Feminists don't understand work | HBR Talk 69https://youtu.be/pR7vRBPDCYo

Remember when the pay gap argument was supposedly about equal pay for equal work? Feminist researchers examined the overall earnings of the American worker, compared men’s earnings to women’s, and found that women earned an average of about 22% less than men. Ignoring the generalized nature of the comparison, media and politicians began promoting the idea that women are paid 78¢, give or take a few, for every $1.00 a man is paid for the same work.

This, of course, led to calls for evaluation and reform. More feminist researchers examined the overall earnings of the American worker, compared men’s earnings to women’s, and confirmed that there was, indeed, a gap. 

The CONSAD Research Corporation was contracted by the US Department of Labor to do a more in-depth evaluation, in order to better understand the gap and what needed to be done about it. Meanwhile, feminists continued to use the narrative on it as part of their evidence supporting a belief in an institutionalized, patriarchal system under which women are oppressed. They called for changes in law and policy, including a proposed law that would give the state significant control over compensation for employment in the private sector. 

The equal pay act already outlawed gender-and-race-based pay discrimination. The proposed Paycheck Fairness act would have dictated that different jobs which were deemed to be similar by whatever controlling authority the law would set up must involve the same compensation. This would open businesses up to lawsuits by employees over pay disparity between positions in different departments, so that the employer would have to provide evidence that there were differences in the positions that justify any differences in compensation.  

The main argument given in favor of this is that if 2 different jobs involve the same level of labor, time investment, and skill requirement, both employees should receive the same compensation. Proponents of the law fail to take into consideration the reason jobs exist - the value of the work to the employer. 

There are numerous factors that can contribute to that value, including profitability, importance to company operations, worker qualifications, and even public interest in the job itself. The push for government intervention raises the question of whether we want government officials trying to evaluate every characteristic of every job and every worker in an effort to administer wage controls. Does that not sound like a bureaucratic nightmare?

The CONSAD report came out in 2009 and discredited the main argument in favor of the Paycheck fairness act: U.S. women are not actually paid less than men for the same work. According to CONSAD, “Although additional research in this area is clearly needed, this study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

According to the report’s conclusion, this includes, “...differences in decisions made by women and men in balancing their work, personal, and family lives. These factors include their human capital development, their work experience, the occupations and industries in which they work, and interruptions in their careers.”

The Paycheck Fairness bill stalled and eventually seemed to be abandoned, but feminists still carry a torch for it. After their “same work” argument was discredited, they came out with some new ones. One involves citation of the division of labor at home, a knee-jerk-response that has been tossed around for a couple of years. Another is the assertion that it’s not women’s choices that lead to their lower earnings, but that society values women’s choices less because they are women’s choices. 

Let’s look at these separately for a moment.

In response to being informed that women do not, in fact, do the same work in the workplace, feminists are offering up “yeah, but women do most of the housework and caregiving.” 

That may or may not be true, but what relevance does it have in a discussion about compensation for work done in the workplace or for the benefit of the employer? Are we really discussing whether merit pay that takes hours and days worked into consideration is discrimination against women?

What value does the work you do at home to support your lifestyle choices provide to your employer? Is this supposed to balance out some kind of floating social merit on which your employer is expected to base your compensation? 

The lifestyle-merit argument doesn’t contribute anything to a discussion on workplace compensation, and shouldn’t be accepted as an argument that supports identifying sexism as a cause in the so-called pay gap. Your employer doesn’t owe you compensation for having babies and cleaning your house. 

What about the assertion that women’s choices are valued less because they’re made by women?

Well, what choices are we talking about? If this is separate from the lifestyle-merit argument, then the discussion isn’t about work at home, as that is already covered. 

Recent conversation with a staunch male feminist gave me some answers. This new tack comes from a study that crowdsourced its data set from surveys done on a hiring site called glassdoor.com. The report describes the site’s collection method thus: 

“Glassdoor collects data via a decentralized “crowd-sourcing” platform, using a process known as a “give to get” model... When employees encounter Glassdoor, they are given a limited preview of the site’s full content. To gain complete access, users are encouraged to contribute to the Glassdoor community by submitting an anonymous salary, company review, interview review, benefits review or company photo. In this way,  users “give” content to the online community to “get” access to job information provided by others. Aside from this request that users contribute content, use of Glassdoor’s online jobs marketplace is completely free to users.”

Right away this leads to the issue of whether the data can be considered accurate, as a number of factors can contribute to dishonest or mistaken answers. This also means that the data set is being evaluated based on self-assessment regarding factors that contribute to pay scale, such as one’s qualifications. 

