We don't need more diversity in Parliament

20 November 2008

Leafing through newspapers

in the library common room, steaming

cup of instant coffee

in hand, used to be an enjoyable experience.

However, as a fourth year preparing

to enter the real world, what has been a favourite procrastination technique for me now frequently provokes an unpleasant sensation that is best described as rage.

Last week’s comment on the gender pay gap, I reluctantly admit,

was one such rage-inducing article.

Raving feminism aside, much of what I read was either patently false or at best extremely misleading.

Whilst attempting to argue that ‘simplistic econometric analysis’

and the ‘cherry picking’ of data has taken place in the calculation of a 17.2% gender pay gap between men and women, the esteemed journalist unfortunately appears to have committed these two ‘scientific

cardinal sins’ in the construction of his own argument. Third year compsci at St John’s I may not be, but fractious historian I am.

Contrary to popular belief, we historians are taught some basic analytical and critical reading skills. Moreover, we do not take lightly to evidence being twisted to fit an argument. That is just a cardinal sin in all disciplines. To correct the most basic error, the 17.2% pay gap only concerns men and women who are working full-time. The task of controlling ‘things like part-time work’, therefore, has in fact already been undertaken.

For those who are interested, the pay gap rises to 36% per hour for women working part-time in comparison

to men working full-time, and to a staggering 45% in London.

Granted, the comparison here is between part-time and full-time work. But surely it can’t cost the employer 36% more to train and employ a part-time female than a full-time male? And if it truly does, then employers urgently need to instigate

change in order to increase efficiency.

So why does this pay gap exist?

Obviously there are numerous intertwining economic and social factors that play a part, none of which are inevitable or, god forbid, natural. Men and women are different,

granted. But we are all of equal value. The Fawcett Society – a leading

UK lobbying organization in issues

pertaining to gender equality – have identified three key reasons. 1) Straightforward discrimination (i.e. between men and women doing

exactly the same job), 2) work traditionally done my men being better paid than that done by women

(compare a police officer and a nurse, for example), and 3) the horrendously

long working hours some industries require in the UK, which are far from conducive to childcare considerations.

Moreover, this issue runs far deeper than a glib scattering of statistics could ever suggest. Throwaway comments such as men and women being ‘more likely to do different jobs’ simply skate over hefty societal issues that must be addressed. Yes, the vast majority of bedders in Cambridge are women and more professors are men. But why? Is it because men are fundamentally

more intelligent and adept

at terrorizing undergraduates with inexplicably arbitrary Tripos questions, whilst women are physiologically

more suited to vacuuming

and removing gag-worthy objects

from students bins? Or surely, as last week’s article suggests, it’s because women are looking for ‘a more meaningful spiritual life’.

I can’t claim to have simple solutions

to the endemic problem of women underachieving in the world of work and tending to opt for lesser-paid careers. These are exceedingly

complex issues that need plenty of money and good brains devoted to ascertaining causes and developing practical solutions.

But I do know that as I tried to begin writing this article, only to be faced with a frozen laptop followed by a barrage of Windows taskmaster pop-ups, I realised that if I’d been boy there wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have already

known that Compsci is, after all, the smart choice of degree.