Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Tag: work

Solid summary of the income penalty of ‘being female’

‘While many aspects of working life have changed in recent decades, the inequality of outcomes experienced by male and female employees has been remarkably resistant.

‘Proponents of the “merit” argument would have us believe that the dearth of women in leadership roles is an accurate reflection of the proportion of “women of merit” in the workforce – that they aren’t just MIA (and easily locatable by a good search party), but rather they’ve willingly gone AWOL, choosing to work less hours, being less ambitious, failing to “lean in”, and so on.

‘I could expend many thousands of words refuting these “explanations” but I won’t – they are just part of the smokescreen that keeps us focused on the “faults” of the female workforce. To understand the continuing levels of disparity evident in Australian workplaces we need to scrutinise the institutional and societal structures that underpin the inequity. A good place to start is with an examination of the factors contributing to the gender wage gap.

‘Currently, the gender wage gap sits at 17.1%. This means that, on average, women earn 82.9 cents to every dollar earned by men for the same or equivalent work. At its narrowest, in 2005, the gap was 15.1%. Since then it has been widening, eroding progress to the point that the current gap is now larger than it was 20 years ago – in 1994 it was 16.2%.

‘So, we have two graduates with no experience and the same qualifications, but the male gets paid $5,000 more on average than the female. This alone should dilute any support for the idea that the gap is simply circumstantial and not sexist. Further evidence is available from an extensive study completed in 2010 by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, The impact of a sustained gender wage gap on the Australian economy.

‘After accounting for differences in male and female work patterns and experience, qualifications and so on, the researchers found that 60% of the gender wage gap was due to “being female”. To be clear here, this means that most of the gap is not related to choice of occupation or sector of employment, having dependent children or a uni degree, or any other such variation. It’s just about being female. In their modelling, this “being female” penalty equated to a deficit of $3,394 a year on average.

‘Further evidence of the “being female” penalty is demonstrated in studies investigating decision-making around hiring and promotion. The most compelling of these studies use matched curriculum vitaes, which are identical in content, except for gender. A good example by Rhea Steinpreis and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee involved the comparison of CVs for two job applicants who were going for their first job after completing graduate school.

‘The CVs, identical except for the applicant’s name (Karen Miller or Brian Miller), were distributed to 238 US psychology academics. Among other things, the academics were asked to assess the quality of the candidates’ work experience (teaching, research and service), and to state whether they felt the candidates should be hired. The study results showed that, irrespective of the gender of the participating academic, they were more likely to rate the male job candidate higher than the female candidate on each of the aspects of work experience assessed.

‘They were also more likely to recommend hiring the male candidate than the female candidate. So, to be explicit: two candidates with identical CVs achieved different outcomes. As the researchers concluded, “The present findings indicate that at the fledgling stages of the career of a young professional, gender is seen as an indicator of success”.

‘Experimental research provides clear evidence of stricter standards for women than for men when both perform at the same level and performance evaluations are objective – but can nevertheless be interpreted as either conclusive or inconclusive evidence of competence. Double standards provide the mechanism for those differences in interpretation.

‘However, such judgments are affected by gender stereotyping, such as expectations about what women are like and how they should behave. Therefore, when a female applies for a job or a promotion into a position that has been traditionally seen as a “male” job, her perceived attributes don’t fit well with the male-type template of perceived job requirements.

‘She is therefore viewed as being less likely to succeed in such a position, leading to being less likely to be hired/promoted into it. Given that the vast majority of occupational roles, and leadership roles in particular, have been traditionally viewed as “male” jobs, this is where the “being female” penalty occurs. Thus, as per the double standards for competency, to get the job or promotion, she will have to demonstrate, indisputably, that she is more qualified and competent than a male would have to be to get the same job.

‘Thus, females doing “female-type” work were not penalised because they were perceived to be a good fit when evaluated against a female template of job performance, while females performing “male-type” work were judged more harshly because they were perceived to be a poor fit with the male template of job performance. An additional finding of the study was that, overall, females had to receive higher job performance ratings to gain a promotion than did their male colleagues, indicating the competency double standard.

‘Evidently, any time taken out of the workforce will have an adverse impact on an individual’s career progression, including lifetime earnings. However, even when women take a minimal amount of maternity leave, say 12 weeks, they are penalised for it in a way that does not happen for men or women who take a similar amount of leave for other purposes (e.g. long service leave).

‘From a financial perspective, this ‘motherhood penalty’ adds to the pre-existing “being female” penalty affecting the gender wage gap. Ian Watson’s study on managers also included an investigation of gender wage differences in relation to the parental status of the managers. Examining the data for managers with thirty years of work experience, he found that males with no children earned approximately $120,000 a year on average. For men with children, each child they had acted to increase their earnings by $2,000–$5,000 a year, resulting in a salary of about $130,000 for managers with three or more children.

