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 women.
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 'She's Price(d)less' 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 discrimination.
- 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 business.
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