Reporting on the Gender Pay Gap: Cutting Through the White Noise

17/10/2023     3 min read     By Ahlem Khattab

Claudia Goldin won’t be making history with Nobel prizes every few weeks, and Equal Pay Day is just once a year. We need more thorough and continuous coverage of the gender pay gap.

There seems to be two “settings” to the gender pay gap as a news topic: It’s either everywhere all at once, most often to talk about the newest statistics showing that the median earnings of men still surpass those of women, or it’s rarely spoken about, like a big elephant in the room that we know is there so we don’t feel the need to bring up, or like some white noise (an analogy courtesy of France 24’s Annette Young) that we’ve gotten used to and only notice once in a while.

Not that we should talk about it in every single story, but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to continuous and thorough coverage of the issue, especially in a manner that connects with people. We do live in a world where gender-based pay inequality is believed to be a myth by many (just do some Googling and you’ll see by yourself). And when it’s recognized as existent, it is blamed on women by some for various reasons such as their so-called lack of negotiation skills.

To be fair, the gender pay gap has a lot against it as a topic from a journalist’s standpoint. It’s something that is hard to make visible. Data about it is often flawed, especially at a global level, and therefore easy to discredit. And stories about individual cases can feel a bit too specific to tell the bigger story. Then again, that’s a problem we often encounter as human beings: We like to generalize in order to draw a more comprehensive picture of the world. But in reality, just like most things in life, this wage gap is more complex than we’d like it to be.

The good news is that there are people working on studying and understanding the reasons why, to this day, women still earn on average less than men (even for the same job, in at least 15 countries), and what policies and changes need to be put in place to remedy it. So keeping up with their research is essential to better explain to audiences what we know so far and what limitations researchers are still encountering. Reports on studies are already a thing, of course, but we don’t necessarily see the latest information used as context in stories about working women, let alone stories about employment or the workplace. 

One other problem that can arise when covering the gender wage gap is that it still seems to be thought of as a “women’s issue.” Inside newsrooms, and among the public. So maybe that’s where lies a plethora of stories to uncover, in exploring how it isn’t just for women. Pay inequality actually has repercussions on men, and societies at large. And this is where specific, individual stories are essential, with proper contextualization instead of generalizations. Let’s look more into how a woman’s low-paying job impacts her spending, her access to basic things like proper healthcare and food security, as well as her family’s – whether it’s parents, siblings, children or any other relatives that depend on her – and in turn, how that impacts the economy. Let’s dive deeper into the role parenthood plays in the gender pay gap, but also into why women who are not mothers are also paid less than men on average and its consequences on individuals and society. Let’s focus on what’s been going on within different industries, and what happens when a profession becomes female-“dominated” (such an inaccurate word to describe it when you think about it).

But in the end, the biggest issue with this gap is certainly that it’s still here. No matter how “over it” we might feel about it as a topic, it remains relevant by its persistence.

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