Gender pay gap widens

Women earn less than men for similar work and, despite the growing focus on reducing gender inequality in recent years, the pay gap is widening, says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of the Landelahni Recruitment Group.

“Women in developing economies in particular are worse off today than they were last year, giving credence to the impression that women bear the brunt of economic downturns,” says Burmeister.

In South Africa, women earn on average 34% less than their male counterparts, compared to 33% a year ago. The pay gap is at its lowest in the non-profit sector at 5%. In the public sector it is 27%, with the private sector pay gap rising to 35.5%. When it comes to industry sectors, the trade, transport and hospitality sector performs best at a 24% pay gap, followed by commercial services, agriculture, manufacturing and building at 35%.

“Effectively, this means that women work for free for four months a year, while men work and get paid for a full year,” says Burmeister.

According to a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) survey of 134 countries, the gender gap as measured by economic participation and opportunity, education, health and political empowerment widened in 41% of the 134 countries surveyed. Globally, the average gender pay gap for similar work was 35%, up from 34% in 2009.

“According to research,” says Burmeister, “the gender pay gap for similar work exists across most occupations in both developed and developing economies, although it is wider in developing nations.”

A Wage Indicator survey covering 37 countries confirms that men earn considerably more than women. Europe exhibits the narrowest pay gap, with an average of just under 20%. Africa shows a 29% gap, followed by the Americas, with a gap of about 33%. Asia shows the widest differential at a 40% pay gap.

Denmark leads the way as one of the world’s most egalitarian countries. On average a professional woman earns 91% of the pay of her male peers. By contrast, India and Brazil exhibit a wide income gap, with a female worker earning 64% of that of her male peers in the same occupation and with the same qualifications.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, SA comes second after Lesotho in terms of gender equality, followed by Mozambique, Namibia and Uganda, with Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Chad trailing at the bottom of the list.

According to the WageIndicator survey, the gender pay gap widens with age. For women under 25 years, the gender pay gap is 15%. Between the ages of 25 and 34 years, it widens to 19%. This widening trend accelerates in the middle-age group (35-50 years) to reach 25%. Finally, during the later years of their working career, the earnings gap widens at a slower rate, with women over 50 experiencing a pay gap of 27%.

“Surprisingly, women with a degree earn on average 30% less than their male peers with similar levels of education, whereas the gap is lower for those with a basic or high-school education,” says Burmeister. “It seems that a graduate degree pays off for men more than it does for women.

“In the past, research attributed the gender pay gap largely to differences in the skills and experience that women bring to the labour market, differences in education and the career choices made by women, along with family status and carrying most of the household burden. Discrimination was also shown as a major factor.

“We need to look at gender issues more broadly. There are several progressive, yet practical options that exist for the 21st century organisation in narrowing the gender gap. We have found that women are becoming more independent, socially, financially and emotionally. Many are relinquishing traditional roles as they enter and advance in the work place. A recent Markinor survey shows that ‘the new breed of ambitious females reveals a level of contempt for traditional roles’.

“Many women are ambitious and committed to self-empowerment. They welcome the opportunity to be fast tracked in a career, based on recognition of their truth worth.

“Today’s workplace should include innovative practices such flexible working and job-sharing, and offer equal training and development opportunities for women. In addition, we need to change stereotypes that women are worth less and deserve to be paid less than men. The inculcation of gender stereotypes begins at an early age, and school is the place to tackle and change attitudes to gender issues.

“Improving gender and pay equality is good for business, and increases productivity and economic growth. According to the WEF, closing the male-female employment gap would have huge economic benefits, boosting GDP by as much as 16%.

“By drawing on the full complement of available talent at all levels of the organisation, particularly in top leadership teams, companies have been shown to produce better financial results, particularly as opportunities grow in the knowledge economy. It makes sound business sense for pay inequality and job barriers for women to be removed.”

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