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In order to effectively combat the problem of unequal pay for the same work, it is necessary to think more deeply about the reasons behind the gender pay gap. This complex problem affects both the UK and, to varying degrees, the whole world.
Let’s dive into this issue, its reasons and possible solutions.
Reasons behind the gender pay gap
There are several factors that contribute to the gender pay gap in the UK.
One of the main reasons is the lack of transparency. It is only since 2017 that companies with more than 250 employees have been required to provide data on the gender pay gap.
Smaller companies do not have to do this at all, but more and more are choosing to do so voluntarily.
Another big reason behind this state of affairs is the unequal distribution of employment opportunities. Statistically, women are more likely to work in the public sector, where wages are lower than in the private sector. In addition, many jobs in the service sector, where wages are lower, are held by women. Unfortunately, women are still less likely to hold managerial positions, which significantly affects their pay.
Yet another reason for the gender pay gap is the existence of the so-called ‘glass ceiling’. This is a phenomenon where women face invisible barriers that make it difficult for them to advance to higher positions. This is influenced, for example, by differences in the perception of women in the workplace, ingrained stereotypes and prejudices.
Women are often discriminated against on the basis of age, appearance or marital status, which affects their chances of promotion.
An example of such discrimination is the preference for men in managerial positions.
Women are more likely to experience gaps in employment due to maternity leave or caring for family members, for example children or elderly parents. These breaks can be significant, ranging from a few months even to several years.
These career breaks cause many women to miss out on training and development opportunities that otherwise could help them with their career progression. This, in turn, can result in shortages in experience or skills, making it much more difficult for these women to re-enter the labour market.
How to close the gender pay gap
Is it even possible? Turns out that yes - but it’s not an easy task!
But to tackle the gender pay gap, it is necessary to work at the source of the problem. We need to introduce changes at the cultural, structural, and legal levels. It's a hard and complex process, but it has to start somewhere. Fortunately, the UK government also sees this problem and is trying to address it with the introduction of the Gender Equality Roadmap. This document sets out a comprehensive plan to promote gender equality and address the challenges that women face in the UK. It emphasises the importance of a public commitment to promoting gender equality in all aspects of society.
“To tackle the gender pay gap, it is necessary to work at the source of the problem”
Here are some of the ways that can help to redress wage inequality and close the gender pay gap:
Promoting gender equality
This is something that should be introduced from an early age. Let's teach children that we are all equal and that although we are different, we deserve the same respect and the same opportunities. Schools, workplaces, and the media should promote gender equality and provide equal opportunities.
Equal opportunities in leadership positions
Employers should introduce gender-neutral recruitment and focus on candidates' qualifications and skills, rather than their gender, age, or potential maternity. Establishing promotion systems based purely on performance and competence can help to shatter the 'glass ceiling'.
Increasing wages in the public sector
Increasing pay in the public sector, where statistically more women work, can also help to narrow the gender pay gap. Most of the female-dominated professions, such as care, nursing, or teaching, are underpaid.
Improving work-life balance
Women often have greater gaps in their work due to maternity and family care. In addition to their work, they often carry the responsibility of caring for children and elderly family members, which affects their career opportunities and earnings. Employment gaps and the hardship of parenting can translate into problems with re-entering the labour market or being promoted to higher positions.
Introducing flexible working hours, remote work and sufficient parental leave can help to improve work-life balance and level the gender pay gap in the labour market.
Gender pay gap in the UK vs the world
The gender pay gap is not just a UK problem. In fact, it’s a global one. Of course, the gender pay gap varies from country to country, but many have the same causes. These include cultural biases, lack of adequate representation in leadership positions, and unequal development opportunities.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, the UK ranks 22nd out of 146 countries in terms of the gender pay gap.
Here’s the full ranking:
- New Zealand
- Costa Rica
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Cape Verde
- El Salvador
- United Arab Emirates
- North Macedonia
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Czech Republic
- Dominican Republic
- South Korea
- Brunei Darussalam
- Sierra Leone
- Sri Lanka
- Burkina Faso
- Saudi Arabia
- Ivory Coast
- DR Congo
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As you can notice, the smallest gender pay gap is found in Iceland.
“UK ranks 22nd out of 146 countries in the gender pay gap ranking”
Iceland has been introducing steps to bring equality to its society for many years. These steps include investing in education and training programmes which aim to help women enter and success in male-dominated fields. Providing equal development opportunities helps their earning potential and contributes to narrowing the gender pay gap.
In addition, there are public awareness campaigns, as well as strong laws on equality and against discrimination.
Further behind Iceland, we have Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden in the ranking.
These are the countries that have made significant advancements in promoting gender equality in the workplace.
At the bottom of the ranking, the countries with the largest gender pay gap are Iran, DR Congo, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In these countries women face significant challenges to accessing work and are often paid significantly less than men for the same work.
In the UK women earned on average 15.5% less per hour than men in 2020, although for full-time workers the gap was slightly smaller at 7.5%, while in the US in 2021 women earned 18% less than men.
According to data published by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in May 2023, the gender pay gap in Australia is at 22.8%. Germany however reports that the current gender pay gap is 18%, but varies by industry and region.
Gender pay gap in the UK - Takeaways
- A gender pay gap is when there is an inequality in how much men and women earn on average in the workplace.
- Currently in 2023, the median gender pay gap across all reporting companies is 9.4%.
- Women have lower pension savings, resulting in a lower financial standard in late age compared to men.
- Among the reasons behind the gender pay gap are lack of transparency, unequal distribution of employment opportunities, ‘glass ceiling’ phenomenon and discrimination against women based on age, appearance, or marital status.
- Gender pay gap can be reduced by promoting gender equality from an early age, introducing gender-neutral recruitment and promotion systems based purely on performance and competence, increasing pay in the public sector, where statistically more women work, introducing flexible working hours, remote work and promoting healthy work-life balance.
The problem of the gender pay gap is a global issue that we have been facing practically forever. Nowadays, it is time to abandon old stereotypes and biases and get down to closing the gender gap in the workplace.
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