Open letter to Michael White

// 20 August 2010


A new study by the Chartered Management Institute demonstrates at the present progress of gender pay gap, women will not achieve gender pay equality for another 57 years. Women are earning on average about 79 – 85% of what men earn. Michael White comments of the Equal Pay at the Guardian blog that he’s not sure how he is supposed to feel. While there is progress from when the Equal Pay Act was first put in place, he feels that women now have the choice to either work full time, or job share and have a choice whether to have a family or not. Mainly he doesn’t recognize how this is a sexist issue.

Where Michael first fails in his assumption is that he sees the dilemma as linear where it’s simply about making choices between family and work. He doesn’t recognize that we live in a world where a hard worker is defined as someone who works more than your average 37.5 hours a week. We live in a world where ¾ of the houses have dependents at home (whether they are children, elderly aging parents, or ill and sick loved ones). The economy is structured that most households require two incomes to support the family. Exactly where must the sacrifice be to ensure the dependents are taken care of come from?

Michael says that women can choose to use child minders. He forgets that child minders can take a significant portion of a couple’s salary. A parent who stays at home can save the family over £25,000 a year on expenses taking care of dependents combining skills as a cook, a nanny, and a chauffeur. In some cases, a family would save more money having one parent stay at home rather than find work in the labour market. And the choice to stay at home often lies in the parent who earns less financially which in doubt enters the gender question. It’s no wonder women earn 20% less than their male counterparts.

Equal pay would no longer be a gendered issue if society could divorce dependent care giving with earning potential. Michael says that there are more examples of job sharers or people working part time. However as cited in the Guardian, the gender pay gap can be as large as 35% in part time jobs, which only demonstrates that society punishes people who choose to balance family with their work.

Michael questions, how can it be sexism if women don’t have to have children? They can choose to be childless if their work is important to them. However if you look at the recent US supreme court justices, all the women who have gained these positions don’t have any children of their own while the men in the same position each on average have between 2-3 children each. Carly Fiorina, the past president of the computer giant Hewlett-Packard has no children of her own.

So in a sense Michael is right in the work/life balance equation. For women to choose to be successful, they erase the life balance and make it entirely work.

But if you want to go in a strictly economic sense, there have been studies that if men’s wages were reduced to the same level of women, there would be a greater efficiency of allocation of talent to financial compensation which could increase the national GDP as much as 6%! That would more than enough to pay for childcare in the country.

Comments From You

Horry // Posted 20 August 2010 at 6:05 pm

I very much agree with your basic argument! Although I would question the line about how “A parent who stays at home can save the family over £25,000 a year on expenses taking care of dependents combining skills as a cook, a nanny, and a chauffeur”. Both I and my partner work full time and have two children under three. We don’t have a nanny, a cook or a chauffeur. Our house is therefore messy, our meals less than perfect, our nursery fees a constant struggle, but more than this isn’t a necessity and as a family I think we are okay. So I would be careful about what you position as the necessities of maintaining family life, especially when the pressure falls on women – just don’t inadvertently reinforce the weight of responsibilities!

coldharbour // Posted 20 August 2010 at 7:10 pm

Would be interested to know what Mr. White earns, I’m sure he’s not scrimping when he’s on his 2hr lunch break in Islington.

polly // Posted 20 August 2010 at 9:04 pm

Oh FFS. Does Michael White not realise where babies come from, you need a sperm and an ovum and….

All children need sperm to make them, the provider of which is often also an actively involved parent. Sometimes even caring for the child!

Mr White also ignores the fact that women who have no children still earn less than men, AND are vilified at work.

Actually FWIW, I would agree that equal pay isn’t the main issue for feminism. Poverty is the issue. I don’t really care that much to be honest if a male banker earns £20million a year while a female one only earns £15 million. But I do care about poverty. What does the cleaner in the bank earn?

Schnee // Posted 20 August 2010 at 9:10 pm

This is a really important debate, and I hope it gets well aired. The topic of the Gender Wage Gap always hits this rock of how having children impacts the figures on one side of the gap – the female side.

As Josephine points out here, men choose to have children too, but somehow it doesn’t necessarily adversely affect their promotion or earnings potential.

On the other hand, we do know that men who support gender equality by either challenging sexist behaviours or refusing to engage in them, do suffer financially and in terms of promotions in the workplace.

Nor is the situation helped by the Palinesque crew who make it to the top in the same way that many men do, by trampling over women and flaunting their privilege, and then plant their flag and declare, ‘Look, I did it, so anyone can! You’re just not good enough!’

