– How We Favour Men in Employment – 

Gaute Øien Tollan

What part of society prevents women from joining and excelling in major corporations, or rather, who is enforcing the glass ceiling seen in most companies even in the most developed countries? The answer is not one specific aspect or group, but rather a vicious cycle, one enforced subconsciously by both men and women. The patriarchal construction of society, especially in the business world is so internalized that without even recognizing the correct problem, we are blocking the solution.

To this date, there is not a single country that can claim to have equal pay between women and men. If not a big enough problem itself, it creates an even greater problem of preventing women from joining the workforce. As a result of the pay advantage given to males, mothers are often the ones to give up their jobs for economic and logistical reasons. This leads to time loss that could have been used to gain experience for future jobs and wage increases. Instead, fathers continue their day job and not only a pay gap is created, but an “experience gap” is created leading to the male having further advantages in the job market. Consider the opposite scenario, instead of staying home with the children, a woman decides to join the workforce again. In most cases, employees are met with employers that do not deliberately discriminate mothers but are instead trying to be realistic on the matter such as workload and working overtime. This is logistically and economically in favour of the company, but in addition to this, the great misfortune of female employees is that there is already a patriarchal assumption that women are going to oversee the children. There is often an incomparable relationship between mother and newborn, first of all, due to the pregnancy but also as mothers tend to spend more time with infants. What is this interpreted as? This initial relationship usually roots itself so firmly that mothers tend to be seen as the primary caregiver. As a consequence, women are often left out of the labour market initially and as time increases only reinforces the formerly mentioned “experience gap”. Why do firms act this way? The concept of “employment” follows a medieval patriarchal structure, one designed to effectively remove women from the labour market, through the belief that a caregiver will not be follow up on corporate needs.

But how are we as individuals enforcing this? Former CEO Katharine Zaleski wrote in 2015 an op-ed called “Sorry to all the mothers I worked with”, where she explores this topic of internalized discrimination, even from her side as a woman. In the hiring of new employees, she states that it was not a deliberate or thoughtful process in hiring, but rather that when a mother of two toddlers applied for a job, she considered that she would in the future, as her boss, have to take into consideration that this woman had young children and could probably not work late, and would potentially not be able to put in any extra effort other than those 8 hours. Zaleski did, therefore, decide to not hire this woman, not because she was a woman or because she had children, but simply because she wanted to avoid a situation in which she put the employee between her family and her employment. One way of avoiding this was simply by hiring a man. Upon having children herself, Zaleski commented on her experiences of being faced with the same presumption of her being “held back” by her children, even if she had a nanny for her children.

The example of Zaleski is one of internalised patriarchal views. Often, the issue of male advantage in employment does not boil down to gender favouritism, but rather medieval beliefs of how women will at some point in their lives be held back by their children. These beliefs would incentivize employers to hire men instead of women, as they believe that at some point, their female employees will have to care for children, which would become a financial liability for a firm. How do employers make female employees compensate for this possible “liability”? This is where employment and pay gap links into the same problem: the concept of the pay gap and how it is to compensate for the mere possibility of a female employer bearing a child. In retrospect, Zaleski realized that her presumptions were on the faulty basis and that there was no reason for her to not employ a woman as it was not a given she would be taking care of a child. She also formally apologized to all the women who had been given lower wages for no apparent reason other than their gender. But is Zaleski’s realization one of a kind? Or can it become one of the masses?

Here is where the aforementioned circle starts over again. As a result of the pay gap, most women instead of males decide to stop working to take care of the children instead due to economic reasons. Since the pay gap is based on the assumption that women will do exactly this, the two are reinforcing another and breaking the circle can seem near impossible. The first assumption that needs to be abandoned is that women have a greater responsibility for a child than the male, one that is not even medieval but rather primal. Secondly, that having children is going to affect the woman as an employer, any more than it is a man. When something is as internalized as this, pay gap and employment discrimination comes as natural consequences and will only be broken once the norms internalized into subconsciousness are broken.

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©2020 by Sciences Po Paris Feminist Chapter.

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