The causes of the gender pay gap are complex. It is affected by
wider cultural and social influences, in particular the prevailing
assumptions about the role of women as and by the unequal
assumption of responsibility for unpaid domestic work by men and
Calls to address the issue are being raised all over the world
– in Iceland on 24 October 2016 and in France on 7 November
for example campaigners urged working women to down tools in
recognition of the fact that the pay gap means that they would
effectively be working for free for the remainder of the year.
Across Europe the average pay gap between men and women in
equivalent jobs is 16.1%.
There is considerable consensus about the measures that are
likely to achieve change:
Lack of pay transparency is an enemy of pay equality. Whilst
gender pay gap reporting addresses this indirectly through the
publication of statistics rather than individual pay rates, it will
bring into the open the existence and extent of the gap within
individual employers – this is a good start.
In the US, where the overall gender pay gap is 20%, campaigning
organisation the American Association of University Women (AAUW)
urges companies to conduct pay audits to monitor and address gender
pay differences. At the same time it urges stronger incentives for
employers to comply with the law and stronger federal enforcement.
This points to the potential weakness in the UK gender pay gap
reporting regime, namely the lack of meaningful sanctions for
non-compliance, leaving it in effect to commercial considerations
to motivate employers.
The AAUW also suggests that women can learn strategies to help
them negotiate for equal pay. This echoes a point raised in
an updated report on the gender pay gap in Australia produced last
month by KPMG for Diversity Council Australia and the Australian
Workplace Gender Equality Agency. The report suggests that the
issue of pay negotiation is more complex than a reluctance on the
part of women to ask for higher pay – often, when they do,
they find themselves penalised or stigmatised.
'She's Price(d)less' argues that a series of
myths contributes to the persistence of the gender pay gap (such as
the suggestion that women are paid less because they
'choose' to work part time, or 'choose' lower
paying jobs). The report analyses the overlapping elements that
continue to depress women's pay – interruptions in work,
industry segregation, occupational segregation, age, part time
employment and length of service. Having quantified the
contribution made by each of these factors, the report concludes
that a startling 35% of the pay gap – by far the biggest
percentage – cannot be explained by any factor other than sex
While the report recommends a pay gap audit as a necessary
starting point in tackling the problem, it also concludes that the
gap will only be closed by a concerted effort by government,
employers and individuals to address more intractable problems such
as unconscious gender biases and the unequal participation of men
in caring and domestic responsibilities.
Where there does seem to be international consensus is in the
recognition that the gender pay gap represents a failure to
optimise the use of female talent and energy and that addressing
the gender pay gap is, as the AAUW succinctly puts it, good for
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