The fight against gender pay inequality requires a fight against capitalist inequality.
Last month, thousands of mid-to-large-sized companies were obliged to issue figures relating to their gender pay gap. The results show that, of the firms reporting, over 75% paid men more than women, with an average (median) gender pay gap of almost 10%. These latest numbers are a kick in the teeth for gender equality.
The statistics were based on the median pay difference. This is the halfway point between the lowest and highest salary in a company or organisation, calculated first for male employees, and then for female employees. The difference in the two median figures is the gender pay gap.
What we see is that – because of the huge difference in the pay of senior management, chief executives, and so on, compared to those at the bottom – women find themselves paid less, in general, compared to men in the same company. This injustice is exacerbated by the fact that female employees are more likely to be passed over for higher-paid roles.
This explains why banking and finance firms were amongst the worst offenders. Fat-cat (predominantly male) bankers are rewarded with massive pay packets and eye-watering bonuses. Meanwhile, most female employees at such companies are stuck in low-ranking jobs, as secretaries, cleaners, etc.
This is also shockingly apparent even in companies like Boux Avenue, Sweaty Betty and Phase Eight, for example, whose products are marketed almost exclusively towards women. Up to 100% of the lower-paid jobs in some firms (such as sales assistant roles) are filled by women, yet the management roles are almost exclusively taken by men.
In the case of Boux Avenue, this means that the median pay for men is 75.7% more than the median pay for women. This emphasises both the sexist nature of capitalism, and the wider economic inequality of a system where workers are exploited and the bosses reap the rewards.
These figures therefore not only demonstrate the importance of the fight for gender equality in the workforce and in wider society. They also show the necessity of fighting to abolish the inherently unequal capitalist system – one which has consistently suppressed the rights and freedoms of working class women for the sake of profit.
Put simply, this latest data exposes both the gender pay gap – and the even more massive pay gap that exists between the rich few and the low-paid many inside the workplace.
Fight sexism! Fight capitalism!
The exposure of the current gender pay gap only further demonstrates how, ultimately, oppressions such as sexism and racism are due to class society and capitalism.
Prejudices and divisions over gender and race are fomented by the bosses to split workers and set them against each other, so that they do not focus on the real oppressor – the capitalist system.
Under capitalism – with its conservative traditions and ideas, which have been promoted by the ruling class for centuries – a woman’s place is (we are told) in the home. Men, meanwhile, are supposed to be the ‘breadwinners’.
Engels explained in his pamphlet on the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State that, “when [a woman] fulfils her duties in the private service of her family, she remains excluded from public production and cannot earn anything; and when she wishes to take part in public industry and earn her living independently, she is not in a position to fulfil her family duties.”
As a result of mass struggle and more women entering the labour movement, the position of women in society has improved since the time that Engels was writing. Nevertheless, clear barriers remain for women who want to raise their living standards further.
Working women, for example, are seen as being less profitable to employers. Big business sees maternity leave, childcare arrangements, and flexible working hours as a drain on their profits. This means that women are more likely to be passed over for important positions and promotions.
The solution for gender inequality, however, is not simply to have more female bosses. Increasing the number of women in the boardroom will not change the economic or social situation for those working class women left behind. Those who remain on the shop floor will still be on the receiving end of wage attacks and exploitation, no matter what the gender of their boss.
Instead, we must transform workplaces – and society – so that every woman and man receives what they need to have a decent standard of living for themselves and their family. The problem is not simply that men are paid more than women on average. It is that most women and men are not paid enough, full stop.
The fight for genuine gender equality must therefore be a united fight of women and men for a better – socialist – society for all of humankind.