Another issue is the set itself. According to the report, 

“An important limitation of Glassdoor data is to note that it is a sample from online employees, which is not necessarily representative of the overall labor market in the countries we examine… Thus, we can only make valid statistical  inferences about online employees, not necessarily offline workers.”

Workers who don’t search for jobs online would be underrepresented. The report points out that this is the case with low-income workers. They also restricted their sample to full-time workers, a move which would eliminate a lot of other low-income jobs, particularly those in the retail and food-service industries, even if workers do search for those positions online. 

Based on reporting on this large but limited crowdsourced data set, two main things are being asserted by pay gap myth proponents. One is that sexist attitudes lead to pay differences between jobs primarily done by men and jobs primarily done by women. That, of course, ignores every factor that contributes to the employer-employee agreement on pay. 

The other is that where the gap isn’t eliminated between men and women of close age, at the same experience level, working the same hours, doing the same job, at the same company, for the same number of years, the only factor left to consider must be sexist attitudes that devalue work women do simply because women are the ones doing it. That follows feminists’ tendency to slap the sexism label on everything that cannot be explained by the most obvious factors. Proponents of this study talk as if every possible factor except sexism had been considered.

In reality, the study only controlled for obvious details, such as age, education, experience, industry and occupation, and company size. This reduced the alleged gap to 8% for base pay. When they controlled for gender differences in occupation within different companies, and sorted job titles into roughly 2000 occupational categories based on similarity, the gap was reduced to 5.4%. It is being argued that this 5.4% is a result of women’s work being undervalued. 

This conclusion is based on a failure to consider other potentially confounding factors, such as employee negotiation of pay, quality, quantity, and timing within job performance, cooperation with coworkers, cooperation with the employer, and the benefit the employer derives from the employee’s work. The report also does not say whether “education” refers to job-specific education, or simply having a degree. There is significant difference between a job-related degree and an unrelated one. Also buried in the report is the admission that the remaining 5.4% could be due to “unobserved worker characteristics,” and that sexism is only a possible cause, not a confirmed one.

The report then goes on to argue that the gender-differences in choices which account for the vast majority of the gap are not voluntary because people are slaves to social and gender norms. These norms are referred to as “occupation and industry sorting of men and women into different jobs and industries.”

The argument here is that the combination of employer and job candidate characteristics and choices that determine which position an employee will hold, with which company, under what conditions, and at what compensation level, are all affected by sexism toward women, wherein the involved choices are less “valued” if women make them.

Between their various arguments on this topic, one could conclude that proponents of the pay gap myth do not understand business and employment. 

Nobody’s choices are valued. Nobody walks into a job having an inherent value just for being there. You have to bring something to the job, like skill, diligence, work ethic, experience… you’re there to benefit the employer. 

Society doesn’t decide the value of your job. The financial value of your work is a measure of what it’s worth to your employer to have a person perform the functions of the job, and what it takes to persuade you to do that job. Those functions are the primary reason the job exists! It wasn’t created for the sake of your income or to reward you for your merits. It was created because your employer had a need.

Employers do not exist to create jobs. Most of them exist to make money, usually based on the creation, movement, marketing, or sale of goods or services. A net profit of a dollar a week from an employee’s work is the same dollar regardless of the employee’s immutable characteristics. It is only changed by other factors, like whether the employer has to gross more to get that net dollar from your work than from another employee’s work, or whether your net is less consistent, or whether managing your work presents the employer with more scheduling or personnel challenges. Your sex doesn’t factor directly into any of that. 

What is the bottom line here?

Feminists presume all choices equally valuable from the outset, only to be sorted out by gender later on. They consider equal outcomes to be owed on that basis. The vague arguments that victim cultists use to promote their pay gap myth break down under practical application. If your resume lists a degree in interdisciplinary studies, and your competitor’s resume lists a degree in information technology, sexism is not the reason he gets hired as an IT specialist, and you get shuffled off into human resources. If your hours of availability exclude the one day each week that stock delivery is done at your store, and your coworker can always be there that day, sexism is not the reason he gets promoted to the assistant management position responsible for receiving that delivery, and you don’t. Not all choices are equal, and recognizing that is not sex discrimination. The fact is not that choices are being devalued on the basis of sexist attitudes when they’re made by women, but that as the CONSAD report told us and Glassdoor unwittingly confirmed, for a variety of reasons, women are making less lucrative career choices. Once again, this is not evidence of unequal pay for equal work, but that the work itself is unequal and the pattern of compensation matches. It is not the responsibility of employers to make make up for the financial end of that by compensating based on politics instead of productivity. Maybe if more feminists majored in business economics instead of gender studies, we wouldn’t have to tell them that.



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