A problem that’s been endemic to the workplace ever since it opened its doors to women is the simple fact that women are frequently paid less than men, what’s referred to as the ‘Gender Pay Gap’. While the gap has been slowly closing over the last few decades, there’s still a lot of work to do before real equality is achieved.
The variation in pay between men and women varies depending on the type of work, the nation they work in, and their age. Countries that have historically been more democratic and socially liberal have a smaller pay gap than other countries, with nations like New Zealand, Denmark and Norway having a smaller gap than South Korea, Japan and Estonia.
The Women’s Liberation movement that sprung up in the 60s saw massive changes in societal attitudes and legal rights towards women. Before this, women working in any field, let alone a stereotypically ‘masculine’ one like construction or heavy industry, was considered laughable and developed considerable pushback from some men. Persistence, protests and debate produced legislation including the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 in the UK alone, strengthening women’s rights in the workplace.
However, cases of discrimination, harassment and unequal treatment have continued to this day. The Equal Pay Act 1970 (now superseded by the Equality Act 2010) was enacted to finally close the pay gap, but as of 2018 it’s still generating headlines. Why are companies still underpaying their female employees?
Why The Gender Pay Gap Still Exists
One obvious reason is companies can simply get away with it. As trade unions have eroded in the last 50 years and a super-competitive job market emerged, women, alongside many other working-class citizens in the UK, can’t bargain for better wages or for basic worker’s rights to be upheld.
There’s also a lack of knowledge around the aforementioned regulations in both the workforce and employers. While the government has made a great deal of noise about clamping down on employers cheating their female employees out of their hard-earned pay, it remains to be seen how well it will be tackled.
However, there are other reasons that the pay gap may exist, with varying degrees of excusability. Some may claim that maternal leave and parenting is driving women’s wages down. However, the pay gap affects all women, not just mothers, and the gap is smaller is industries commonly stereotyped to be ‘feminine’ like social work or nursing than ‘masculine’ industries, which signals a lack of distinction between the two in many management circles.
There’s also the old, tired stereotypical excuse of “gender roles”. Just like how men are steered away from ‘feminine’ sectors like social care or nursing, women are steered away from areas like STEM and manufacturing. Like most stereotypes, they bear little relation to reality: women frequently took the roles of men in manufacturing during both world wars, only to be squeezed out afterwards to allow men back into their old jobs.
Regardless of what the excuse is for paying women less, they don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’ll be up to posterity to decide whether the gender pay gap will close in a couple of years, or in a couple of decades. At the Change Consultancy, we’re excited about taking new technology, methods and workplace philosophy to reinvigorate companies and get them running at maximum efficiency in an age where change is fast and confusing.