Dear Women: Want equal pay? Stop cosseting the men in your life

equal pay

Every time an article like Kevin Myers’ distasteful attack on women’s right to equal pay in the workplace appears, comments sections are rife with men claiming they earn more simply because they deserve to – because they are more capable, work harder, do longer hours and take fewer sick days.

Let’s take a second to smash the idea that women are less capable or less willing to pieces:

When it comes to academics, we’re killing it – and the same can be said for our early careers; employment rates in Ireland for female graduates are higher than those of their male classmates; most young doctors in Ireland are female, and the unemployment rate in March 2017 was 6.9% for men compared with 5.8% for women.

So let’s just dispense with the idea that women are incapable or unwilling to work.

And let’s take a second to really grasp how endemic this problem is; Brian Dobson gets paid tens of thousands more than Sharon Ni Bheolain at RTE for doing exactly the same job, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington was awarded €70,000 after being discriminated against in her role as a senior lecturer at NUIG, with four further cases pending, and women continue to be wildly underrepresented in the Oireachtas and Seanad.

There are a myriad of historical, cultural and socio-economic factors at play. possibly the most significant of which is the arrival of little ones on to the scene. Let’s examine a few of the reasons why women who compete so strongly with men in their teens and early 20s drop off the radar as they get older.


Almost from the moment they enter a relationship, men outsource the management of their social lives, travel plans, and familial obligations to the women in their lives (“Did you pick up a birthday present for my Mam? Is there a card to go with it? No, you write it”). Unfortunately I can’t offer any hard evidence in this regard – there’s no data available – but the mountain of anecdotal evidence is undeniable.

As the relationship gets more serious, the list of things women hold primary responsibility for expands; cooking, childcare, groceries, making sure the bills get paid, booking dentist appointments, laundry and housekeeping, to name but a few.

Men can afford to spend those extra few hours in the office because women are picking up the slack in every single other aspect of their lives – as well as working full-time in many cases.

This status quo suits men down to the ground, and they’re not going to change it unless we as women decide to stop doing these things for them.

“I can’t remember the last time I booked a flight” a successful male friend told me recently. “At work the PA does it, and at home my personal PA does it”, he said, with a cheeky wink at his wife, who has a successful career herself.

Another male friend recently asked if I wanted to go to a football match, and when I said yes he replied: “Are there tickets available for it?” He and I have access to the same information online, but the implication was clear; I should take over the organisation and planning. “Google it” I replied to his text, resisting the urge to add “I’m not your secretary.” Even in platonic situations – a meal with friends, a weekend away, the responsibility for organising, planning and booking most often falls to the ladies – and like eejits, we do it.

The much vaunted Irish Mammy must take a certain share of the blame for this, for that’s where the cycle of indulging young men and burdening young women with this type of invisible, unpaid life admin starts.


It is a fact that women take more sick days than men, but the evidence suggests that’s because men take too few rather than because women take too many.

Women are more in touch with their own health than men are, so they take time off when they need to – unlike men who are more likely to ignore health problems, choosing not to take care of their physical and mental health, which can have terrible repercussions, including an epidemic of suicide among young men. Seen in this context, fewer sick days is not necessarily something to be lauded.

In most cases, when a parent has to care for a sick child, they need to take time off work themselves – and in most cases, it’s Mam is left holding the baby while Dad goes into the office as normal. In order for mothers to succeed at work, fathers need to take on more of that burden.


The bottom line is that for women to thrive, men need to take more responsibility – for themselves and for their children.

All that life admin that your wife/ girlfriend/ mother/ female friends are taking care of for you right now adds up and it takes a toll. It adds hours to a woman’s day and impacts her stress levels.

And women, let’s stop underestimating men’s ability to look after themselves and to fully play their part in friendships, relationships and family life.

Agree or disagree? Leave me a comment.


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Comment (4)

  • Alan Murphy| August 1, 2017

    Where’s my shout out?

    In seriousness, examining the commentary beneath the ample coverage of the gender pay gap since the BBC salary reveal, a lot of readers (almost certainly men, admittedly) have suggested benign factors as contributory or causal.

    Are they right? I have no idea, but it’s frustrating to see a pliant media not bother to find out. And why wouldn’t they explore the topic more deeply? Because like a great many important areas of would-be inquiry, it is considered politically incorrect, and thus radioactive-grade, career-ending toxic.

    I want equality of opportunities and remuneration, regardless of gender. But I also care deeply about freedom of speech, expression and inquiry, and I am enormously concerned about the growing breadth of topics that cannot be scrutinised without the scrutineer being lastingly slimed as an ‘ist’ (racist, sexist, misogynist, facist, islamofascist etc).

    Correlation does not imply causation — or more specifically in this case, women earning less than men does not imply a misogynistic conspiracy. I’m in a hiring position in my employment, and I’m not financially discriminating against women. Neither are my peers — of this I am sure. So I’d like to understand the underlying factors of the broader trend, but political correctness petrifies honest inquiry. They are mutually exclusive ideas.

    • Katie Harrington| August 2, 2017

      You seem to be suggesting that this is an issue we should explore more deeply to find answers. If that’s the case, we are in full agreement. That’s not what Myers did though. His suggestion that men are inherently worth more is lazy and unintellectual.

      It’s great that you don’t discriminate at work, but that doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist. It’s been seen in Hollywood, at the BBC, at RTÉ, at NUIG, and I would guess that if companies were forced to report publicly on this we would see a lot more of it.

      Of course women have a part to play in this – we need to speak up more, be more assertive, and negotiate better. But men also need to be honest with themselves about the expectations they currently put on women as I outlined in my post.

      My CEO in a previous role was a woman who became a senior executive in her 30s and was often mistaken for a secretary or asked to get the coffee or take notes.

      We’re not talking about 50 years ago now – more like 15.

      I would welcome a genuine analysis of why women continue to earn less regardless of any potentially uncomfortable findings – but saying women earn less because they deserve to serves no one.

  • Alan Murphy| August 2, 2017

    Agreed! I can’t find fault in any of that Katie.

  • Bey| August 18, 2017

    Could not agree more!!! I grew up in Latin America, and that is like an unspoken rule. But it surprises me that in Europe it is not so different – men do rely on their girlfriends and wifes to at least “remind them of buying a gift to their mom”, and so on so forth… And there is always the excuse that “I don’t know how to cook so well as you do”. I myself hate cooking, but loving eating healthy so I make the effort, but shouldn’t we all?! If I don’t at least plan it, or coordinate (meaning give specific instructions on every cooking step including making a grocery shopping list), diner just goes as a disaster… That is too much to coordinate with my crazy working hours and willingness to an active life

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