The argument that women choose to take time out to have children and to raise them, only explains part of the wage gap, and it certainly doesn’t excuse it. We know from previous studies highlighted on this website, that women start off disadvantaged in many professions, for example the financial sector.

In jobs where women are forced to accept low pay for drudgery, and men do the same level of jobs, ‘men’s jobs’ still attract a higher wage and when women try to challenge this on the grounds of equal pay for equal work, they are made to feel as though it is they who are bringing the economy to its knees.

And you could argue that within a household, the couple sacrifices one salary so that the children will receive the best possible care, but the fact is, no-one is benefited by couples staying together when a relationship has run its course and after a breakup, the one who has provided the childcare is disadvantaged when they try to return to the workforce, having lost years of earnings potential and promotions.

There have to be solutions to this, which we can find through open exchange of ideas, but there has to be a genuine commitment to gender equity from those in power.

sally // Posted 21 August 2010 at 2:12 pm

I think the problem is that society is set up to produce capital, not to provide the needs of life to our selfs and our children. I’m a single mother and i want to raise my son. I don’t see the point of paying someone else to raise him, i’m his mother. To do this i am unable to work in a regular job as i cannot take him with me, so am therefore dependent on benefits. Or a man. I don’t really want either but that’s pretty much the choice society gives woman at the moment.

Katy // Posted 22 August 2010 at 2:33 am

Well said sally.

The issue that bothers me is that two people get paid differently in the same job. Both have no kids, both as clever and confident. But one is paid less, because of the way she was born (a woman.)

I’ve never worked, still at uni and parents fund me, so I don’t know about unequal pay except it’s behind closed doors. And that it’s probably an estimation of what someone ‘deserves’ for hard work. A woman is deemed by most employers to deserve less than a man.

Maybe people still assume men have families to look after – the reality is, it’s women who are single (fair play we don’t have to depend on men) who have to breadwin. The husband probably shifted off with a younger woman. So the woman is left with his kids to bring up while the single man next to her is paid 30% more because he swings his willy a bit.

To me unequal pay is a bigger feminist issue than female poverty, because it causes women to be more likely to suffer poverty.

Think about it, feminism hasn’t really left the ground if women are paid 70% of what men get paid.

Troon // Posted 22 August 2010 at 11:43 am

Lovely response to Michael White’s. I’m not denying the effects of childcare on a career, but surely one set of Equal Pay figures, those on hourly pay for same or equivalent jobs which the Act was set up to deal with, shouldn’t reflect this so much, yet a huge gap exists even there.

I can’t quantify, but please let’s not miss how much of the gap is due to old-fashioned vicious discrimination. This year my university commissioned a survey of some graduate employers so we could best understand how to write references for our students. The results showed a strong assumption that women would work harder and learn faster, but also be less forceful and independent in their managerial style. So get employed but then not promoted. Seem in any way congruent with the global stats?

I know this piece was in response to Michael White’s ramblings, but really think outright and implicit discrimination shouldn’t be just pushed aside, both because they are very significant, and because the Act should actually cover this, but in practice doesn’t.

polly // Posted 22 August 2010 at 12:22 pm

“”To me unequal pay is a bigger feminist issue than female poverty, because it causes women to be more likely to suffer poverty. “”

I wouldn’t agree with this for several reasons.

First of all a lot of women are unwaged carers for some or all of their lives. This then has knock on effects as they age in societies such as the UK, where pensions are dependent on earnings – and it also makes it much harder for them to then get a decently paid job in any case if they do re enter the labour force.

Secondly, as I’ve already said there’s a gender pay gap of about 8% across the pay band where I work. But it doesn’t mean I’m in poverty, because I’m still on a reasonable wage.

Thirdly some women can’t enter the waged labour force because of long term illness or disability.

Fourthly, if we go outside the western world there are many women working for poverty wages. They may not be earning much less than equivalent males, but it still isn’t going to lift them out of poverty.

To expect waged labour alone to solve the problem of female poverty is unrealistic.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 22 August 2010 at 1:16 pm

Why does it have to be a dichotomy? I don’t think it’s fair if I earn $15 million pounds if my equivalent male neighbour earls $20 million pounds. So I do think it’s an issue of equal pay. But the issue of equal pay does play a role in hindering women’s economic sovereignty. Poverty is a key issue as well.

What I”d like to see is a clearer defined line as to how much of the gender pay gap is due to family/life sacrifices and how much of it is due to discrimination. I wonder how social scientist could design a study like this?

polly // Posted 22 August 2010 at 1:43 pm

Well I should think it could be done quite simply by comparing the pay of women who don’t have children with that of men. There is some evidence of a ‘motherhood penalty’.

