The original comments by Alasdair Thompson were unwise and stupid (and I will detail why further down) but his dual performances on TV3 are the stuff legends, or nightmares, are made of.
Watch his interview with Rachel Morton and then with Mihi Forbes. I don’t think I have ever seen such sheer awfulness before. Lew at Kiwipolitico has done an initial list of 10 things the EMA did wrong.
This has gone from just being an issue about Alasdair to an issue about the EMA Northern. I can imagine employers all over Auckland quietly removing from their office walls their certificate of membership before anyone notices it. They’d be embarrassed to be associated with the last 24 hours.
This may have been the most effective brand destruction we have seen since Wellington Airport tried to rename Wellington into Wellywood, or the CTU declared war on hobbits.
Before we come back to the interviews let’s focus on the substance of the issue, as a couple of people think this is just about political correctness – far from it.The issue is why do women on average get paid less than men.
Now I do not think the gap between the average hourly rate for men and women is due to discrimination. Sure there may be the odd employer who is an old bigot (and they generally are old) and actually thinks women are inferior. But they are dying out.
Part of the gap is because men and women tend towards different jobs. More men are police officers and more women are teachers for example and police officers get paid more on average. But that doesn’t explain all the difference as there is a gap within professions also. On average male lawyers get paid more than female lawyers and male teachers more than female teachers.
There are a couple of factors at play here. One is historic – until 20 years ago men far outnumbered women at university in the high paying professions such as law, medicine etc. So most of the senior ranks are still men. Fortunately at entry level the numbers are now more balanced, so over time the gender mix may get more balanced at the senior or higher paying levels.
The other factor (which Alasdair correctly pointed out) is that more woman than men take a break from the workforce to be the primary caregiver, and when they return are more likely to be part-time so prospects for advancement are not so good as the person who has stayed working full-time throughout.
Even this doesn’t fully explain the gender gap, as there has been a recent study that even early on in a profession, men are being paid more than women. Now one has to be careful about a study over a profession, rather than just one employer, as differences between employers may account for the gap. However if one accepts the study at face value, a possible answer is that generally younger men are more assertive than younger women in pushing for pay rises and generally in salary negotiations.
So I tend to reject the thesis that women get paid less because evil employers discriminate against women and think they are inferior.
The possible factors I have laid out above are all about individual choice. You may choose to enter a less well remunerated profession, because it isn’t just about the money. You may choose to take a break from the work-force. You may choose not to be aggressive in your pay negotiations and take whatever is initially offered. These are all individual choices. Sure there are issues around societal expectations, but that is a debate for another day.
But here is why what Alasdair Thompson said is so stupid and counter-productive. he listed something women have no choice over (having a menstrual cycle) and cited it as a reason why women get paid less. He basically said that women are less productive because they are women. It undermined all his other (generally sound) arguments.
This reinforced every prejudice unions and others have about employers – and worse this comes from the head of EMA Northern.
And I can only imagine how women feel, to have to put up with having a menstrual cycle is I suspect bad enough by itself, so to have some employer bigwig come out and say oh yeah and your monthly cycle is also why you get paid less would be beyond infuriating.
It is possible of course that some women do have a high use of sick leave due to their menstrual cycle. But I do not believe, and have not seen a shred of evidence in support, the notion that the prevalence of this is significant enough to actually affect average pay rates.
Now the original comments by Alasdair were survivable. All he had to do was to say something along the lines of “A couple of employers had anecdotally mentioned to me this was an issue for them, but I was quite wrong to link it to average pay rates between genders as it is not a factor, and I apologise for mentioning it in the interview”.
But instead we got the Tv3 interviews where he could not have made a worse impression of himself. If Helen Kelly could invent a wicked caricature of an employers boss, she couldn’t have done better than what we saw. Rambling justifications, instructions to the cameraman as if he was the producer, demanding no interruptions, walking out, patronising the female reporters, constantly referring to his own staff members in a way which I found demeaning, standing over Mihi Forbes and angrily remonstrating with her, calling her a liar, demanding previous footage be declared off the record retrospectively and the list just goes on.
I don’t know how professional media trainers like Brian Edwards, Judy Callaghan, Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson even managed to watch a few minutes of the video without their heads exploding in despair that someone could come across so badly in what is meant to be a damage control setting.
EMA Northern need to consider what they have to do to repair the damage. My only advice is that it does not involve Alasdair doing another round of TV interviews.