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Fantasy figures distort the gender pay gap

Paul Finch
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The so-called ‘gender pay gap’ is a form of voodoo statistical analysis that a graduate profession should be ashamed to be associated with, says Paul Finch

It is almost incredible that breast-beating and pontificating about the so-called ‘gender pay gap’ in architecture is based on survey results of just 12 practices. Trends are identified and conclusions drawn from an absurdly low sample of the profession.

The situation may be worse than the government’s phoney survey suggests, but there is no way of knowing. But why should we pay any attention to the shock, horror stories emanating from said survey? I call it a phoney because, among other things, it ignores the earnings of partners in limited liability practices, but not of directors, who may also be owners and thus in receipt of dividends.

Equally absurd is the fact that ‘employee’ does not mean ‘architect’, but anybody at all. The lowest-paid employees in a practice of any size are likely to be those who are not qualified professionals, but work as admin or reception staff. Aggregating all salaries and then pretending that women are being treated unequally is an extraordinary form of intellectual dishonesty, seized upon by the usual suspects for whom ‘employer’ is a dirty word.

There is only one real measure of whether women are being treated equally in a practice: whether they are paid roughly the same as men doing a comparable job with comparable experience and qualifications. The official government-backed surveys are completely silent on this subject, because it is far easier to measure the misleading than to measure reality. 

As with many surveys, promoted by people and organisations with an axe to grind, the samples are ludicrously low, the data gathered is partial or distorted, and the conclusions drawn based on statistics which are demonstrably misleading. Instead of going along with all this, the RIBA might think about doing some serious survey work in respect of the real profession.

Curious treatment of a Portland Place veteran

Peter Gibbs-Kennet, former education director at the RIBA until his forced departure many years ago, continued a relationship with the profession and the institute as executive editor of The Journal of Architecture, the academic title he launched with Allen Cunningham and the indefatigable David Dunster, who was the first editor.

Launching such a journal was not a simple or risk-free venture, but it was successful, and for many years Peter was paid an honorarium, quarterly in advance, for his ongoing work on the title. RIBA reorganisations resulted in a desire to ‘regularise’ his situation, and he was sent what in effect was a demand that he sign a contract of employment or be dismissed.

Actually he had already taken a decision to leave at the end of 2018, after four decades of association with Portland Place, and he declined to sign anything as a matter of principle; it didn’t help that the first demand spelled the name of the journal incorrectly. His union, Unite, complained to the RIBA, which, inter alia, claimed that it was bad practice to pay in advance for services. One might observe that all property contracts require exactly that.

While the publisher of the journal thanked Peter for all his work on his retirement, there was nothing from head office, which, after an ‘investigation’, told Unite there was ‘nothing untoward’ about Peter’s history. I wonder if he would have received the same treatment had he been a woman. 

Bucket of cold water

The burst water-pipe fiasco in the House of Commons last week suggests that the sooner MPs vacate the Palace of Westminster, the better. The question that arises is whether they will ever go back. 

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