The gender pay gap conundrum

Over the last few months, a mix of positive and negative information has emerged around the gender pay gap. On the positive side, looking at gender pay across generations, there has been a dramatic reduction in the gap for millennial women in their 20s. As reported by City AM in January, the gap has nearly halved to 5% overall. When looking specifically at both women and men who work full time, the gap is even slighter with women actually in favour, earning 0.8% more than male counterparts. At the current rate of improvement, most OECD countries could close their gender pay gap in the next 50 years.

Elsewhere, it appears that the gap for women has not been reduced for other demographics, and in some countries and industries it has actually increased. Ireland for example, though it is marked to close its gender pay gap within 15 years, has seen an increase of 6.5% compared to figures from 2012, according to statistics from the Women in Work Index.

Of course, we still have the age old debate of what the definition of the pay gap actually is, often distracting us from the very real issues that face women in building their careers. Yes the gender pay gap does mean that women are being paid 18% less than men in exactly the same job. Yes it also means that women are disproportionately represented in lower paid and part time positions – and yes, that is often through choices made by women. Institutional sexism, barriers to flexible work and attitudes to female ambition all have their part to play in compounding the pay gap problem – direct discrimination is only one part of the picture. We live in a world that still predominantly expects women to be primary carer or secondary breadwinner in a household, so often the choice feels like no choice. Other times, it is a positive choice made to allow space for other projects, education and other means to make positive changes in one’s life. That the pay gap still exists at the expense of women shows the lack of flexibility and choice we all have in pursuing a successful career.

As of 5th April, companies will have to comply with new gender pay gap reporting obligations. The legislation requires employers with more than 250 employees to publish figures every year showing how large the pay gap is between male and female employees. This will allow us to build a much clearer picture of where the problems lie, and to further the progress made to eradicate discrimination and institutional sexism.

Overall, the solution we believe is to not just to focus on women in the workplace, though tackling workplace sexism is still an enormous challenge to overcome. An enormous step forward in closing the gender pay gap will come from completely overhauling our working culture, to ensure that talent does not slip through the cracks and that the way we work allows for more balance between genders in sharing care, and being able to progress in their work in a way that fits their lives.