Are pay gap businesses like Uber & Tesco sexist? Or is it just life?

By Kitty Knowles 7 February 2018
Uber black car with driver

Facing up to the reality of the gender pay gap.

‘Men working overhead’.

I walked under this sign today on my way to work as I passed some scaffolding.

It’s true that today, the builders in question may well have all been men – but what about the 1% of that workforce who are women?

Is the sign sexist? Or simply reflecting the gendered reality of our sexist society?

Or, is it not sexist at all, because fewer women simply want to (or physically can) be builders?

The Uber debate

It’s a question that goes far beyond trade workers (of whom around 6% are women).

Today, a number of companies are being called out for their gender pay gap – including Uber.

In this instance female drivers were found to be taking home 7% less than their male counterparts, research from Stanford University and Uber reveals.

The study of 1,877,252 American drivers points out that Uber drivers who use the platform more, are more likely to know where and when to get out and about to find the highest-paying fares.

And because women Uber drivers, on average, spend 50% less time in their cars, they’re more likely to miss out – earning $20.04 (£14.35) compared to $21.28 (£15.23) per hour.

“Men’s willingness to supply more hours per week (enabling them to earn more) and to target the most profitable locations shows that women continue to pay a cost for working reduced hours each week, even with no convexity in the hours-earning schedule,” the report states.

“A driver with more than 2,500 lifetime trips completed earns 14% more per hour than a driver who has completed fewer than 100 trips in her time on the platform, in part because she learns where to drive, when to drive, and how to strategically cancel and accept trips.”

So is Uber a sexist company for paying its female drivers less?

Or is it a reflection of the fact that today, 74% of childcare still falls on women, as well as 65% of caregiving needed by other family members?

One could easily argue that Uber serves caregiving women well because its flexible contracts allow them to earn money where they may not have been able to before.

But do companies that have an embedded gendered pay inequality have a duty to act? Or does the excuse ‘this is the way things are’ really stand?

‘The way things are’

One great example of a business being held to account is Tesco – which is also today being challenged over the allegedly ‘sexist’ way it pays male and female employees.

The leading supermarket is facing Britain’s largest ever equal pay claim.

Tesco could be forced to foot a possible bill of £4bn, as thousands of women shop assistants claim £20,000 each to gain pay parity with male warehouse workers.

“We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid over many years,” Paula Lee, of Leigh Day solicitors told the BBC.

The legal case is hinged on the proposition that hourly-paid female store staff earn less than men in the warehouse even though the value of the work is comparable.

Both require skills and training that are vital to ensuring the supermarket stays open.

Valuable to whom?

Now consider that idea of ‘value’ in the context of the Uber findings.

The lower wage of female drivers implies it ‘values’ them less. And yet, they are performing the same service to the same standards.

There could even be an argument to suggest that female drivers add value to the company – as riders might proactively enjoy driving with a diverse workforce for many reasons.

Is society, with its gendered job roles, broken? Or are the systems created by Uber and Tesco?

Whose responsibility is it to fix it?

We can all play our part ensure we empower women and men to break the stereotypes if they choose. That includes putting more women on building sites – and empowering men to be caregivers too.

But unequal pay can ultimately only be addressed by companies – or the courts.

It shouldn’t have to come to the second option.