Lucy Mangan

“Every little helps when it comes to achieving equal pay” Lucy Mangan on the gender pay gap

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Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan tackles the deep-seated discrimination at the heart of the gender pay gap

Well. This is a bit of a facer. Let’s go through it together.

New research, from economists at Cornell University in the US, suggests that one of the main reasons the gender pay gap persists is that when women move into a field formerly dominated by men, pay rates simply… fall. The same work literally becomes valued differently because women are now doing it. For example, according to census data, between 1950 and 2000 in America, more women than men started working in summer camps, or as ticket agents, housekeepers and designers. During that time, the average pay in each field fell by between 21% and 57% as a result.

Over here in Blighty, a moment’s thought will add further examples to the list. Think of clerks. In the days of Dickens, this was a weighty, well-paid job for men. Fast forward a few decades and despite it now being a much more difficult job than scratching numbers in ledgers, it’s done by women, is now called secretarial work and will rarely be enough to raise a family on in 2016.

And the same thing also happens in reverse. Women used to dominate gynaecology, computer programming and cookery. When men moved into those areas of endeavour en masse – surprise! A massive upswing in prestige and pay (and, in the case of chefs, size of hat) for them all.

In case these statistics and numbers are hurting your soft lady brains, let’s put it more simply: work done by women pays less because women do it. Or to put it even more simply: nnnygggghghhgh!

The Cornell researchers suggest that around 38% of the wage gap can be put down to this deep, deep-seated discrimination. So what should we do in order to break this awful Catch-22?

First of all, I think we should use it to remind ourselves of a truth we often forget in our eternal willingness to shoulder burdens other than our own: that it (or at least about 40% of it) really is not Us – it really is Them. Gender bias is real, pervasive, intangible and we need to be constantly vigilant about it. To remind ourselves that we are not being paranoid. We are being realistic.

The second thing is that it suggests no piece of the fight For equality is ever wasted. I used to be very impatient with feminist campaigns about ‘little’ things. I used to think that we needed to concentrate on the big things, like pay, like abortion rights, like rape conviction rates and so on. But I am beginning to see that it’s the little things – like who’s on a five-pound note, catcalls in the street, the expectation that tea will be made by the woman at the meeting, whether a tiny handful of tennis players at the top of their game get paid the same as another tiny handful of tennis players at the top of their game – that affect and maintain the context in which big things are able to happen. Challenging any of them makes it a little bit harder for the world to treat us all how it has treated us in the past.

Every time we do, we make greater things possible. And they feed back and make the smaller inequities impossible – and on it goes, a virtuous circle at last, where the world pays according to the work done, and not according to the prevalence of a penis in the field. I think that’s fair.

I take advantage of this brief window of optimism to renew my New Year’s resolutions. It is a much better time for it. It’s easier to eat less and move more. Another evening in with Netflix starts to feel like a waste of soft breezes and happy chat, so you start seeing neglected friends more. Plus, desperate unromantic that I am, I do nevertheless get inspired by the miracle of nature. I basically cannot get over daffodils. “Look at that!” I always want to shout when I see them bobbing their heads and cheering up the unlikeliest corners. “A bright yellow trumpety thing surrounded by giant, yellower petals! Amazing!” If they can do that, I reckon that I can start Pilates and master batch cooking. Onward, everyone! Onward and upward!

Photography: Ellis Parrinder, iStock

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