What Is The Discussion “Gender Pay Gap” Really About And Why Many Miss It.

In the recent times, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, faced backlash over his comments about gender pay gap. I do not share his thoughts on this issue, but this is also not an article bashing his comments either. His comments however highlight an important point regarding the issue that most people completely misunderstand what the argument about gender pay gap is all about.

To state the facts regarding this, in 2014, there is a gender pay gap of 21 percent in US. In other words, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. The core of the issue is however not entirely about bias against women at “workplace” only but more about bias against women in “society” in general.

It is no news today that our society has historically been a patriarchal one and the women did not have same rights as men for a long time. Hopefully, there is general consensus the situation is improving, at least in the developed countries. But the rate of progress has been much up for debate due to lack of a quantitative metric to estimate the progress. “Gender pay gap at work” is one such metric, but an important one. It is a symptom of a disease but not the disease itself and should be dealt as such.

The reason “gender pay gap” is an important metric is because it highlights an important bias in the society that many fail to acknowledge- women spend more time taking care of family than men do in general. i.e If we classify the total time as time spent at work and the rest as time spent taking care of family. As men & women have equal aptitude (hopefully we don’t have to debate that at all), there are only two logical reasons that could explain the gender pay gap — the first one is a bias against women at “workplace” and second is that women spend more time taking care of family than men.

In the first case of bias against women at “workplace”, obviously the workplaces are to be blamed and they have to fix it. The second case is of more complex nature though. Primarily if we rule out bias against women at workplace, then we need to acknowledge that the reason for gender pay gap is that women spend less “qualitative” time at work and by extension more on family compared to men.

Then comes the question of the role of the workplace in such scenario and why do workplaces need to address it if they are not the cause of it. The answer is actually very simple. In an ideal world, the issue that women are not able to spend enough “quality” time at work is a personal/family one and should be solved at personal/family level. However, we are not living in an ideal world but a man’s one. Workplaces are where most people today come together and spend significant part of their adult life. As the premier institution of the society the workplaces not only have a responsibility to address any such issue but an oppurtunity to be at the forefront and solve it.

The first step to addressing the issue is to accept the bias against women in society in general. The next step is how can workplaces offset this bias against women outside of its walls or have “a bias FOR women at workplace”. Let me qualify this statement. Here, I absolutely do not mean that men should be discouraged at workplaces or anything like that. I also absolutely do not mean that women should have higher pay or promoted primarily because of their gender.

The analogy below explains my point of view. There are two runners — runner ‘M’ and runner ‘F’ with equal talent for running. Runner ‘M’ has been consistently beating runner ‘F’ by a long distance. The reason for this could be that either the track is unfair to runner ‘F’ or that runner ‘F’ is not better conditioned/prepared for the run relative to ‘M’. If the track is fair to both the runners, then we need to get ‘F’ conditioned/prepared well. Runner ‘F’ needs special attention than runner ‘M’ does in this case. What I am suggesting is not to set the goal differently for runner ‘F’, but to make sure runner ‘F’ is conditioned as well as runner ‘M’ for the race.

Proposals like increased work time flexibility for women and the ability to work from home etc should be considered, discussed and decided on one-one bases. I have a personal beef with PTO policy for example. I have never understood — Why men and woman have same number of PTO days. I know there is maternity leave, but that is only in the year of child birth. I would also let my partner at home and colleagues at work know that I care about this issue and will do everything in my power to make it better. There should be lot more, so bring forth to the table.

Next time you hear some one talk about unequal pay, don’t go all defensive saying “we are not biased about woman and all workplaces are fair”. Acknowledge the bias in the society, embrace the discussion and focus on the ideas to solve it at your workplace as well as your home.