International Equal Pay Day – 18th of September

International Equal Pay Day – 18th of September

The 18th of September is International Equal Pay Day, a day to remember that the economic gender gap still exists and that we still need to fight for gender equality in every realm. As you may know by now because of other blog posts, to achieve gender equality is the sustainable development goal number five. Equal pay for equal work is one of the concrete actions that can be achieved in order to steadily eliminate discrimination against women in the workplace, and elsewhere.

The Gender Economic Gap

While there are more and more women in politics, education, and health -actually, the global gender gap in these areas is narrowing- the latest evidence provided by the World Economic Forum shows that the economic gender gap is growing. In order not to be affected by the gender pay gap, if we continue at the current rhythm, a woman would have to be born in 2255 to get equal pay at work. Yes, exactly, the closing of the gender economic gap is not expected before the year 2277.

Globally, only 55% of adult women are working in the labour market, compared to 78% of adult men. In skilled roles, only 40% of the workers are women. In addition, on average, women learn around $10,000 less than men per year: the average annual income of a man is $21,500; while for a woman that number drops to $11,500. In the European Union, women earn on average 16% less per hour than men, although there are differences among the countries. The highest pay gap in Europe is found in Estonia (25.6%), Czech Republic (21.1%), Germany (21%) and UK (20.8%). The lowest numbers are found in Slovenia (8%), Poland (7.2%), Belgium (7%), and Italy and Luxembourg (5%). However, a higher pay gap does not necessarily mean less gender equality, since a small pay gap can hint at women having fewer paid jobs or being concentrated in only a few industries.

While many countries and other supranational bodies such as the European Parliament have gender equality on the agenda, progress is still extremely slow. The European Parliament has urged the European Commission to propose a series of measures to tackle gender economic inequality in the private and the public sector. Some of the measures are:

  • Clear targets from all the countries belonging to the European Union for the next five years.
  • Investment in child education and care services, since women are still doing the majority of care work.
  • Investment in family-friendly working arrangements. For example, flexible hours so parents can bring and pick up the kids from school, working from home, etc.
  • Adequate pensions and benefits. Women continue to systematically have lower pensions than men, because they have earned less during their working life. One of the reasons why the gender economic gap is so hard to close is because all the causes and consequences are closely tied.
  • Promotion of entrepreneurship and STEM subject for girls. More women are needed in STEM because diversity in the workplace brings new perspective that stimulate research and can illuminate new areas that are currently under-researched.

Why does the gender pay gap occur?

There are many factors that have an impact on the gender pay gap; and this is one of the reasons why this problem is still pervasive despite governmental efforts to tackle it. One of the main factors is the fact that women do more hours of unpaid work (caring for children, old relatives, or doing housework) than men. Because of this extra work, a higher number of women (31.3% across the European Union) choose to work part time, with the consequent reduction in salary. Only 8.7% of men work part-time in the EU. However, despite this difference, women work on average more hours per week than men do (if we count unpaid work).

In addition, women are much more likely than men to take career breaks; again, usually in order to care for senior relatives and/or children. This can hurt the possibilities of acquiring a promotion and its attached pay rise. Another reason is that there are fewer women in high-paid management and executive positions than men and female managers tend to earn a 23% less than male managers.

However, another factor that is also decisive is gender discrimination: women are still being paid less for doing the same work than men, are being hired less with the same qualifications, and are often overlooked for promotion.

Is it all lost, then? No, more and more initiatives are taken to tackle this problem. Although some of them only affect a reduced number of people, they are still highly symbolic and hint that we are going in the right direction. For example, recently Brazil announced that their women’s football team will receive the same salary than their male counterpart. One may wonder, however, why they received a smaller salary in the first place. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has highlighted the great leadership skills of many female prime ministers around the world such as Finland’s Sanna Marin, Germany’s Angela Merkel, or New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. This may help tackle negative stereotypes regarding women in positions of leadership and help eliminate gender inequality that prevents women from exploring their full potential.