Understanding the Deeper Reasons for the Gender Pay Gap
Updated: May 8
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 looks at gender parity in four key areas: Political Participation, Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, and Health and Survival. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity since closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
India has slipped 28 places to rank 140th among 156 countries as per the 2021 report that ranks nations, becoming the third-worst performer in South Asia. On the other hand, things look equally grim in more developed Western countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, which did not make the top ten countries for gender equality.
So what’s going on here? To understand things better, let’s take an in-depth look at the reasons why women are paid less. Many of the challenges are global, but each country also faces its own additional unique set of cultural and political obstacles when it comes to the pay gap between women and men.
While motherhood, menstrual cycles, and menopause are natural parts of being a woman, they continue to be the leading cause of the gender pay gap. Career disruption caused by these “motherhood penalties” is difficult to reverse or catch up with, which becomes a primary reason for the pay gap between women & men, especially when ageism kicks in the later years.
Societal gender roles assigned to women become the next key factor at play. Caregiving for children, the household, and aging parents generally falls unequally on the shoulders of women. Although women are now a large part of the workforce, the amount of pressure from these responsibilities continues to be consistently on the female role in the home. Today, caregiving responsibilities have become a conversation that is gaining momentum, thanks to the unequal impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce.
Governments in most countries around the world are comprised of men, which leads to policies that do not support the unique challenges faced by women in maintaining a work-life balance. We are seeing a slow political shift in addressing the matter of pay disparity, thanks to women stepping into politics in larger numbers.
Industry Based Disparity
Industries that pay higher wages, like technology, engineering, and finance, also attract more men than women. The female roles in teaching, hospitality, and healthcare are devalued across the world. The absence of pay parity has a direct correlation to this aspect.
Access to Corporate Decision Making Roles
The opportunities required for women to occupy the C-suite and be on the board of companies are sparse. With no voice in key roles within the corporate structure, women have been stuck on a spinning loop for decades facing the pay disparity, where the gender glass ceiling continues to be a barrier to growth. In addition, women are more likely to request part-time roles, a shorter commute or telecommuting, and flexible scheduling, all of which become factors when promotions are being handed out.
Long Term Biases
The term "sticky floor" is used to describe a discriminatory employment pattern that keeps a certain group of people at the bottom of the job scale, like the role of secretaries, nurses, or food service staff. As per an OECD paper, these roles are viewed with a discriminatory lens and attract lower wages and gender stereotyping, especially in most Central and Eastern European countries.
It’s a known female trait to be more cautious, a pattern that perhaps emerged naturally from the role of motherhood and caretaking. New industries with higher pay scales require risky job switching for leadership roles and better prospects. Gender pay gaps are higher in sectors that require disruptive technical skills, where we find more men in all the roles. This leaves women behind in a 21st-century environment where pay parity could have been achieved. For example, in Cloud Computing, women make up 14% of the workforce; in Engineering, 20%; and in Data and AI, 32%. (Source)
Lack of Wage Transparency
Most companies offer salaries and incentives based on the candidate’s role and experience. In its rightful form, this logic makes complete sense since the more qualified candidates will attract higher wages and better roles. But the reality is more skewed since the lack of wage transparency leads to discrimination again women, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color. Western countries are making slow, steady strides in their wage reporting regulations, unbiased hiring practices, and board diversity requirements at a government level to overcome the pay disparity.
Education and Reskilling
Basic early education has long been on the agenda in most countries, and there is near gender parity in that area. But education does not stop there if we plan on closing the gender pay gap. Constant reskilling, mentoring, and the ability to get required training to get ready for managerial and leadership roles are the need of the hour to get women closer to equal pay for equal work.
Role of Women in Reversing the Trend
Generations of small groups of women have been working hard and demanding equal rights to move toward gender parity and close the gender pay gap. These small strides have led to big outcomes for the female gender, giving them the ability to vote, buy homes, create businesses, and carry credit cards without male involvement. Now the time has come for every woman to be aware of the larger environment in which they operate. Taking a back seat view of gender pay parity concerns is no longer an option for any woman, especially those with the freedom to make their own decisions without fear of physical or emotional harm.
There is no clear end in sight for reversing or balancing the gender pay gap. But the needle is definitely moving with more awareness on the issue of pay disparity than in previous generations. Each step counts in the progress toward closing the gender pay gap. As Melinda French Gates rightly says, “If you want to lift up humanity, empower women.”