Who’s to blame for the gender pay gap?

By Cheryl Li


The ideology of gender equality has been promoted after the World War II. It aims to make everyone receive equal treatment and oppose any discrimination against someone’s sexuality. The movement is mainly based on the development of women’s liberation and advocates women should own the same rights as men. Although the promotion of this ideology may have changed the majority’s minds and female in the society have received proper respect, there are still many aspects in mundane life showing inequality between men and women. One thing is the gender pay gap appearing in the workplace. Since women have long been encouraged to take a professional job and get into the management, it is such an ironic phenomenon that they cannot get paid as same as men. Every year, the equal pay day is a symbolic festival that reflects how far into the year women have to work in order to catch up with what men earned in the previous year. The exact date will be different by year and country. Australia celebrates the equal pay day on 8th September this year. Former Prime Minister John Howard said in an interview on the eve of the day that there will not be an equal portion of women and men in the government because women “play a significantly greater part of fulfilling the caring role in our communities which inevitably place some limits on their capacity”. An opinion piece was then published the day after on the Sydney Morning Herald called “It’s time to dispel the myth that women’s choices cause the gender pay gap”. The author, Celeste Liddle, accuses John Howard of using his statement as an excuse for his party failed to improve female representation and indicates the situation of gender pay gap presented by several studies.

Of cause, we can find a lot of reports that illustrate the scale of gender pay gap when we search the keyword. It is unnecessary to argue that there is no such gap between men and women, even some men say they have received the same salary as women who are in the same position. Therefore, the question will concentrate on how large the gap truly is and whether the fight against gender inequality has made progress.

After reviewing several news reports and opinions pieces, I find that there are many different manifestations showing the pay gap. Additionally, it is interesting to see many news reports indicate a negative situation but still believe a positive future. This paper will analyse two hard news reports, it will consider the evaluative language, transitivity and the choices of quoted source.

I choose to analyse news journalism because while opinion pieces often contain strong reprehensive purpose, the news articles do not or cannot have personal opinions. That is why news journalism items may hardly create resonance among readers, but whether this means they will not have a main theme that help to determine the content? Through analysing these news articles, I find that though media coverage on gender pay gap points out the serious situation of inequality, it is likely to ignore to mention what has caused this issue and position the readers to take a positive view for the future.

I have chosen two news report from two distinct news organizations and countries. Their reports are based on the UK and Australia. The first news report, “Gender pay gap to remain until 2069, report says”, is from BBC published on 24th September 2016. It is one typical representative of the most objective and neutral reports. The language in this news article strictly complies with the rule of unbiasedness and partiality.

“The gender pay gap in the UK will not close until 2069 based on current salary progression, research suggests.”

“Among those professions with the most pronounced difference was health care, where women earned £24,000 on average in graduate starting salaries, compared with £28,000 for men – a difference 14%, the report said.”

The two sentences clearly state the result found in the study and has used moderate verb “suggest” and “said”. This reflects BBC stands at the neutral position to present a fact come from research, the difference of salary between men and women is indicated as just number and percentage. There is no evaluation that judges whether these data are normal or magnified; therefore, it depends on how readers think of this issue in the first place. If they have imaged that there is a huge gap at present between men and women, they may feel 2069 seems not to be far to approach and 14% is even less than one fifth. On the other hand, if a reader currently is experiencing the unfairness or has expected that the developed countries should have eliminated gender pay gap, they will be surprised to take the knowledge that it may need another 50 years to make female equal to male. This BBC report then is free of evaluative language that comments on the topic itself, but later we can see how the choices of modal verbs and quotes imply the central point of this news report.

“It said more women should be encourage into science and technology jobs, where salaries are more balanced but women make up just 14.4% of the workforce.”

The author also choses to quote a mathematical biologist, Helen Byrne, at the University of Oxford who recommends there should be more female role models in the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries.

“I think often children in schools don’t really understand what it’s like to be a maths professions.”

“What I do isn’t what I imagined a mathematician did when I was at school. It’s much fun.”

The article starts to distract attention here and miss the point of reporting the serious pay gap between women and men. Apparently it is the research that has found there are less pay inequality in STEM related jobs but instead of just reporting it, the author intends to take a step further. By offering the recommendation that encourages more women to work in the STEM professions, the article tries to fuzz up the point and divert people’s attention from gender pay gap to another measurement that may help to improve the problem. But will it be really helpful? The answer probably is no. While only using one sentence to explain that the reason of gender pay gap is complicated to explain, the author gives no space to illustrate what has caused the pay gap. A large paragraph is used to provide a plausible recommendation which is irrelevant to the topic. Although it is true that there need to be more women working in the STEM industry, this cannot be an outlet for gender pay gap and the problem is still existing. By analysing transitivity in this report, it shows the “victim”, women, often become the subject of a sentence so the sentences often employ passive voice. It is noticeable that the author blurs the party in fault, though the real one ought to be blamed remains complex and sophisticated. Additionally, we can find a positive attitude towards the future development when the author uses quotes from a manager of the study and a government spokeswomen.