‘In contrast, the base rate (no children) for females with equivalent work experience was around $95,000, which decreased by $2,000–$7,000 per year for each child, to an annual salary of approximately $77,000 for managers with three or more children. Thus, the combined “being female” and “motherhood” penalties mean that, in comparison to a male with equal years of experience and number of children, an Australian female manager with thirty years work experience earns approximately $35,000 less per year if she has a single child, $40,000 less if she has two children and a massive $53,000 less per year if she has three or more children.’


Shorter working hours, freedom, and the Left (v. focus on equality)

‘The one-sided focus of most Marxists and socialists on distributional questions has obscured the fact that the animating principle of the Left is not so much equality, but rather freedom — freedom from alienating work and freedom touse our time and creativity for our own self-directed ends. Socialism does not equal the roughly equal distribution of stuff; the martyrs of the labor movement didn’t give up their lives so that everyone could have the right to buy an iPhone or a plasma screen TV, or to waste their lives working at crap jobs. Marx himself was rather clear on this point. Near the end of Volume 3 of Capital, he famously argues that the “true realm of freedom” lies beyond the sphere of material production, and that “the shortening of the working day is its prerequisite.” While the necessity for people to do some sort of potentially alienating work to ensure social reproduction will likely never be totally abolished, it should entail “the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature.” So long as the Left does not seek to fundamentally alter the labor process nor shorten the working day to the least amount of time possible, it fails to act on what should be its most fundamental principles.

‘As an employee of a strapped government agency looking to cut costs wherever possible, I was offered the opportunity earlier this year to reduce my work week for the rest of the fiscal year to 21 hours with a concomitant reduction in my annual salary. While I was worried about voluntarily giving up 40% of my pay, my mounting dissatisfaction with the technological deskilling that hollowed out much of the appeal of my job provided me with the impetus I needed to trade some financial security for a three day work week. I can say unambiguously that working much less has dramatically improved the quality of my life, especially my psychological well-being. It has given me the ability to pursue graduate study and spend more time with friends and in political activism. It has even made me an objectively better worker from the standpoint of capitalist rationality during the three days that I am at work; I probably do the same amount of work now than I did in five days, and with a much sunnier disposition to boot.

‘Economists who study the social effects of a shortened work week have found empirical support for my overwhelmingly positive subjective experiences. Earlier this year, the New Economics Foundation in Britain issued a report calling for the normal work week to be reduced from its current level to 21 hours. They find that experiments in working less are often popular with both workers and employers, cut down on environmental pollution because of a reduction in commuting, help to reduce unemployment, encourage a balancing of gender relations at home and at work, and improve workers’ physical and psychological well-being. I don’t mean to portray shortening working time as a panacea, and I admit that I have been able to perform my small experiment in freedom because I am a young man with low overhead costs and no familial obligations. The fact that my union continues to protect my position while I work a reduced number of hours certainly doesn’t hurt either. But the potential benefits are clear and could be a central component of a new political program for the Left.

‘Clearly, the prospects of building a movement around such a program currently appear to be bleak. But so are the prospects of building a movement around a more traditional Left program that continues to operate under the assumptions of mid-twenty-century social democracy. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, all potential options should be considered and pursued.

‘A demand for less work and more free time could be the thing that activates the formation of a new collective political subject with the capacity to pursue a class politics appropriate for the twenty-first century. It might create the conditions under which “a Left endowed with a future rather than burdened with nostalgia for the past might re-emerge,” as Gorz incisively put it. Besides, we have already earned that general distribution of products and universal holiday that Paul Lafargue talked about over a century ago. It’s time to cash in.’


‘Do what you love’

‘By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.’ [emphasis mine]

‘by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.

‘the twenty-first-century Jobsian view demands that we all turn inward. It absolves us of any obligation to or acknowledgment of the wider world, underscoring its fundamental betrayal of all workers, whether they consciously embrace it or not.

‘One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

‘For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

‘Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm

‘And it’s no coincidence that the industries that rely heavily on interns — fashion, media, and the arts — just happen to be the feminized ones, as Madeleine Schwartz wrote in Dissent. Yet another damaging consequence of DWYL is how ruthlessly it works to extract female labor for little or no compensation. Women comprise the majority of the low-wage or unpaid workforce; as care workers, adjunct faculty, and unpaid interns, they outnumber men.

‘The DWYL dream is, true to its American mythology, superficially democratic. PhDs can do what they love, making careers that indulge their love of the Victorian novel and writing thoughtful essays in the New York Review of Books. High school grads can also do it, building prepared food empires out of their Aunt Pearl’s jam recipe. The hallowed path of the entrepreneur always offers this way out of disadvantaged beginnings, excusing the rest of us for allowing those beginnings to be as miserable as they are. In America, everyone has the opportunity to do what he or she loves and get rich.

‘Historian Mario Liverani reminds us that “ideology has the function of presenting exploitation in a favorable light to the exploited, as advantageous to the disadvantaged.”

‘In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. It shunts aside the labor of others and disguises our own labor to ourselves. It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.’