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Opinion: 'It's easy to attack RTÉ but the pay gap is an issue where you work too'

All I’m asking for is what men have always had: to have children and still get a fair wage, writes Lorraine Courtney.

Lorraine Courtney Freelance journalist

IT’S 2017 AND still, on average, women don’t earn as much as men. Last week’s BBC salary revelations exposed the gender pay gap among its top stars. As stats go, they are fierce worrying and raise a lot of questions.

The top seven earners in the BBC’s list of 96 best-paid stars were all male, and women only made up a third of the names. The highest paid woman, Claudia Winkleman, earned between £450,000 and £500,000, while the best paid man, Chris Evans, made between £2.2m and £2.25m.

Naysayers have always said the gender pay gap is entirely a result of women choosing different professions, or that it doesn’t exist at all. These BBC figures prove that it does exist and that actually it’s not always because women choose lower paying jobs. The public is quite rightly asking: Why is this happening? 

The Irish pay gap

The pay gap controversy has filtered through to Ireland and to RTÉ. The Sunday Independent revealed this weekend that Sharon Ní Bheoláin earns €60,000-€80,000 less than her co-anchor Bryan Dobson. 

RTÉ has said it will conduct a review of “role and gender equality” across the organisation following this criticism of its salary structure. 

It is easy to attack the BBC and RTÉ. They run on taxpayer money, with big recognisable names at their helm, and it is fascinating to discover the salaries of the people we watch and listen to daily.

But they are not the only organisations with a gender pay problem. It’s most likely an issue where you work too. 

Gender pay gap statistics 

According to the latest Eurostat statistics, the average gender pay gap in Ireland is 16%. Ireland is ranked 6th overall in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Report (the UK is at number 20, the US at 44). The PwC Index has predicted that Ireland will close its pay gap by 2032.

However, as Duncan Inverarity of A&L Goodbody pointed out in a column for Fora.ie, “despite Ireland’s fairly favourable placing, its gender pay gap has actually been increasing in recent years”. It is 6.5% greater than it was in 2012.

Because women earn less than men during their working years, when they end up retiring they tend to receive less pension pay than their male counterparts.

What causes the gap?

There are multiple interrelated causes for the gender pay gap: direct discrimination, with women paid less than men for the same work, the tendency for higher-paid professions to be dominated by men, a phenomenon which is both fuelled and perpetuated by traditional gender roles and stereotypes and the fact that women do the majority of the housework and caring.

I’m uncomfortable with the narrative that focuses on what women need to do in order to level up their pay to men’s. There’s little emphasis put on companies to track and disclose how they’re paying men and women.

Instead, women are asked to lean in, negotiate, ask for more, teach their daughters to negotiate and dare early. I’ve had enough of that kind of talk.

The government’s role in narrowing the gap

We need to tackle working culture, childcare costs (no please don’t mention the measly €20 a week that will be handed to us from September) and unconscious discrimination, all of which contribute to women taking low-paid jobs, taking time out of their careers for caring, and being passed over for promotion in favour of male colleagues.

Inverarity refers to the government’s need for a “greater focus on cancelling out the ‘motherhood penalty’ by supporting women in their return to the workplace through more-affordable childcare and expanding the concept of shared parental leave, as well as encouraging employers to facilitate more flexible working arrangements”.

Mandatory gender pay gap reporting has been identified at an international level as the next step towards bridging the gap sooner rather than later. I say, publish everyone’s pay.

All I’m asking for is what men have always had: the freedom to be a woman, to have children and still get a fair wage.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist and columnist.

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About the author:

Lorraine Courtney  / Freelance journalist

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