Why the pay gap conversation is broken

The way we talk about the pay gap is getting us nowhere.

There must surely have been some hushed whispering doing the rounds at the offices of Pricewaterhouse Coopers the night before the report into the salaries of BBC on-air talent was published. Amid a maelstrom of stories alleging that the Corporation was paying its female presenters and newscasters less than their male colleagues, just because they were women, the publication of a report that found “no gender bias in-on air pay decisions” must have been the talk of the watercooler.

While some have called into question the methodology used by PwC (unusual given the company’s reputation as one of the ‘Big Four’ auditors) their report and their methods of creating it are as credible as is possible. The conclusion, that whatever pay discrepancies exist between the individual men and women employed by Auntie are not created by discrimination, seems to be prima facie.

Reports that are critical of the idea of the gender based pay gap, either in specific occupations or overall, are nothing new. For instance, the Institute of Economic Affairs recently published its findings which showed that, once a “like-for-like” comparison was made, the pay gap between men and women aged 22-39 in the UK was between -0.8 per cent and 2.2 per cent. This would mean that the gap was either smaller than is usually claimed or flat out didn’t exist…for women.

Conversely, there are no shortage of organisations ready to argue the opposite. In addition to the official ONS figure, there is the Fawcett Society and commentators, like The Guardian’s Katie Allen, who maintain that a pay gap not only exists but is driven, primarily or exclusively, by active, deliberate, and conscious (some might even say malicious) discrimination against women.

The picture is relatively clear – one side says that there is a pay gap fuelled by discrimination and the other side says there is not. As with so much in the current phase of the ‘Culture Wars’ (as if culture has ever not been about conflict) neither side seems to be willing to give any ground. We have two opposing armies, an unstoppable force and an immovable object, two colossi squaring off, and all the other hideous clichés that come to mind.

This is where the real nub of the problem with the conversation around the pay gap is and why, if we’re honest with ourselves, discussing it is a pointless endeavour; at least until mindsets change and we begin to open up to whichever side you happen to be against.

In terms of bringing both sides, characterised, as is unfortunately the case by their worst elements (a Dorito-stained, basement dwelling 4Chan ‘shit-poster’ and a loudmouth, purple-haired, aggressive, MacBook swinging, campus malcontent respectively) together, perhaps they can both coalesce around one of the two things that they have in common, the other being a gym membership slowly gathering dust; their common habit of making the same logical mistake.

With the exception of the kind of thoughtful individuals mentioned earlier, both the proponents and deniers of the concept of a gender-based pay gap seem not to think, or even want, the pay gap to be real or fraudulent as much as they NEED it to be true because it forms such a crucial part of their political and social worldview.

On one hand, where would the leftist social justice critique of society be if men weren’t putting women at a disadvantage in the one language that crosses all social barriers – money?

Similarly, how would the internet’s ‘red pilled’ army of goons continue to motivate themselves without the ‘Feminazi’ dragon of the pay gap myth to slay?

Both sides seem to be searching for a truth that suits their worldview rather than trying to adapt their worldview based on the truth which, as anyone literate and educated does not need reminding, does not have a good historical precedent.

Sure, these groups do not represent the intellectual muscle behind the facts and figures involved on either side but it would be folly to suggest that they, and their diet versions, are not, regrettably, the main participants in the conversation – they’re definitely the loudest.

Unless we can get to a point where nuance, circumstance, and detail are our watchwords when discussing sensitive political issues – including and especially discrimination – then the pay gap conversation, and those like it, is not worth having.

Much like religious fundamentalists sitting down to discuss theology, each side have made up their minds privately and have faith, rather than conviction, in their arguments, well before a single chair has been pulled back or word spoken. It is a debate being held purely rhetorically and is, to quote the man whom nothing escapes, “full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”, and we know what that implies.


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Alan Grant 2 Articles
Alan is an Edinburgh-based writer with an interest in popular culture, lifestyle, media, politics, and humour and an abhorrence of cliche.

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