As if work isn’t bad enough, imagine knowing that you’re being paid less than the person sitting opposite you who’s doing the exact same thing. Well, women don’t have to imagine that. That is what happens every day when they turn up for work.
When comparing the median salary between men and women, a 2021 report from Payscale reports that women in the US earn 82 cents for every dollar men make. This 18% difference is the raw gender pay gap. However, when accounting for other factors besides gender, like education, experience, location, and industry, the gender wage gap shrinks to a 2% difference. So the controlled gender pay gap means that women in the US are making 98 cents for every dollar men make.
In the UK, you will find a similar picture. Although the gender pay gap has been declining slowly over the past decade or so, in 2020 there was still a 7.4% gap for full-time employees and a 15.5% gap among all employees. And frustratingly, the gender pay gap remained close to zero for full-time employees aged under 40 years but was over 10% for older age groups.
Angry yet? Try being a woman in South Korea. South Korea has the largest gender wage gap of any developed country. In Korea, the average woman earns about 65.4% of what a man earns, leaving them with a 34.6% wage gap. That's like earning $32,500 a year while the man sitting next to you, doing the exact same job takes home $50,000.
In comparison in the US, getting 98% of what a man earns might seem like a good deal. What’s 2 cents at the end of the day? But any gap in pay adds up over a lifetime of working, creating a huge disparity in wages between men and women. And it’s simply not good enough.
How did we get into this mess?
There are two main reasons for the gender pay gap. And one is easier to swallow than the other.
Women are typically the ‘caregivers’ in a family, looking after children and elderly relatives. This means they often work part-time or might not apply for high-pressure roles to allow time for their other responsibilities. It’s estimated that 40% of the pay gap is the result of these disadvantages women face.
The other reason is simply good old-fashioned sexism. Bosses assume women are less competent, therefore pay them less. And that accounts for 60% of the pay gap.
Things you might hear people saying to defend the gender pay gap
"Women like staying home with the children"
OK, so it’s true that the majority of childcare falls on the mother, but ask yourself why that is? When you had a baby did your partner even consider that they might stay at home and care for the child?
“Women don’t want high-stress positions”
Women are almost conditioned into not pushing for the well payed promotions men apply for. That’s because they’ve been told by society that the roles aren’t for women. Hiring and firing is a man’s job.
“Women with children can’t do the job as well a man”
Bosses might assume that a mother with a young baby will be absent at work. But this has been proven to be incorrect. Moms are actually on the whole more efficient than any other employees. Hardly surprising when you consider the multi-taking that goes into raising a tiny human.
Is it getting any better?
Depending on how we measure it, the pay gap is either improving a little or not at all. Both of those outcomes aren’t good enough.
In 2017, the UK made it compulsory for all employers with a headcount of 250 or more on their ‘snapshot date’ to comply with regulations on gender pay gap reporting. And what do the results tell us?
In the UK, 9,628 companies reported in time for the deadline, which was up from a total number of 6,945 firms that reported in 2019. So far so positive. But while participation might be up, the results paint a bleak picture.
7,572 reported a pay gap that favors men
1,286 have a pay gap favoring women
770 report no pay gap.
How can we do more?
If you’re a man reading this and you want to take action, or a woman who is in the minority, earning more than her male counterparts, there are some tangible steps you can take to help close the gender pay gap.
Include more women in promotion shortlists
If they don’t make the shortlist, they definitely won’t get the promotion. So if you’re on a recruitment panel for a new role or a promotion, be sure to push for equal representation between men and women. Or as Beyonce would say, offer them a seat at the table.
Using skill-based tasks in interviews
Your inherent bias might lead you to employ a man (even women do this). So introducing a skills-based task interview can help you pick the best candidate based on skills and not your internalized misogyny. Soz not soz.
Talk about money
Don’t keep your salary a secret from your female colleagues. Share pay grades, let them know how much you earn, and advise honestly when they’re discussing pay rises. Transparency is key people.
Appointing diversity task forces
A diversity task force might seem like woke-signaling to some, but it can hold you accountable when it comes to hiring. They can reduce biased decisions in recruitment and promotion because people who make decisions know that their decision may be reviewed. And it’s amazing how much fairer people are when they know they’re being watched.
Take care-giving seriously
If you’re an employee, or if you have some say in hiring decisions, you must accommodate flexibility for all genders. Create a culture where caregiving is an assumed part of work-life balance.
Measure that progress
Set appropriate targets to measure progress – holding our employers accountable for getting us all paid fairly is key in closing the gender pay gap.