“What is the wage penalty for working mothers when compared to women without children?

Apparently it is a big one.

While study after study focuses on the gender gap in wages, the pay gap between mothers and childless women is actually bigger than the pay gap between women and men, according to sociologist Shelley Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik. Their study, Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty? received the 2008 Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research at the World at Work conference this week in Seattle.

Using fake resumes for two equally qualified candidates–one childless, one a mom—the researchers found that the mother was 100% less likely to be hired when she applied for a position. Mothers were consistently ranked as less competent and less committed than non-moms. “They were also offered $11,000 a year less pay, on average, than an equally qualified childless candidate,” Correll says in the author interview that accompanies the award.

And what about men? Fathers got higher ratings than non-dads.”

But this is contradicted by the study I quoted above which says women who don’t have children are “vilified”

And women without children still earn less than men.

“Women with children suffer the worst loss of earnings. But even those without children can expect to earn a quarter of a million pounds less than men during the course of their life”

Conclusion: whichever way you look at this, you lose (if you’re a woman).

sam // Posted 22 August 2010 at 2:19 pm

I know this comment will not be included but i do not think the wage gap is purely down to sexism and nothing else. Unlike many people I do not just assume everything is down to sexism I actually do my own research instead of agreeing with every statistic given by a feminist. One Minuit it is 75% of what a man earns the next it is 70, 90,95…

I would recommend reading some books from warren Farrell or doing some research on him. It is very interesting, eye opening stuff.

Judith // Posted 22 August 2010 at 4:20 pm

I am so tired of all these stupid, ignorant, sexist articles written by men who cannot see beyond their own privilege and sense of entitlement. They literally do not know what they’re talking or writing about.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 22 August 2010 at 5:30 pm

@ Josephine Tsui: the research you are looking for is here and done by the excellent feminist scholar Sylvia Walby:

The only concern I would raise here is that by positing a division between unequal pay caused by a career gap or other family responsibilities and that caused by ‘discrimination’, you suggest that the former isn’t discrimination. It is.

Katy // Posted 22 August 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thanks polly I don’t think belittling one serious issue because there’s poverty is necessary.  Like the OP said, why the dichotomy? Unless we’re trying to downplay or derail? 

I think the huge gap in unequal pay hits the core of feminism, as women arent as valued as a man and their independence isn’t financially rewarded as a mans is. whereas poverty is a feminist issue but lots of men suffer from it also.  I wouldn’t dream of arguing unequal pay takes away the need to look at female poverty. Rather, that unequal pay is a huge feminist issue.

I don’t think we should be laughing at the woman earning a million a year who cries about the gender wage gap. Because she’s being discriminated against, if a man doing the same thing gets 1.5 million.  

Poverty doesn’t reflect dicscrimination as much as unequal pay, which is a direct result of gender discrimination. I see lots of men on the streets. Poverty is a shitty affair whoever it effects.  Applying feminism to poverty is a  a cold-hearted way of looking at the poorest, both men and women. However you try to justify it, it’s not tactful to highlight feminism for something that harms lots of men as well.      

It’s tactful and justified to put the spotlight on unequal pay which might bring about female poverty. 

Josephine Tsui // Posted 22 August 2010 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for the links everyone!

You’re right that balancing work/life is also a feminist issue as well as poverty. Especially if women get paid less if they have children versus men who get paid more!

Society rarely thinks of mothers as project managers.

I also think men are losing out without a work/life balance. Always having to be the breadwinner can be exhausting. They lose out from getting to know their family. I love how the new image of fathers are evolving.

Sheila // Posted 23 August 2010 at 1:21 pm

How can you say, “So in a sense Michael is right in the work/life balance equation. For women to choose to be successful, they erase the life balance and make it entirely work.”? What an odd thing to say. First of all, work is not a choice for many women (and many men). If they don’t want to live in poverty, they work. Not all work is successful, but it can erode time spent at home. Not all time spent at home is successful either for that matter, and I can think of women who stay at home as “successful” or “unsuccessful” depending on the criteria they apply to themselves – like home-making, child-rearing, charity work, caring etc. But the idea is that women work because they want success or fulfillment or soemthing else rather than recognising the real issue which is women (and men) work for money. You really do seem hell bent on doing the classic misogynist thing of saying that a woman can’t be successful and have a family.

