The gender pay gap is a hot topic both sides of the Atlantic right now, so it seemed an appropriate subject for my second post from New York. At its core the debate looks fundamentally the same in the US and in the UK, though the legal technicalities are different.
On the one hand, there is the issue of sex discrimination by employers, leading to unequal pay between men and women doing work of equal value or, in the words of the US legislation, performing "equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility" (The Equal Pay Act of 1963). On the other hand, there is the stubbornly persistent gender pay gap, which continues in both countries despite decades of legislation outlawing discrimination in pay.
The common issues are well illustrated by two posts that caught my eye this week, one from the US and one from the UK.
The first is by Stephanie R. Thomas, Director of the Equal Employment Advisory and Litigation Support Division of MCG, on the Compensation Café blog. She looks at the Paycheck Fairness Act, not yet signed into law, which is being promoted by the Obama administration as "a common-sense bill that will help ensure that men and women who do equal work receive the equal pay that they and their families deserve".
Among other issues, she cites a key criticism being made by opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act: that it is somehow based on a false assumption that pay disparities between men and women are predominantly the result of discrimination by employers, when in fact much of the remaining gap can be accounted for in other ways.
In an interesting post on his Flip Chart Fairy Tales blog, the anonymous UK HR blogger Rick, makes the same point:
[T]he factors that contribute to the gender pay gap are overwhelmingly social. Like just about every other society in the world, we expect women to take most of the responsibility for looking after children. Much of the gender pay gap is due to the conflict between the requirements of a corporate career and those of childcare.It seems to me that in this debate it is crucially important to distinguish between unequal pay resulting from discrimination by employers and that element of the remaining gender pay gap that results from wider social and historical factors concerning the roles played by men and women in society and the value that we as a society put on different kinds of work. Legal sanctions against errant employers are a valid way of addressing the former but surely not the latter.