The gender pay gap is still prevalent in almost every direction you look. According to the BBC, it may take a staggering 118 years to close the pay gap. While some countries are well ahead of others in trying to address the problem, it seems to be astounding that in 2017, not one single country has put men and women on a level playing field in terms of pay.
In the USA, women earn approximately 20% less than men. The difference varies in other countries, with some of the largest differences being over 30%. The statistics demonstrate that this issue is ongoing and not something which can easily be resolved overnight.
Despite this, the past few years have been progressive in terms of women’s equality at work. Since 1950, 70 countries have elected female leaders for at least a year or more. In 2015, 17 females were elected councillors in Saudi Arabia, which is excellent progress for a country where women’s rights are still extremely limited.
Although many different statistics reveal that women get paid less than men, some people still argue that the pay gap doesn’t exist. Those who are ardently against the gap often put it down to choice and claim that it’s much more complicated than simply looking at figures. They argue that occupation and education can make a significant difference and are the main reasons for the gap.
It’s true that the gender pay gap is complicated and there are many different factors to consider. However, overwhelmingly, statistics show that men work more paid hours than women. The gender pay gap does exist in varying forms across the world and we should all be striving for gender equality.
Why is the Gender Pay Gap Still an Issue?
There are a few reasons why the gender pay gap still exists, though these reasons vary from country to country. One of the issues is that there still aren’t enough women in the workforce. What’s more, even when women are in the workforce, less of them are in leadership positions, thus earning less money.
Another reason for the gap is that the industries that both men and women work in still differ. In the USA, it’s more likely that a woman will work in teaching, administration, or nursing, whereas men are more likely to be found in construction and software development. The industries women work in generally offer less of an income.
While we are gradually seeing gender roles in industries become less prevalent, this remains one of the biggest reasons for the divide. As choice is one of the main counter-arguments for the gender divide, we should be asking ourselves: why are women in these lower-paid industries?
Another major factor which affects the gender pay gap is women leaving to have a baby. Any woman who wants to have a family will need to take maternity leave; this is seen as the “motherhood penalty.” Some choose to leave their jobs for a number of years to focus on childcare and thus, when returning to work, they might start again in a lower position or opt for part-time work. There still seems to be an expectation that women are the main carers of children, rather than men. Across many countries, women are doing more unpaid work (child care, household duties) than men every day.
These are just some of the reasons why the pay gap still exists. Discrimination against women and sexism are, unfortunately, also causes for women being unable to progress in the workplace. After returning to work from maternity leave, some women reported a cut in their bonus or pay, or felt pressured to hand in their notice.
How is the Gender Pay Gap Being Tackled?
International Women’s Day and Women’s Rights Groups are making sure that governments are aware of the issue and are putting pressure on them to do something about it. Legislation is being put in place in some countries to try and eradicate the gender pay gap.
Nordic countries have long been at the top of the list when it comes to solving the gender pay gap. Iceland aims to eradicate the pay gap by 2022. In order to achieve this, the government requires all companies with 25 employees or more to demonstrate they are paying staff equally. Once they do this, they will receive a certificate.
One of the reasons that Nordic countries have some of the lowest gaps between pay is due to their excellent parental leave policies, which involve paid leave for both mothers and fathers. Allowing women to have paid leave which isn’t limited means women can feel secure in their jobs and not feel pressured to come back to work immediately after having children.
What about other countries? From 2018, firms with over 250 employees in the UK will have to disclose the amount they pay women and men. When published, people will be able to see which companies are not committed to creating an equal workplace. However, aside from publishing the results, senior managers won’t be asked to explain why a gap exists. The hope is that it will prompt questions and encourage companies to move forward with bridging the gap once they are exposed.
What Can Individual Businesses Do to Close Their Gender Pay Gap?
Like Iceland, every country needs a government that is invested in (and determined to) close their gender pay gap. It can’t be the responsibility of a handful of people in parliament to bring about change. However, if businesses take on some of the responsibility to highlight the issue and address change in their own company, this is a powerful step forward for encouraging other businesses to do the same.
There have been numerous cases of companies striving to close their pay gap and doing so by simply paying women more money. For example, the University of Essex increased female professors’ salaries to make sure that both male and female professors were paid the same amount. They now keep this standard in place when hiring new professors, ensuring that everybody is earning the same amount.
A British marketing company did the maths on the pay gap between men and women and found that men were paid 8.6% more than women. After putting the decision to a vote, all the women’s wages increased by 8.6%, thus eradicating the gap.
Another option many large businesses are opting for is total transparency about their pay. This means there is a public document listing all employees, where they are based and what their current salary is. This means CEOs can’t hide in corners about pay discrimination and it allows those looking to apply for jobs with the company to see what they can be expected to pay.
These companies are heading in the right direction. If all directors and CEOs took the same stance as these organisations, we’d start to see a significant change.
In order for any business to eradicate its gender pay gap, a business needs to figure out what their pay gap is. We did the maths at our company and found that women actually get paid slightly more. We have more women in leadership positions than men, too.
So, how can businesses erase their gender pay gap and create equality?
Pay the Difference: Like the companies we’ve mentioned, simply looking at the gap between men and women’s salaries and paying the difference can be a huge step forward. This demonstrates a commitment to equality in the workplace.
Flexible Working Hours: Many women decide to return to work after maternity leave, but only work part-time. This can be for practical reasons, such as time to take children to preschool or nursery. Offering women the option of flexible working hours means that women can work at whatever hours are easiest for them.
Generous Maternity Leave: This requires intervention and regulation from governments. However, if companies can afford to give women generous and fair maternity leave, then women are more likely to come back to work and be able to pick up from where they left off. Ultimately, this leads to equal pay and enables them to climb the ladder in the workplace.
Offer Generous Childcare Options: Many women have to return to work after maternity leave for financial reasons. This can cause issues for childcare if they have another partner in full-time work or are a single parent. Businesses offering childcare support can help women immensely when they return to work.
Encourage Women to Apply for Higher Positions: Mentality can often be the reason a woman won’t apply for a job. They might think they aren’t good enough for that position yet, or perhaps they’re not confident enough. Through both words and actions, always encourage the women in your department to go for higher job positions.
Eliminate Negotiations: Many salaries are negotiated and this can be a big factor to the gender pay divide. Only 7% of graduate females negotiated a salary, as opposed to 57% of men. Some women feel that they won’t be liked if they pursue a higher salary and are cautious in negotiations. Emma Watson makes this point early on in her speech at the UN. As a child, she was called bossy for wanting to take charge when her brothers weren’t. If a woman is negotiating for her first salary, this is the first point at which she is paid less than a man. This can continue throughout her career.
Recruitment and HR policies: If you’re headhunting for a new employee, be sure to headhunt for an equal amount of men and women. Searching for women for positions can help to increase the number of women in the workplace and give them the opportunity to climb the ladder.
The most important thing that businesses can do is to be proactive. It all starts with analysing the pay gap that might exist within the company. If there is a pay gap, start asking why and what you can do about it. Step by step, as more companies strive towards equal pay, we have the ability to create equality in the workplace for men and women.
Author Bio: Helen Anglin works for Nottingham-based digital marketing company Exposure Ninja. Helen specialises in PR Outreach and loves working for a company that fights the gender pay gap with a gender-equal workforce.