Mind The (Pay) Gap: We’re Earning 14 Percent Less Than Men. Here’s What You Can Do About It

Women in Ireland are paid less than their male counterparts for the same jobs. STELLAR looks at what's happening, and what can be done about it.

Jennifer Lawrence

This week Jennifer Lawrence penned an article for Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny, expressing her anger at being paid less than her male co-stars, revealing that she only noticed her pay packet was considerably smaller when emails from Sony were hacked last year.

“When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony,” writes Jennifer. “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”

It’s a fact that in Ireland, women earn an average of 14.4 percent less than men.

But it’s not just happening in Hollywood. It’s a fact that in Ireland, women earn an average of 14.4 percent less than men. To put that into context, when we go back to work in January each year, we essentially work for free right up to mid March, while the guys – doing the same work, but with added testosterone – are getting paid all along. Rage, right?

It’s not a feminist conspiracy, it’s happening right now, but with the majority of private companies keeping pay grades private (how many times have you had to sign a contract stating that you wouldn’t disclose your salary?), it can be hard to figure out what’s what.

What’s even tougher can be figuring out why. While the figures are definitely skewed by the fact that there are more women in ‘caring’ – read, lower paid – professions, and a higher number of men working in more highly paid ‘city’ jobs, the gender pay gap can still be felt at ground level, by ordinary women working in what’d be perceived to be very liberal, fair jobs.

Saoirse works in advertising, and started a new job six months ago on contract. Given the nature of her work, she was asked what her daily rate was. “I didn’t know what to say,” she confesses. “I knew that they didn’t have a huge amount of money and I didn’t want to go overboard… So I said €120, which is actually really low for what I do and the amount of experience I have.”

They gave her rate the nod and she started work, but a few weeks in, she realised that a co-worker, whose job description is the same as hers and who started at the same time, is being paid €30 per day more than she is.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily because he’s a man,” she says. “My boss, and her boss, they’re all female anyway.” Instead, Saoirse turns the finger of blame inwards, suggesting that she is getting paid less because of her own reluctance to ask for more. Women’s unwillingness to value themselves as employees – often mistaken for bragging or vanity – is a big player in the gender pay gap; statistically speaking, men are a lot more likely to ask for promotions, for example, than women.

When I think back to the day I was asked what my rate was… I should have gone higher. I knew at the time that I was going in low.

However – and here’s where we’re all to blame – men who ask for promotions are also viewed very differently to women who do the same. While the men are considered strong go-getters, the women are seen as tough and cold, as if asking for a higher wage is somehow synonymous with abandoning all of our important, feminine traits.

“When I think back to the day I was asked what my rate was… I should have gone higher. I knew at the time that I was going in low.” It’s a mistake that, she says, her co-worker did not make. “He must have gone higher. It’s not unusual to have different rates based on skills and experience, but he’s not better than me at his job. But he clearly thinks he’s deadly! I wish I had his self-belief.”

The very existence of a pay gap between genders is made all the more unbelievable by the fact that women outperform men in schools and universities, which blows any kind of “pay is given on merit” argument right out of the water – it’s a cut and dried gender issue.

However, recent research by the Office of National Statistics in the UK suggests that, in their 20s at least, women actually earn more than men – it’s only in their 30s, when women begin having children, that the barometer begins to slide towards men, and away from mothers.

So what can we do? For starters, transparency around pay would go a long way towards narrowing the gap – who could stand behind a workforce where men were clearly paid more than women in equal positions?

Equal paternity leave would also help; when women take maternity leave, they’re essentially setting themselves behind their male counterparts, making a choice between children and career. In-office childcare is another factor that has been shown, in Scandinavian countries, to increase the likelihood of mothers remaining in the workforce.

Day to day? We owe it to ourselves to recognise how much we value our work, taking into account the years we’ve spent grafting to get here – and when we’re given the opportunity to ask for more, we need to take it. After all, what would our male counterpart do?