Hearing the phrase “gender pay gap” or “pay inequality” brings up a lot of different things for a lot of different people. It is a contentious issue that often gets caught up in heated political and ideological debates. Whatever your perspective on the matter, it’s important to bring awareness to this very real and negatively impactful disparity.
PWC says that “The gender pay gap is, at its simplest, the difference between the average wages of men and women regardless of their seniority.” It’s important to understand the difference between the gender pay gap and the equal pay issue. “Equal pay is about pay differences between men and women who are paid differently for ‘like work’, ‘work of equal value’ or ‘work rated as equivalent’.”
In other words, the gender pay gap is the imbalance in pay between men and women across all jobs on average. Equal pay, on the other hand, is about discrimination against women doing the exact same jobs as higher paid men. Last year’s Inequality Trends in South Africa report found that women earn 30% less than men on average in the same jobs – this is an egregious example of unequal pay. The two are interconnected and the latter feeds into the former.
The gender pay gap can be explained in a number of ways. There are far less women occupying positions of seniority around the globe. In South Africa, women represent only 20% of senior management and executive positions. This is both due to discrimination and the fact that women tend not to go for higher paying jobs. Sometimes it’s because of the degree of flexibility that lower paying jobs sometimes allow (especially for women with children), and sometimes because of a subconscious internalisation of the discrimination that we face. It’s complicated to unpack because there are so many reasons as to why this may be the case. Every woman has her individual reasons for working the job that she works, all of which are equally valid.
Some people still deny that the wage gap exists because there are so many variables that need to be considered in its research, despite all the cold hard facts that prove that it’s no matter of fiction. Whatever perspective you study it from, every study shows that there is a gap to some degree – a gap that is not insignificant.
Over a lifetime, a woman will lose an average of R7.5 million because of the wage gap. We are paid only about 82% of a man’s salary, no matter our level of education or position.
The good news is that the gap is slowly getting smaller. South Africa has a long way to go, but global efforts are being made to reduce the pay disparity. Many countries have introduced mandatory quotients to be filled that require a certain percentage of executive positions in a company to be comprised of women.
Next time you’re second guessing whether or not you should shoot for the stars in your career and experiencing self-doubt, remember that you are valuable and contributing to wider social change!
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