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Silicon Valley, Wall Street And Aerospace: Gender Inequality By Numbers

A 2015 survey finds that the pay gap is only the tip of the iceberg

29Feb

In terms of gender inequality in the workplace, not all workplaces are equal. From the enduring pay gap to seemingly inestimable counts of sexual harassment, the disparity between different industries is great. But further transparency is planned, and the more optimistic see change - in earnings, at least - as inevitable.

The UK government recently unveiled plans for a 'league table', ranking large firms by their gender pay gap, from 2018. Companies with 250 employees or more will be made to disclose not only pay but also bonuses - which is hoped will bring into sharper focus the rampant earnings inequality in City firms, in particular - for both their male and female staff. 8,000 of these 'larger' firms will likely be included, a move which MPs hope will expose the worst offenders and encourage improvements ahead of its publishing, and what would be a damaging stigma.

The measure has been heavily criticised by some members of the Labour party, who feel the move is not decisive enough given the two-year delay on the findings. According to the Guardian, the current rate of progress would see the pay gap take another 47 years to narrow. And Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: 'Also, bosses won't be made to explain why pay gaps exist in their workplaces and what action they will take to narrow them.' The expectation that such stigma will encourage companies to make improvements is somewhat fanciful; a step in the right direction, perhaps, but one taken with utmost caution.

Of course, disparity in pay is illegal under the Equal Pay Act of 1970, but the Office for National Statistics' findings tell a different story. The 2015 annual survey found that for full- and part-time workers, a 19.2% gap still exists, or roughly 80p to every £1. In the US, the situation is slightly worse, with the pay gap in 2014 standing at 21% - down from 41% in 1974 - meaning that the median annual earnings for US men and women were $50,383 and just $39,621 respectively.

Pay is just part of the problem, though. Fairygodboss - a site set up by former Dow Jones execs Romy Newman (Head of Digital Advertising, WSJ) and Georgene Huang (Head of Institutional Products) - launched in March 2015 with the aim of improving equality in the workplace by creating transparency across industries. Inspired, in part, by Huang's own experience with job-seeking whilst two-months pregnant, the site crowd-sources information about both 'hard-to-ask and hard-to-find' information about employer's benefits and culture. Roughly 4,800 reviews were selected from 20,000 user submissions of reviews, salary and benefit tips, spanning 30 industries. By taking more than just numbers into account - employee experience is paramount - Fairygodboss have approached gender equality in a fresh way and the findings extend far beyond pay disparity.

Silicon Valley and Wall Street, unsurprisingly, recur as industries in which gender inequality is the most felt. 60% of women with a decade or more experience in Silicon Valley reported having been sexually harassed (from a survey to which 222 women responded). Of those, 65% reported the unwanted advances coming from superiors, and a disheartening 39% did nothing because they felt action would negatively impact on their careers. 'It is just to get some underlying data without that finger pointing to say that it is not the exception–it is the rule,' explained investor and advisor Trae Vassallo. 'It is happening all over the place and it’s not happening just to women who you could point to and say that there are some issues where they caused it. The women in this survey are incredibly experienced. They are CEOs, they are founders, they are VPs of organizations.' The less explicit biases women face daily in tech were recorded too, and the numbers pile up. 88% felt questions from both colleagues and clients had been needlessly directed to male peers rather than them and 84% experienced people not making eye contact with them but doing so with male colleagues.

But Silicon Valley is not alone in this; discrimination suits at banks are common. A New York Times piece on workplace discrimination - revealingly titled 'A Colleague Drank My Breast Milk and Other Wall Street Tales' - details anecdotal accounts of discrimination and misogyny bred in the uninviting, testosterone-heavy environments created and sustained in the industry. 'Women now receive the majority of college and graduate degrees,' Maureen Sherry wrote. 'And we make the vast bulk of consumer decisions and purchases. 40% of American households with children under 18 have a woman as primary or sole breadwinner. For future generations of women to do better, we must change the culture of institutions like Wall Street.’

But, perhaps a little surprisingly, Fairygodboss found that by far the worst industry for inequality and discrimination is aerospace engineering. Just 27% of women in the industry responded positively to the questions, with just 25% saying that they would recommend their employers to other women - roughly 35% answered with a firm 'no' when asked. Job satisfaction was some way behind the other 29 industries as well, registering 2.6 (out of 5) on average. By contrast, Public Relations (the highest score) registered a job satisfaction of 4.1. Generally, companies in the industrial sector performed dismally; just 30% of female workers felt that they had been treated as equals.

Traditionally male dominated industries fared the worst, with automotive coming in at just 38% of women feeling they had received equal treatment. Technology came in slightly higher, at 56%, but the stories coming out of Silicon Valley tell a very different story. 

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