Emma Watson Won Gender-Neutral Award, But What About Gendered Pay?

Emma Watson might have won that award, but she probably still gets paid lower than her male counterpart.

3 min read
Hindi Female

It is perhaps a sign of changing times. A few days ago MTV did away with ‘male’ and ‘female’ category awards and gave the trophy for the gender neutral best actor to Emma Watson, a woman.

Whether the move will be effective in the future (given the disproportionate male bias in the industry) remains to be seen, but at least the award made its point. A reminder that we need to keep the conversation alive. Because, contrary to what Thomas Jefferson had to say – all men are not equal, and certainly not women.

Gender based discrimination is not new. All through history, every society assigned different roles to men and women. The roles reflected biases that over time crystallised as stereotypes. It is only very recently, somewhere around the 19th century that we began to talk about gender equality. We haven’t got very far considering that even today, it continues to provoke debate and fuel activism – and
inequities still remain.


Gender Pay Gap Across the Spectrum

A gender equal society would be one where both men and women will be equal members, with the same opportunities, benefits and responsibilities. Human rights would be equally respected and valued. But of course this is utopian, far removed from reality. The truth is that discrimination between the two sexes extends to all spheres of
life – education, marriage, religion, workplace and the arts.

But there has been an effort every now and then, through the law or through symbolic gestures, to make things better.

For an overwhelming majority of CEO’s, gender equality is one of the top business priorities. So it is safe to assume that in the corporate scheme of things it is under the lens. But why is progress so slow? Despite gender equality getting unprecedented attention, women are still underpaid and under represented. Among the 50 new CEO’s hired by Fortune 500 companies over the last year, there is not one – I repeat, not one woman. We tend to assume that sexism is prevalent in old fashioned sectors, large outdated companies where mindsets and cultures take time to change. But shockingly the malaise affects all, even the shiny new age companies!

Google is supposedly one of the coolest companies to work for. It has also been voted one of the world’s most powerful brands. But it is also tainted. The US Department of Labour says it has proof of “systemic compensation disparities”. The internet search giant might be paying its women much less for the same work as done by a man.

Google isn’t the only one. There are a host of companies, like Facebook, Microsoft and Oracle who claim they pay everyone equally but are reluctant to share the data with the government, their shareholders or employees.

Gender pay gap is difficult to compute. It needs a significant amount of data. It has to account for various factors like education, bonus, overtime, working hours, performance ratings, role, etc., across the board. Adding to the complexity is maternity leave, part time work, cultural differences, adjustment for male dominated industries (eg. heavy engineering, etc.), recognising unpaid labour... It is a big task.


So where do we start? Emma Watson might have won that award, but she probably still gets paid lower than her male counterpart. Inequities exist and we cannot wish them away. But let us begin by at least acknowledging it; then perhaps we can talk about it, make adjustments at a policy level, get commitments and bring everyone on board. One day perhaps we can be free to make our choices regardless of who we are.

Sounds too good to be true?

Let us at least keep talking.


(The author is a Chartered Accountant, an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and an artist.)

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