“A great deal of progress has been made in the past half century.”

“The gender pay gap is the lowest on record but we are committed to eliminating it completely in a generation.”

This reflects the report aims to lead readers to take an optimistic attitude and have the faith towards gender pay gap, especially the quotes from the government spokeswomen seems to be inserted at a sudden without any preparation. Her quotes used to terminate the news can be regarded as the only responses from the government. It tends to show the aspect that the government has made multiple effects to solve this problem so the gap has become less. The purpose is to let readers feel confident that the pay gap will be eliminated some day. However, the central idea of the quotes is also about more girls should study STEM subjects, which again may be a distraction of the topic.

The second news items, “Australian men paid an average of 20 per cent more than women”, illustrates the situation in the Australian workplace that was published on 23rd August 2016 at ABC.com.au.

“Men in Australia are still paid on average about 20 per cent more than women, according to a workforce diversity specialist, with figures from the Australian Council of Trade Unions showing the gender pay gap has grown steadily over the last decade.”

The lead shows a surprised tone when reporting the data by using “still” and “steadily”. This implies the author assumes the average reader thinks of there is just a little difference on salary by gender and will be shocked to know the percentage is 20. It then focuses on the accounting firms particularly, which makes the accounting firms become “attacker” when addressing the transitivity.

“Mr Liveris claims top accounting firms are paying men and women differently for the same roles with pay gaps ranging from 1 to 5 per cent.”

The agent in the sentence is clearly indicated as top accounting firms and then the author tries to interview Deloitte but they declined. Thus the accused party become a specific company, Deloitte, that is blamed for causing the pay gap.

We have eliminated any gender pay gaps at this level on a like for like experience.”

It then quotes a written statement of Deloitte in which they explain the reason of gender pay gap occurring in their senior job level. Instead of put the goal “gender pay gap” as the subject, the statement highlights the agent “We” (Deloitte) and uses positive voice to show the process of “eliminating”.

“Mr Liveris said he was encouraged by Deloitte’s willingness to change.”

Following this quote, the author then puts Deloitte as the affected and states a positive evaluation. What Mr Liveris then says is that he believes the firms like Deloitte are working on the pay gap and supports their actions. Here we can still see an optimistic attitude regarding the future development while later it mentions Australia, though the gender pay gap has grown steadily over the last decade, has “declined in the Global Gender Gap Index from 15th in 2006 to 36th 2015”. On the other hand, this report gives more space to elaborate any possible reasons that have caused the issue and they come from the quotes from Mr Liveris. It is interesting that this report uses Mr Liveris as the only one who contributes to the quotes. The explanations are not exacted from the study but his knowledge as he is a workforce diversity specialist. He then as well mentions the problem that there are only 20 per cent of women in management and we should let more women get access to these roles. The author uses this idea to conclude the news, which seems to be an avocation towards the public. It is noticeable by reading the item that the focus has transferred from the pay gap to the effects companies have made and to the issue of sexual discrimination. It looks like there are many wrong thoughts and unfair phenomena existing in the current workplaces but readers still do not know why the pay gap is still 20 percent and they are asked to believe the progress has been made.


After analysing the two news items, it shows hard news today will care more about the language they use and position they are standing. They have shown a partial and unbiased manner in terms of reporting the issue without personal evaluation. The news organizations today are different from those companies 20 years ago which may have a tendentious standpoint. That is why we can expect to get access to the true information and the real data from news journalism and will not worry that the truth may be distorted or concealed. However, it is interesting to note that the news journalism items considered in this discussion are likely to present facts that how gender pay gap has been improved and remind readers of the optimistic future. We can continue to realize this trend by seeing news reports’ titles like “Gender pay gap falls to 6.2% as Government backs scheme to retrain women”. That is to say even the news journalism is factual and neutral, there is a potential kernel that they will follow. These news reports have all identified the pay gap between men and women but they still choose to believe the situation is getting better and want every reader to believe as well. The reason for doing this perhaps is that they want to convey a positive idea to the audience and tell them the situation will not be worse. Unlike opinions pieces which have a certain target to blame, the news items choose to elide the direct censure. However, only if the society is willing to face the real causes the problem can thus be solved. Informing the data and facts to the public is far away to know what is wrong and how this can be fixed. While the news reports are trying to lead readers to take a positive attitude towards gender pay gap, it is more important for news journalists to elaborate the reasons behind as they are in more advantageous conditions compared with view journalism authors.

















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