Today is the International Equal Pay Day. World over, irrespective of where women work, they always earn less than a man in the same position. This is something I have always rallied about why a man should earn more than a woman when both are doing what is essentially the same thing.
Across all regions, women are paid less than men, with the gender pay gap estimated at 23 per cent globally. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls continues to be held back owing to the persistence of historical and structural unequal power relations between women and men, poverty and inequalities and disadvantages in access to resources and opportunities that limit women’s and girls’ capabilities. Progress on narrowing that gap has been slow. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn for work of equal value – with an even wider wage gap for women with children. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum predicts that it will take another 217 years before the gender pay gap finally closes. While equal pay for men and women has been widely endorsed, applying it in practice has been difficult. Women are concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill work with greater job insecurity and under-represented in decision-making roles and women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men.
Recognising this to be something the world needs to take note of, this year for the first time, the United Nations has declared today, that is September 18 to be the International Equal Pay Day.
This day calls attention to the severe gender pay gap and the reasons for this gap are manifold and intertwined. The major causes of a pay gap between men and women include factors like women’s work being undervalued, the lack of women in certain sectors like perhaps construction and STEM subject fields, women still face a glass ceiling when moving up the career ladder, women working part-time more often than men, women interrupting their careers more frequently due to family-related breaks, and of course the widespread prevelance of gender stereotypes. Cultural bias, societal assumptions and a lack of progress in workplace design all contribute to the gender pay gap.
So why does this pay gap exist between the genders?
There are many reasons for this. At the heart of which is the assumption that senior roles can’t be done by women who can’t spend a lot of time at work which women who have to work at home too can’t do. And women who are in senior positions have not had the gender pay gap reduced in over almost half a century. But today with the world working from home and showing it can be done and effectively too lets us know that women can manage a home and a senior position, so that’s one excuse which can be thrown away.
Another reason for this pay gap could be attributed to the maternity leave that women of certain years take. Though it is illegal to ask this question in many countries, there are many Asian countries in which hiring managers do and will ask women who are in their twenties and thirties this question and not only does this discriminate hiring practices, it also enables hiring managers to offer women a lower starting pay as compared to a man with the same qualifications and career trajectory. Unfortunately, even if women try to return to work after having a child, they often face what is known as the “motherhood penalty”. As most workplaces still don’t offer much flexibility for mothers, they are often forced to take on lower-paying and less demanding jobs. However, even if they are able to find a job that suits them, mothers are much less likely to get an interview compared to fathers and childless women. What’s more, while women are penalised for having children, men are rewarded, with research from the University of Massachusetts finding fathers are more likely to be hired than childless men and tend to be paid more.
The third reason is that there is perceived wisdom that women choose low-paid occupations like that of teachers and nurses because they offer more flexibility, or are more family-friendly. Again, the perception that it is a choice to prioritise children over paid work, rather than being due to a lack of viable alternatives, positions the gender pay gap as a fact of life, and releases employers from responsibility for changing it.
Another reason is that although a study by Harvard Business Review found that women actually rank more highly than men in 12 out of the top 16 leadership qualities – including problem solving, communication skills and innovativeness – women are consistently overlooked by employers, who still tend to view men as being more competent.
And not only are women being short-changed when it comes to hiring decisions and negotiating salaries – we’re also receiving less in performance bonuses. An Australian study by Mercer found that men were receiving up to 35 per cent more in performance bonuses than women, despite receiving the same performance rating.
In some more developed countries like South Korea the gap is as much as 33% while other developed countries don’t fare well either with countries like Germany has a 22% income gap and the United Kingdom has 20%, Switzerland has 17%. On the other hand, less developed countries seem to have lower gender income gaps, with countries like Pakistan and Vietnam having a gap of almost 11%, Colombia with a gap of 0.3% and countries in southeast Asia like Thailand and Malaysia having a negative gap, meaning here women tend to earn more than men with women earning more than men by about 2.25% in Malaysia and 21.5% in Thailand.
So what can be done to bridge this income and pay gap between men and women? Economists say one thing hiring managers could do is share salary information during the hiring itself and not make sharing of your pay an unwritten offence in a organisation. The more information that is available, the easier it will be able to know what a man gets for the same role and women can be in a better position to negotiate salaries.
When both parents share in the household chores, it makes it easier for mums to be able to spend more time at work and is able to climb the career ladder. So if the mother is the one who is always called by school and child care about her child and is expected to drop everything to get there, then her career is bound to suffer. When both parents are equally responsible, then both will have a career trajectory. This is something cultural and will take some time before men step up, though many men are staunch defenders of a woman’s right to a successful career.
Women should be encouraged to work in occupations which are not traditionally female-centric like nursing and teaching. Yes, today more and more women are joining occupations not traditionally female, but there is still work to be done for more representation in sectors like construction and STEM related fields. I also believe that women should seek out and search for mentors in their fields of study and work who can guide them so they can achieve the success they deserve.
This gender pay gap is something all of us, women and men have to work on to ensure that our children and grandchildren get paid fairly for the work they do. Nobody should be penalised just because of their gender and everyone should have access to equal pay for the work they do. Let’s all work together for this!