Men Work, Women Work: An Absence of Fairness

The latest report published by the Global Gender Gap highlights an interesting phenomenon regarding the rise of female enrollment in both secondary and tertiary education. It is evident that in 95 countries, women hold higher academic qualifications than their male counterparts. Nonetheless, the education gains that equip women with equal skills and knowledge, have failed to increase their economic gains. This leaves a question in the minds of many as to why the rise in female education attainment does not significantly narrow the gender pay disparity.

To answer this question fairly, we first must acknowledge that the gender pay gap has in fact, narrowed in some parts of the world. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Vietnam are some of the most gender-equal nations, maintaining a steady pace and diminishing the pay gap between males and females. Simultaneously, the Office for National Statistics exhibits that in 29 of the UK’s local authority areas, women who work full-time receive a higher hourly rate than men.

Despite this positive progression, this is not commonplace in the majority of countries. According to the World Economic Forum, the average international salaries for men and women is approximated at $19,873 and $10,778, respectively. Furthermore, the report identifies a pessimistic outlook on the equality in income earned between the sexes in our lifetime. By examining the trend of economic gender gap and employment opportunities for women, it is predicted that the disparity will continue to exist for a further 170 years.

One may argue that the success rate displayed across various countries in achieving gender parity in education may reduce economic gender disparity. However, the truth is far-removed from the expectation. Women in most countries, across all sectors and occupations, earn between 60 to 75 percent of that earned by their male counterparts. The question remains regarding why the global economic parity between sexes remains a remote possibility?

Why so?

It is evident that, globally, 46% of women of working-age prefer not to participate in the labor force. The underlying factor behind this is that women have other primary responsibilities besides pursuing a formal career. In many societies, despite an increase in women entering the workforce, they remain responsible for such domestic responsibilities as taking care of their children or parents, alongside household chores.

The World Development Report estimates that women hold disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work. In general, women spend 1 to 3 hours more per day on household chores than men, 2 to 10 times the time caring for their family members, and have 1 to 4 hours less a day to shop for groceries. Consequently, women are constricted by the limited time they have available to participate in gainful employment.

The second reason for this inequality can be found in occupational segregation. Globally, 54% of working-age women enter the labor market and participate in the formal economy, compared with 81% of men. Of these 54%, 49.1% are employed in low-paid jobs, where they are vulnerable to being undervalued and unprotected by labor legislation. Moreover, women are usually recruited to positions that are in accordance to their traditionally-perceived traits, such as clerical and customer service professions; thereby creating occupational segregation.

In a sector with low union density, such as financial services, women are underrepresented and powerless to break the old-fashioned stereotype. Subsequently, this grouping affects employers’ policies in recruitment-selection and training programs. Due to the nature of lower-paid jobs, women often receive job-specific training while men in high-earning positions can undertake training beyond their jobs; thus enhancing their career prospects.

The final reason for the gender disparity is that employers often have unfavorable working time and performance assessment policies for women. The prospects for obtaining higher salaries and promotion are often associated with performance assessments conducted by managers. Nonetheless, in most service sectors, employees are required by the firms to work unsocial hours. Although these overtime working hours are regulated, the reality is they can be much longer due to the demand available to clients around the clock.

As performance assessments highly consider presentism, women find it difficult to fulfill this requirement due to their caring responsibilities and periods of maternity leave. Even though, in some countries, both employers and employees are well aware of the rights of parents with children under six to work flexibly, the possibility of working part-time or remotely from home would significantly affect their career advancement and earnings. This is because flexible work practices frequently have a negative association with wage growth, promotions and other career-related rewards. In fact, it was reported that during periods of economic downturn in the UK, women with imminent childcare responsibilities were vulnerable to redundancy.

All these factors contribute to women having a low bargaining position when negotiating for higher basic pay, reward, and promotion; hence widening the pay inequality.

What’s next?

It cannot be denied that women pay a considerable cost for the time they take away from paid employment. If appropriate solutions are not found, this phenomenon will likely continue in the near future.

Different actors should play a role in reducing the growing pay gap between men and women. Employers must develop guidelines and policies that focus on flexible working hours and smooth return-to-work transitions for women taking maternity leave, to ensure sustained career progression.

Meanwhile, the government should develop strategies to affirm that employers provide and adhere to such policies. Moreover, there is also a need to design fair industrial strategies for low-paid, highly feminized sectors to improve levels of basic pay. Efforts should also be made to increase women’s participation in high-earning professions. In this regard, there is a requirement to transform traditional societal perceptions of the basic roles of men and women. In fact, women today dominate the groups of young educated elites, whose talents and skills can be equal to, or greater than, those of their male counterparts.

This increase in the number of women working in high-earning jobs will also increase the need for employers to promote a work culture where flexibility is the norm. Rather than presentism, it may now be time to assess performance solely on outcomes. Such efforts will offer women a golden opportunity to have more presence in the workforce; thereby contributing to the minimization of gender pay gap.