Are Women “Worth Less” To City Firms?

Backbencher April 4, 2014 1
Are Women “Worth Less” To City Firms?

Reece Warren argues for a different approach to correcting any perceived imbalance in the cost-risk-productivity equation that must be considered by any employer

Let me first make something absolutely clear – you can throw all the legislation you like at private employers regarding equal hiring (including not gender-discriminating based) but, in my opinion, it will make no difference. If women are “worth less” to employers, it’s for one simple reason – their physiological inability to leave their child immediately after birth.

In the EU debate last night, Nick Clegg referred to this position (which he asserted, wrongly, was held by Nigel Farage) and associated this stance with “taking Britain back centuries to when women were forced to stay at home”. What a load of absolute garbage. I’d like to emphasise that I do not believe women are worth less to employers because of their gender (quite the opposite, actually) but are “worth less” due to their potential lack of presence in the work-place for an elongated time frame.

Now, before I get you too heated with vehement opposition, I’d like to explain a very simple point. Let’s say that in front of you sit two 24 year old candidates, one male and one female. They have identical CVs with identical qualifications for the role at hand (one that requires a full-time approach). Which would you choose to hire or promote? Unfortunately the choice would be the male candidate, for one simple reason – because he presents significantly less risk to the employer with regards to subsequent absence from pregnancy.

Even if we compare maternity/paternity leave, we can see up to a 26-week difference between “allowed” times of leave from work between a male and a female. This presents (potentially) a 26 week difference in amount of work undertaken, based solely on someones gender (presuming the male and female candidates are of identical qualifications). Doesn’t it therefore seem a little bit obvious that females are indeed “worth less” in this respect, in the sense of carrying a greater risk of incurring employment cost with no corresponding output?

On the other hand, though, I find it almost impossible to justify in effect punishing women for (a) getting pregnant and (b) not wanting to abandon a child so quickly after giving birth to it. Claiming that women are “worth less” for me is, to put it politely, the completely wrong use of phrasing. Women aren’t “worth less” – they’re just a slightly bigger risk. The question shouldn’t be whether or not women are worth less than men to employers, but whether they’re worth the (slight) added risk.

But surely there are ways to combat these additional “risks”? In my humble opinion, there are. Rather than compare men and women in terms of “days away from work”, why not give both men and women equal time off? This may seem overly simplistic but, like it or not, it undermines the key issue at hand here – the time away from work that an employee will take.

If we therefore think like an employer, and identify no candidate distinction between their respective risk potential of time away from work, then it appears there can be no discrimination over “worth” in this respect, and would be a question setled solely on merit (in theory, at least).

As simple as this solution may be, it obviously presents two fundamental issues. Firstly, whether or not a couple can physically afford such a move (taking 52 weeks off work each would be impossible without financial support from either/both the government or the employers). Secondly, whether it could lead to companies discriminating against potential employees based on their age (as a proxy for likelihood of becoming a parent).

Both of these issues illustrate the fundamental intrusion on an individual’s liberty to live their life in the way they wish. I find it rather abhorrent to imagine/live in a time where companies could potentially oppress individuals into not having children, in order to gain a promotion or even get hired in the first place. However, at least my suggestion would put men and women on an equal playing field with regards to an employer potentially discriminating (as odd as that sounds).

To conclude, I also state that it’s time for the pressure on women to deal with the final weeks of pregnancy alone, in addition of having predominantly to raise the child for (generally) the first 26 weeks. My suggestion not only eradicates this “worth argument” but also encourages/demands that the male takes more of an active role leading up to the late pre-birth and early post-birth of the child.

I also have to stress that this article being written in a way admittedly focussed towards the nuclear family implies no disaproval of, and intends no offence towards, other family types. The general message of this article is to emphasise the importance of giving both men and women equal leave in order to bond with their child, and it can be adapted to fit, in my view, all family types.

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  • Robert Neve

    You hit the cause perfectly. Many people look to Norway (where I now live) and try to see how they have such gender equality. But they come away with all the wrong ideas such as forced women directors. It is much more the ethos around the children. For in Norway men do get close to the number of days of the women and more they use it. So they are as big a risk. Flexible working is standard regardless of children and overtime is not normal. So all the factors that would make a mother a risk are removed. Given it’s the norm to put children into nursery quickly there’s also little chance of not getting the mother back into the work force soon. While I’d prefer to see a more 50:50 split in stay at home parents to reduce that risk the nursery method works as well.

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