Mind The Pay Gap

WORDS: HOLLY MARGERRISON
FEATURE IMAGE: MARTEN BJORK

The passing of International Women’s Day this year saw the theme of ‘Balance for Better’ – whether that be socially, politically, or even economically. It would seem a little ironic, then, that the recent publishing of business’s gender pay gaps has revealed three-quarters of firms pay men more than women. But why do women continue to earn less than men when measures have been put in place to redress this imbalance?

Let us be clear in outlining why women are getting paid less than men on average. The label ‘gender pay gap’ can be a little misleading when it comes to our understanding of what really lies behind the numbers. The pay gap is not the same thing as equal pay. Equal pay is in place to ensure women and men are paid the same for performing work of equal value and is a legal requirement. The gender pay gap, however, measures the disparity between the average pay for all men and women across a business, regardless of their role or seniority. 

A whole host of factors contribute to this discrepancy. Predominantly, women are more likely to be part-time workers due to the fact they are more commonly carers and these part-timers typically get paid less than full-time workers as it is, so it’s a lose-lose situation. Unsurprisingly, jobs like engineering suffer most with their pay gaps due to the fact these were historically more appealing to men, although many of these companies have begun to create a more inclusive culture by recruiting more women. This, then, throws up the issue of how reliable the gender pay gap findings are. Does the number you get depend on the question you ask? 

Whilst Lancashire Police defended their 31.4% gender pay gap as a result of ‘striving for inclusion’ by recruiting more women (new starters will be on lower salaries), it hardly seems to justify statistics about the lack of women in senior positions. In business, women hold 15% of board seats worldwide. In politics, women make up only 24% of people in national parliaments. In leadership, women lead only 13 of 195 countries. Whilst inclusion is certainly a step in the right direction, these figures can only connote the measures that still need to be employed to hoist women further up the ladder and reiterate the message that there’s no quick fix to the pay gap.

That’s not to say businesses aren’t already tackling this gender inequality. Many big corporations are shattering misconceptions around male dominated STEM subjects and creating a pipeline of female talent. Others are ensuring they retain female workers through paid leave allowance or flexible working hours for carer responsibilities. Some are even promoting enhanced shared parental leave in a bid to encourage more men to take-up childcare responsibilities.

Employing female bosses, however, should not be a case of ticking boxes. It’s also time to eradicate the myth that to be a successful woman at the top you must conform to a certain stereotype. Too bossy, too soft, too emotional – female bosses always seem to be in excess of something. We only have to look towards Prime Minister Theresa May to see the backlash she’s received – not only on her leadership – but the way she is dressed, her gestures and the heavy bags under her eyes. Women in power face a double bind of expectations that men rarely have to contend with.

When advancing women’s financial position has the potential to dismantle societal assumptions about what constitutes male or female work and gendered traits, why wouldn’t companies strive to achieve gender parity? Surely this can only open the floodgates for men into new positions too. After all, history has taught us that a balanced world is a better world.