Thu | Jul 18, 2019

Is the equal pay gap real?

Published:Monday | December 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

For lawn tennis enthusiasts, it is well known that there was a staggered introduction of equal pay between male and female grand slam winners. In 1973, when Billie Jean King famously played against Bobby Riggs in the (so-called) 'battle of the sexes', far more than her pride and his ego were on the line, because her success in that match earned all female tennis players far greater respect for their efforts as against their male counterparts.

However, even after that breakthrough, which led to parity in prize money in the US Open, it would take 28 more years for the Australian Open to come on board (in 2001), still longer for the French Open (in 2006) and longest for Wimbledon (in 2007). Proponents of pay disparity argued that women's matches attract smaller crowds and the matches are potentially shorter for women than for men (three sets versus five sets), so the women should not earn the same prize money.

The fact is that the greatest female tennis player (Serena Williams) has won more than three times the number of grand slams as the highest-paid male tennis player (Novak Djokovic), but her lifetime earnings are still less than his!

It would come as no surprise that the gender disparity in earnings is not confined to lawn tennis. The same is true in many disciplines, and has recently become the subject of a lawsuit brought against the Boston Symphony Orchestra by its principal flutist. In July of this year, Elizabeth Rowe filed a gender discrimination lawsuit to recover more than US$200,000 in back pay that she claims is due to her because she is paid about US$70,000 less per year than the principal oboist in the same orchestra. She contends that she is entitled to an equal salary to the oboist, but does not receive it because of her gender.

 

MEDIATION

 

The orchestra defended the suit and issued a statement to say that the oboe is more difficult to play than the flute and there is a larger pool of professional flutists than oboists, so that accounts for the difference in their salaries. The matter has not yet been tried, and the parties will first proceed to mediation.

One simple definition of the equal-pay gap is the pay difference between men and women performing the same or similar work. There are legislations to safeguard against the emergence of those gaps in most countries and, in Jamaica, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms provides constitutional protection against it. Despite this, there are instances in which the equal pay gap still emerge.

In Jamaica, 80 per cent of graduates are women, up from 56 per cent in 2009. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are still male-dominated, but with the increasing visibility of successful women in the field, that is changing too. Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers globally at 59.3 per cent, the UK is 41st with 34.2 per cent. Basically, the best-qualified people getting the senior jobs were predominantly women. Education was changing culture. However, while women are clearly running Jamaica, men are still leading it. Only 17 per cent of Jamaican MPs were women, compared with 32 per cent in the UK. Women made up 17.4 per cent of board directors of the 53 companies listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange in 2012, with 10 of the companies having no women on their boards at all.

The fact that my search did not identify any decided cases in Jamaica involving equal-pay discrimination or statistics to confirm whether there is an equal-pay gap may be a sign that the issue is not prevalent or that claims of that sort are not being pursued. Either way, it is an issue about which we need to be aware.

- Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner, mediator and arbitrator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.