Closing the wage gap (saw it on TV)

Last year we heard some great news about TV show revivals, the X-Files reboot one of the most exciting. The show centers on two FBI agents, Mulder and Scully, solving intractable mysteries and uncovering devious conspiracies. They form a partnership of equals, their qualities complementing each other perfectly.

Nice illusion, right?

Initially Scully was supposed to be something of a sidekick for Mulder – Anderson was even asked to stand a few feet behind Duchovny when filming scenes.

After the X-Files had been running a few years and Anderson having won a few awards for her performance, she managed to close the wage gap between her co-star Duchovny. She had become a feminist icon, both through her brilliant scientist character (a role not that often awarded to women), and through her resilient work for equal pay in the 90s.

A quarter of a century later, Anderson is offered half of what Duchovny for her role on the X-Files revival.

This is the reality most women live in. The situation is often not as dramatic as for Gillian Anderson, but as long as women are paid 80 cents for each euro paid to a man, which is the current wage gap both in Finland and in the US, we have not reached equality.

To illustrate the absurdity of the situation, Akava and Miltton organised a candid camera in a restaurant in Helsinki, charging women extra for their lunch. Why? Because a woman’s euro is not as valuable as a man’s.

The discussion about equal pay and equal opportunity has been going on for decades. Women are no longer a minority in the professional world. Moreover, in many countries women are outnumbering and outperforming men in universities. However, neither pay nor professional opportunities are anywhere near equal.

In Finland, a recently published research on the gender gap in CEO appointments and executive pay finally confirmed the much debated glass ceiling for women.

The research looked at 25,000 management team members in Sweden and compared a total of 85 qualities including education, intelligence, social capabilities, and career length. A 27 percent pay gap between men and women was found, and the vast majority of this discrepancy could not be explained by anything else but discrimination.

A typical argument used to dismiss the pay gap is that women are not actively seeking executive positions. However, a Finnish research project Dialogi 2015, which concentrated on women and leadership, shows this is not true. The results revealed that over 50 percent of the nearly 1,500 working-aged women surveyed aspired to reach an executive position. Over 70 percent were interested in a middle-management position.

Then why do women occupy so few of these positions? Women only account for around 20 percent of senior management positions in Finnish companies. The picture is even more grim for female CEOs. In 2013, a mere 5 percent of state owned and a dismal 0.8 percent of public companies had a female CEO .

Much of this is can be explained by unconcious biases leading many men to overestimate the completence of other men. For example, a McKinsey report found that men are often hired or promoted based on their potential, whereas for women it is based on experience and track record. Doesn’t really sound fair, does it?

Moreover, a study conducted in the University of Washington found that men rate their male peers higher without real grounds. Men consistently gave each other more credit than they awarded female classmates achieving same exam scores and GPA. The same bias could not be found among the women.

According to Dan Grunspan, the anthropologist leading the research, “for 18 years, these [young men] have been socialized to have this bias.” It would appear being male provides a boost in the eyes of other men.

It is little surprise that these biases are carried into the professional world. The important question is, what is now being done to improve the situation?

One answer is the rapidly growing demand for transparency. For example, 10 of the world’s leading companies published their workforce gender diversity figures as part of the UN Women’s first HeForShe Parity Report  in 2015. Furthermore, the CEOs of these companies have shown commitment to drive change from the top down.

In the US, President Obama is moving forward with implementing a rule that mandates companies with over 100 employees to report salary information based on the employees’ sex, age and job groups. The initiative is aimed at increasing awareness about the pay gap and improving the government’s ability to penalize companies that engage in discriminatory pay practices.

Here in Finland, companies employing over 30 people are obligated by law to compile an equality plan. By the beginning of 2017, the plan should be extended to include diversity in all forms, not merely gender diversity. This is a useful exercise for companies to do, as it forces them to critically evaluate processes and practices, possibly revealing distortions affected by unconscious bias.

Transparency coupled with clear standards and targets will lay the groundwork for true gender equality in the workplace.

You can only improve things you can measure. And you can only measure things you acknowledge.

Happy women’s day for all genders alike!


Noora Puro is a Communications Advisor with a soft spot for sustainability, human rights and diversity issues. And kittens, always kittens.

Twitter: @puronora