or does just expecting more command greater salaries? Where men are concerned, the evidence would seem to bear it out.

The gender pay gap across the EU is 16.4pc - that's how much more men earn on average than women.

In Ireland it's only slightly better at 14.4pc, but that's despite some of the toughest employment laws across member states. Of course, factors such as women taking time out for childcare or reverting to part-time work drags down earnings over a lifetime, leaving women far more likely to end up in poverty in old age.

But it goes further. The research found that women themselves expect less, even before they start in their first job.

Surveying student graduates, it found: "The expectations of female students are markedly lower than their male counterparts and have been for five years. Candidates themselves must continue to insist on equality in compensation."

It's not that they're not good enough to command the same salaries. On average, 81pc of women reach at least Leaving Cert equivalent in the EU compared with 75pc of men.

They also represent 60pc of all university graduates, meaning they are entering the workforce better qualified.

Yet they earn less immediately, which is the scary bit, not when measured over a career of competing life events.

They're not asking for their worth, appears to be the report's conclusion. But what can be done? Well, for one thing, confidence is an issue.

Women are far less likely to put themselves forward at middle and senior management level, especially if promotion opportunities occur at precisely the same time as starting a family.

For every Sheryl Sandberg "leaning in" at Facebook, there are a thousand women going: "I can't do it all."

For every Carly Fiorina or Hillary Clinton aiming at the US presidency there are millions thinking: "Is she mad?"

terrified

For every successful female who juggles childcare and job, there are others terrified of returning to work at all.

But surely employers and governments have a role too. We have equality legislation in place for pay, so what's happening?

I believe we're too secretive about salaries. Ask a friend what their house is worth and they'll know to the nearest thousand. Ask what her dress cost and you'll get chapter and verse. Ask someone what they earn, though, and they'll clam up.

If we're not prepared to be open about pay, how can we know to ask for more? Instead of resentment in the office canteen, perhaps a bit of open banter is in order.

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