The Labour government is obviously committed to doing something about the wage-gap between men and women – they’ve released a study. This study compares the wages in male dominated industries, such a building and painting, with wages in female dominated areas, like hairdressers and caregivers. This research does show that wages in male dominated industries and female dominated industries tend to have similar start rates, but after five years workers in male dominated industries earn over 45% more. However, the conclusion the Minister of Women’s Affairs comes to is ridiculous:
I have a theory that if women knew more about the potential earnings and career opportunities in some of these trades more traditionally occupied by men, their choices might be different. We quickly realised however that there was a dearth of information about what young people earn in different trades and occupations. So the Ministry commissioned a piece of research on ‘Wages & Training Costs in Male- and Female-dominated Trade-related Occupations’ and I thought this was a good opportunity to release the findings, because I think they are relevant to any young woman making decisions about her career, something that has always been a priority for the YWCA.
If only women had realised there was a wage gape earlier sooner then we would have solved it long ago!
There are some structural reasons women don’t go into male dominated industries. It’s not like girls and boys emerge fully formed at 18 to decide what to do with their life. My all-girls school did not have a wood-work department or a metal-work department – there was nowhere within the school was there anywhere where you could learn these sorts of skills.
Being the only women in a male dominated situation is often an extremely unpleasant experience. One of the way men have continued to dominate the male dominated trades is to act in a hostile way to any woman who enters. I haven’t personally organised in male dominated trades, but I know women who have, and women who know the female apprentices. Not everyone has a hard time of it – not every male-dominated worksite has a misogynist atmosphere, but enough do that it’s not easy – and for many women the risk may not be worth the pay-out.
Knowledge is the last problem that needs to be solved. But even asking the question “why aren’t more women painters?” ignores the more pressing question “why aren’t caregivers paid more?” If we’re going to look at the wage-gap we have to look at the low-wages.
For the government to tut-tut about women only being 8% of the modern apprentices is hypocritical. When they set up the modern apprenticeship scheme it didn’t cover hair-dressing, or any other traditional female trade. They could have included female trades in modern apprenticeships, but they didn’t – that’s the reason this scheme is male dominated.
But the bit about that speech that most enraged me is that they studied caregivers. The government is probably the funder for at least 80% of caregivers employed in this country. If they wanted to do something about the wage gap, then getting pay-equity for caregivers would actually be a really good start.
The wage-gap is complicated, I’m aware that I’ve only covered a few of the many ways in which sexism, misogyny, and capitalism work together to screw women over, but I’m fairly sure I’ve got a better grasp on it than Lianne Dalziel does.
Note on comments: I’d like the comments to focus on the reasons we don’t have pay-equity and how to achieve it.