Many protests and laws later:
Why is the gender pay gap still so significant an issue?
Published on 30.07.2019 | By Anushka Shah
In Australia (as of 2018), that is how much on average men earn more than women per year. This can differentiate how often a person gets to eat out, how much one can spend on leisurely shopping, how many overseas trips one can afford to visit their family. It can determine whether one lives in Camberwell or Box Hill.
The gender pay gap is a major factor contributing to the large discrepancy between how much a man is paid in comparison to a woman. There are also many other factors at play; for example, women of colour and transgender women get paid significantly less.
The gender pay gap is more of a prominent issue than it was 100 years ago. Nowadays, as women become less dependent on men’s earnings, more women sustain themselves and even their families with their own salaries. It is clear that the discrepancy is no longer just affecting women.
Australia has basic laws that aim to reduce discrimination in the country’s workplaces. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 protects Australians from discrimination on the basis of sex (including gender identity, potential pregnancy, etc.), thus not hiring a woman because she is perceived to be unsuitable in a male dominated environment, or not paying a woman the same salary as a man for the same work, are both illegal under the Act.
So why does the pay gap still exist?
The common belief is that women should raise children.
This is arguably the largest cause of the pay gap today. When a couple has a child, the majority of society believes that women should be at home, looking after said child. As shown in an episode of Vox’s Explained, studies claim that women spend the equivalent of an extra 3 months of a full-time job than men on housework and childcare. When children are not in the picture, women can earn up to 96% of a man’s earnings. When a child comes into play, women are often responsible for situations (for example, if the child is sick or has an appointment) that require parental presence. Most men continue to consistently attend work and receive promotions, whereas such opportunities for women decrease as they turn down assignments or take leave to look after their kid.
While this belief seems to mainly concern personal, close-minded perceptions that are difficult to sway, countries such as Iceland demonstrate how workplace policies can ease the situation. Icelandic law recently decreed obligatory paternity leave in addition to maternity leave; this has increased expectations that childcare should not solely be a woman’s job.
Women-dominated industries have lower pay.
This is otherwise known as industrial segregation. In Australia, females tend to work in social assistance, healthcare, and primary education; these industries are characterised by lower pay. People point out that women should just enter other industries, but this is easier said than done. Women face major barriers in entering male-dominated industries, whether it is because companies are worried that their culture will not suit women, or because men determine women to be incompatible for their work. For the women that do manage to enter such industries, they continue to face obstacles in terms of advancing and achieving managerial positions.
Data shows that men tend to take college majors that lead to higher paying work, while women usually
dominate majors that lead to lower paying work
Women get endlessly mentored.
While mentoring is regarded as a helpful tool for career development, there is a difference in how men and women are mentored. Both women and men receive the training they may need for higher positions in the company they are working for. The problem is that women do not get the benefit of the sponsorship relationship. Sponsorship involves a mentor going beyond giving feedback and using his/her influence to advocate for the mentee, therefore helping to promote the mentee. For instance, although a 2008 Catalyst survey reported that women receive more mentoring than men, the follow-up 2010 survey showed that men receive 15% more promotions. As a result, women tend to get left behind in the mid-to-senior level jump. With fewer women receiving senior managerial pay, the pay gap continues to thrive.
Companies choose to enforce quotas or advertise female-only job positions. Yet, it is debatable how helpful this is in terms of increasing the number of females in managerial positions or decreasing the pay gap. In addition, it raises the question of whether women are actually being hired because of their merit, or as a circumstance of their gender. If it is the latter, the hired women may get the managerial position, but their opportunities to contribute to the discussion may also be harmed. Indeed, this depicts the difference between the issues of having a diverse workforce and ensuring the inclusion of each employee in decision-making.
Lack of evidence.
Most employers do not publicise pay records, so many female employees are not aware that there is a difference in pay from their male colleagues, let alone what the difference is. It is possible for employees to request to view these pay records, though the legal action involved may damage employer-employee relations. Not only can this make it even more difficult for women to get promoted, but it may also complicate future job hunting.
Fortunately, transparency is on the rise among human resource departments of large companies around the world. Whether it be regarding recruitment or salaries, it is seen as a way to maintain stakeholder trust and prevent conflicts. However, there is a reason why 41% of private companies discourage transparency. As enlightening as it is, transparency can also be equally demotivating. Since the solution requires all employees’ salaries to be accessible, such information can evoke jealousy and demotivation amongst employees who find they are earning less than their colleagues.
It’s frustrating to wonder whether the gender pay gap is something we are close to eliminating. Solutions targeting women continue to be proposed and enforced in companies, but are they helping the inequality situation or just manipulating the statistics to solve the problem in a superficial sense?
Don’t get the wrong idea, a partial solution is still better than nothing. Despite numerous new ideas to decrease the pay gap, companies are starting to get cautious. Often, this caution is not leading to better practices; rather, companies are avoiding the issue as a whole. Women are being seen as a “risk”, and male senior executives are wary of simply having a business dinner with a female employee for fear of having their actions misinterpreted. The uprising publicity of the #MeToo movement is definitely not easing their fears, and is in fact causing more places to adopt Wall Street’s rule: avoid women at all costs. By avoiding women, they believe they will also not have to deal with equality issues such as the pay gap.
Wall Street’s mentality is taking society in the opposite direction of progress. Turning stigmas into dogmas, such actions may make women’s fight much more difficult than it needs to be.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece. Do you think the gender pay gap still exists? If so, how do we close it? Feel free to comment down below, message us on Facebook or email us at email@example.com.