Philip Whiteley's Blog

October 6, 2010

How Harriet Harman maintains the gender pay gap

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 2:47 pm

This year in the UK marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. We even have a dramatization of some of the pioneering campaigners, in the movie Made in Dagenham, based on the true story of women workers at Ford’s factory in east London who discovered that they were paid less than men doing work of equivalent skill level.

It’s a common observation that, despite four decades of equal pay legislation, there is still a significant gender pay gap, especially at senior levels. Yet, perhaps we ought to tilt this issue around, look at it from another angle, and question that little word ‘despite’. Normally, when 40 years of a certain course of action has failed, we question said course of action, rather than recommend more. Is the gender pay gap really caused by an insufficient number of laws in the workplace?

It is true that men earn significantly more than women. But if we want to find out why, we need to look beneath that headline. I think a more interesting detail is to consider the type of men who gain an unfair advantage. Not surprisingly, it’s tall, good-looking, confident men with a deep voice and an authoritative manner. They earn significantly more than women, after taking into account qualifications, ability, experience and so on. But they also earn significantly more than other men, after accounting for ability etc etc. This is where we come on to the interesting bit, because this clue indicates that the pay gap is not just about gender and ‘rights’, but a psycho-dynamic interplay.

It leads on to the heretical question: is the gender pay gap unconsciously supported by women, including feminists? This was just an idea to me until I witnessed Harriet Harman, primary champion of equal rights legislation, cheer on her alpha male Labour leader Ed Miliband, as he announced his Iraq policy, which was the direct opposite of the policy of the earlier alpha male Labour leader, Tony Blair, which Ms Harman supported with equal enthusiasm.

And in the personal life, which has much to do with bolstering men’s confidence and helping them succeed in the workplace, if you look at the type of men that women prefer you come to a pretty familiar list of requirements on height, looks, income etc. Sense of humour helps, but you’ve got to be as funny as Danny de Vito before height limitations are overcome.

If we look at the behaviour that supports the promotion of men who are tall, good-looking etc, etc (I acknowledge I’m not in that category – I’ll declare that interest) then a very different picture emerges on understanding the pay gap. It is not a patriarchal conspiracy, and cannot be countered by more laws. This is a complex, cultural interplay that is probably supported by women as well as by men, including feminists like Ms Harman.



  1. I am reluctant to admit such things are true – however I am not a staunch feminist… I will say though, that my husband is 6’2, slim, with dark hair and blue eyes. He also has a really good sense of humour – which is just as well.

    Comment by Jeanette Hibbert — October 7, 2010 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  2. Lucky you, Jeanette!

    Comment by felipewh — October 7, 2010 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  3. I know! He even does household duties and is great at childcare! He was a house husband for three years and now only works part-time term-time…. some would say he is the perfect wife – bless him (but not me obviously!)
    I would like to point out that he still likes sport and other man-stuff!

    Comment by Jeanette Hibbert — October 7, 2010 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

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