There are many differences between the sexes. For millenia — and even today — women have been treated as lesser members of society, lesser contributors, lesser workers than men. Unfairly. It has been a long, difficult and painful road towards equality and equity, and the battle is still fought daily. And just when you think you’ve made some gains, someone will open his mouth and make you realize just how far there still is left to go.
Last week, that person who opened his mouth was Alasdair Thompson, the head of the New Zealand Employers and Manufacturers Association. In an interview with New Zealand’s News 3 station discussing gender equity, he spoke about why women were paid on average 12% less than men, and said:
“There’s a gender pay gap, but people only need to look at who takes the most sick days, as to the reason for it. Women’s productivity, in general, is lower than men’s and while women might be more productive on an hourly basis, some take sick days when they get their period.
“Once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do. They have children, they have to take time off to go home and take leave. I don’t like saying this because it sounds like I’m sexist but it’s a fact of life.”
Unsurprisingly, Thompson faced immediate backlash from the public as well as from other public figures in New Zealand, including the Prime Minister, a (female) former Prime Minister, the Women’s Affairs minister and others. He offered an unreserved apology and stated that his remarks were taken out of context — a claim which may have some merit, although someone in his role should be at least media-savvy enough not to stick his foot in his mouth quite this badly.
Thompson is now — ironically — on sick leave from his position after the maelstrom of last week. Many have called for his resignation but for now, the embattled CEO is staying.
While Thompson himself claims to have “learned his lesson,” the lesson women’s rights groups have learned through this is a hard one: that many men in positions of authority still secretly feel that women somehow don’t deserve equal pay for equal work. That no matter how much lip service they pay to equality, they still harbor beliefs that undermine women in the workplace, and everywhere. And that we still have much work to do.
Photo Credit: Andrew Feinberg on Flickr