An end to “women’s work”?!
"Chances are if you’re in a female dominated industry your tasks will be described through passive words like ‘assist with’, ‘recommend’, or ‘contribute to’."
Last Sunday, that font of all truth, wit and erudition, The Daily Telegraph, published an article entitled: ‘New rules ban gender in job titles under a proposal by Standards Australia.’ They explained that under the proposal firemen will be called firefighters and secretaries will become office managers. To demonstrate how silly this is they included a picture of male firefighters. See! Firemen!
What next? Their target audience was presumably meant to gasp. Women will become wimmin, blackboards will be chalkboards, and former Chief Justice Spigelman will be forced to change his name to Chief Justice Spigelperson. And then homosexuals will be allowed to marry and then dogs will marry sheep and CHAOS WILL REIGN OVER ALL HUMANITY.
As a feminazi, I had quite the contrary emotional response. Oooh! I gushed. Imagine a world where women and men in non-traditional vocations were not made to feel invisible by gender-specific job titles. Imagine a world where women were not told that the words ‘he’ or ‘man’ actually refers to them in spite of what it sounds like. Perhaps that beige-sounding organization, Standards Australia, has been infiltrated by a crack squadron of post-structuralist feminists wielding the power to ban words in the interests of equality. Extraordinary!
I needed to know more. So I wrote to Standards Australia and asked them for a report. Imagine my surprise when I found not a report so much as a voluntary set of guidelines that in total devote around two lines to job titles. And that said nothing about secretaries being called office managers or firemen being called firefighters. Nothing was being banned, and job titles were barely discussed.
Could The Telegraph have been trying to discredit Standard Australia’s excellent recommendations on gender pay equity? Do Tabloids hate women? Or is it just that they lack basic reading and comprehension skills?
Leaving aside this set of rhetorical questions (to which the correct answer is ‘yes, all of the above’) let’s take a look at what Standards Australia were actually saying.
The recommendations start from the fact that women earn less than men. According to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency the gender pay gap is at 17.8%, the same as it was 25 years ago. This means, according to the National Centre for Social and Economic Modeling, that women will earn nearly one million dollars less than men over their lifetimes. It’s like a gender tax that women have to pay for the simple fact that they are women.
By now we know the reasons why. There’s the glass ceiling and the fact that a lack of adequate shared parental leave means that women have to choose between a career and family in a way that men NEVER do. There’s the fact that Australia is one of the most gender-segregated workforces in the Western world, where female dominated jobs are underpaid.
But the brilliance of the Standards Australia recommendations is that they focus on how women’s work is undervalued and they offer a way to redress this.
Think of your own job. Your pay would be influenced by a job evaluation procedure that states the type of skills needed and defines the ‘size’ (or responsibilities) of your task. Your work is then graded and paid accordingly.
The problem is that this procedure is wildly arbitrary and myopic with certain skills being under-described and under-valued in female-dominated jobs. For instance, you can bet that if your work involves emotional intelligence, dealing with irate or irrational people, or managing communication, this will not be considered when evaluating your job.
And then there’s the fact that certain skills when performed by women are undervalued in comparison to men. Ever wondered why it is that coping with risk is seen as natural for nurses but rewarded for firefighters? Why do we reward male managers when they show empathy, but simply assume this of women? And isn’t it true that both repair technicians and customer service representatives engage in high-level problem solving? Dazzled by a heady mix of technical language and testosterone we reward the men and under-value the women.
Now think about your job description. Chances are if you’re in a female dominated industry your tasks will be described through passive words like ‘assist with’, ‘recommend’, or ‘contribute to’ giving the idea that you have less responsibility so require less pay. In male dominated positions, on the other hand, job descriptions are overwhelmingly active. Unlike women, men ‘implement’ and ‘decide’. They ‘organise’ and they ‘lead.’
The guidelines show that it’s not just in supporting domestic relations of care that women find their work unpaid and invisible. We also tend to do the same work in our professional lives with no financial reward. Skills are measured and valued according to public male standards. Work traditionally associated with the feminine domestic realm are assumed to be voluntary and selfless. Women spend too much of their lives performing labours of love, not money.
I wish Standards Australia had the power to ban gender-specific terms. But the Telegraph’s feminist utopian vision is yet to come. Instead, we have an excellent set of guidelines designed to reduce gender bias and which could help to give women a much overdue pay rise.