Katy – it isn’t just single women who have to work for a living. It can apply to women in relationships only. Think how sexist that remark is by just turning round the gender – “it’s men who are single who have to bread win”.

Sally, I pay for a nanny. But the nanny doesn’t raise my children. I do. They have my values. I plan their clothes, their meals, their activities, their homework, their bedtimes, their welfare. They are all at school between 8.30 and 5pm for 33 weeks of the year and very few people say they won’t send their children to school because that would be someone else raising the children. I’m at home by 6pm wherever feasible and have no social life away from them during my time with them. I think women should stop beating each other up over this sanctimonious crap over who raises a child where a mother is stay at home or works outside the home. Don’t you see how damaging it is? Stay at home if you want to but stop beating up women who pay taxes to pay you the benefits to facilitate you to do so.

Horry, average nanny costs in London are about 400 per week in net wages. That equates to a cost on nanny care alone of over 30,000 of a person’s net wage.

Josephine, you say “always having to be the breadwinner [for men] can be exhausting. they lose out from getting to know their family”. I dispute this and again think you are falling into a sexist trap where working mothers are being blamed and it is suggested that they don’t know their own families. Many working mothers are breadwinners, sole breadwinners or joint breadwinners. They wouldn’t feel they don’t know their families.

Balancing work and home is difficult. I find it odd when people call it work/life – like nothing you do in work time can constitute part of your real life. There are still pay gaps and an underappreciation of skills seen as more typically feminine such as HR and project management skills.

amx. // Posted 23 August 2010 at 1:31 pm

Warren Farrell is an idiot, he’s not a respected academic, he’s a Jerry Springer dial-a-quote. His name has been mentioned on the f-word a few times by MRA’s in support of whatever nonsense. Sam ‘doing your own research’ does not consist of googling idiots and repeating them parrot style.

sam // Posted 23 August 2010 at 4:39 pm

anx i actually did not just Google his name. I am just not one of those people who automatically believe every statistic thrown at them. I did a lot of research on him and his work and his is nothing like jerry Springer (who I hate). He was actually a feminist himself and was recognized as one. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 23 August 2010 at 4:54 pm

@Sam, Apologies. I should have actually not posted anx’ comment.

@Anx, please stay polite. Hate messages to other commenters are not warranted.

Note to everyone, please keep the angry messages to yourself and stay on topic with regards to the debate!

That being said,

@Sheila. I still stand by both my comments. I am not giving working mothers a heavier burden as I do recognize that many working mothers are terrific at being there for their family and working full time. In fact I wish those skills were recognize more in society as talent instead of being mistaken as overworked and not appreciated.

That being said, to assume that men always gain and never lose is a false pretense. Men also lose a great deal with the current work/life balance arrangement and we’re not going to make women’s lives better without critically looking at how it affect men as well.

polly // Posted 23 August 2010 at 11:21 pm


What I said originally was this:

“Actually FWIW, I would agree that equal pay isn’t the main issue for feminism. Poverty is the issue. I don’t really care that much to be honest if a male banker earns £20million a year while a female one only earns £15 million. But I do care about poverty. What does the cleaner in the bank earn? ”

Which is – last time I checked -expressing an opinion in response to the topic under discussion, not ‘derailing’ ‘belittling’ or ‘creating a dichotomy’.

The emphasis on equal pay, rather than female poverty, is a classic failing of (liberal) feminism in my opinion. Only considering the effect of feminist ‘aims’ on a narrow group of privileged, western women. You might not agree with it, but it’s an opinion I’m entitled to express.

Like it or not, women are more likely to live in poverty. Poverty is a feminist issue even in the western world, and equal pay isn’t going to solve it.

etc etc etc

Sheila // Posted 24 August 2010 at 9:09 am


Totally agree with you. I’m a well paid executive. My own firm are exemplary on equal pay and flexible working, but many companies aren’t. I think this needs a bottom up rather than top down approach to pay. If low paid jobs for both sexes were equally valued and paid, this has a better chance of trickling up as people and society progressed than the trickle down theory. The converse hasn’t happened. Instead we’ve seen highly paid women being villified for “becoming men” and having testosterone or for crushing other women (not to mention men) on the way up. In previous jobs of course I was annoyed I was paid less than men in comparable positions. But that’s not the same as tackling poverty, which is a feminist issue because poverty disporportionately affects women. However, I disagree with you that equal pay is irrelevant. Equal pay at all levels is important to help with poverty. If cleaners and child-care assistants had equal pay with comparable typical male jobs, the roles and worth would be perceived differently.

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