How can we bridge the gender pay gap?
It’s the question keeping women and diversity advocates up at night, and one outspoken academic supposedly has the answer – we can’t.
Jordan B Peterson, clinical psychologist and author of self-help book 12 Rules for Life, believes there are too many differences between male and female brains for women to ever achieve equal standing across every industry. And he doesn’t believe in social conditioning (that is, women’s disadvantages being externally caused), either: ‘What scientific literature says it that while cultures become more egalitarian, the differences in men and women actually increase.’ And by differences, he means a female 'nature' that is caring and agreeable, and a male one that is competitive, assertive and risk tolerant.
So how do these so-called traits impact the gender pay gap? There is a common misconception that ‘female’ traits don’t belong in highly paid roles, even if women had the balls to land one.
Peterson’s own clinical practice enforces the philosophy that to succeed, women must mimic men in the workplace. He goes to far as to offer ‘assertiveness’ training to female clients. ‘If they’re to compete against men, masculine traits are going to be helpful. One of things I do in my counselling practise when I’m consulting with women who are trying to advance their careers is to teach them how to negotiate and to say ‘no’, and to not be easily pushed around, and to be formidable. If you’re going to be successful you need to be smart, conscientious and tough.’
Wait, says who… you?
It’s true that women are conditioned to be nice, timid and polite. Which means women can un-condition ourselves to rise up in a man’s world.
But Mavens argues, we shouldn’t have to. Not only that, there is simply no conclusive evidence that being agreeable, caring, nice or emotionally intelligent is detrimental to effective work. In fact, an emotionally-intelligent manager can improve productivity and staff retention.
So if women can be assertive and competitive when we choose, why is there still a pay gap?
Peterson argues multivariate causes make the pay gap inevitable: age, role type and women’s ‘interests’ – in other words, their appetite for success.
By this, he is questioning the commitment of women who choose family time over office drinks or unpaid overtime – they aren’t making the sacrifices needed to climb. So Peterson accepts that the promotion should go to her hard working, no-care-commitments male peer, even if she’s more experienced.
Or that women sometimes opt for lower paying jobs like teaching, childcare and admin to ‘fulfil’ their need to nurture. All honourable pathways – for the women that choose them. But there has to be a choice. How many women are in teaching because they didn’t think they could become an engineer? You can’t be what you can’t see.
In any case, Peterson’s biggest shortcoming is his failure to see the world how it could be.
He critiques things only as they are now, without acknowledging that the world is a living, breathing organism in which the one constant is change.
For Peterson, adapting male behaviours is an effective tactic, end of story. For today’s independent woman, this approach isn't just inauthentic – it reinforces the patriarchy.
So what do we do?
We shake our foundations, shed our biases and restructure our teams to better service the modern world. We owe it to ourselves, our clients and future generations.
Jordan Peterson debates the gender pay gap with BBC Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman.