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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Why should the gender pay gap bother us?

By Mariama Kandeh

Aisha has just returned home. Her kids are rushing all over her. ‘Mummy’ ‘Mummy’. ‘Hello my babies,’ she said trying to force a smile. She is actually sad. She carried the younger of her two boys over her shoulder and surrender on the sofa. The boys were nagging over what she had brought home for them. She called out to the house girl to go and get the things she has bought on her way home. The kids followed the house girl to the car. She lay on her back and started thinking. She had just learnt her fellow director earn almost twice of what she earns. This has pissed her. ‘What the hell does he know about the job that I don’t? Same experience, same qualification and I even work harder than him, so what’s the point? What’s the freaking point?’ She kept asking herself as she picked up a stick of cigarette from her bag and lit it.  ‘Maybe I should start searching for another job,’ she concluded before the kids rushed in.

Women like Aisha all over the world suffer similar plight. More women are working harder than ever. More girls are attaining higher education. But women still receive far less a pay than their male counterparts who do similar jobs. They face a variety of legal constraints that prevent them an equal representation in the development agenda. Indeed some laws still treat them as minors. In Zaire, for instance, a married woman must have her husband’s consent to open a bank account, accept a job, obtain a commercial license or sell or rent a real estate.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that the gender pay gap in the medical field has not only persisted but significantly widened. Even after allowing for adjustments for speciality, practice type and hours worked, this inequality, the authors conclude, “may be due not only to preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities.”

This should definitely bother us because as women formed the bulk of the world’s population underrepresentation in areas such as medicine is not a good sign; evidence have shown that countries with greater gender equality are more likely to have higher economic growth – for instance India, where women are shattering the glass ceiling in the banking and financial sector with growing number of female board executives and heads of management.

Another reason why this should bother us is that it also reveals that more women are frowning away from the medical field because they don’t feel connected to it. Women are generally attracted to careers where they see other women especially so if their fellow females are excelling. This is exhibited in fields like nursing and teaching where there are more women than men.

Would it bother one if it turns out that one is wasting money on recruitment, training and development only to realise that these people are not going to stay long enough to give one a return for one’s investment? The issue of inequality would bother entrepreneurs if they had fewer women interested in working for their businesses. An apparent issue is that women’s rising aspirations have not been fulfilled. They have been persuaded to climb onto the career ladder only to learn that the middle rungs are dominated by men and the upper rungs are unreachable. A recent survey of 2,000 working women showed that women are distracted from applying for jobs in firms where other women are not in senior roles. The survey also revealed that one in ten of those interviewed said there were no women in higher positions in their organisations.

Only 2% of the bosses of Fortune 500 companies and five of those in the FTSE 100 stock market index are women. Women make up less than 13% of board members in America. Norway is leading the way with 35% of non executive board members after firms where asked in 2008 to increase their female representation to 40%. In the UK a 25% representation is being recommended and since 2011 there has been an increase from 11% to 17% in female board members. The upper ranks of management consultancies and banks are dominated by men. In America and the UK a full-time female worker earns only about 80% as much as her male colleague. This no doubt owes to prejudice.

The UK CIPD points out that “unhappiness with the gender pay gap and glass ceiling in corporate life” has caused a growing number of professional and highly qualified women like Aisha to start up their own businesses.

The growth in the number of female workers has also witness a reality that forces businesses to either value women or risk losing business. Not only because the purchasing power of females is more significant today than ten years ago, but because we always prefer doing business with people that we feel can relate to us.  This should also bother us because the interests of men and women are different and even conflicting and therefore women are needed in representative institutions in order to articulate the interests of other younger women wishing to join the employment scale. The fact is the major institutions in the world today are still highly patriarchal in nature – this trend must change if we are to have developed economies. Men alone cannot do it. Men have been doing it for ages and yet the world was hit by recession. When women aren’t feeling the love in the work place, how’s that going to translate to doing good business with over half of the market base? How’s that going to translate in the larger economic spectrum?

As Dr Tom Schuller warns, “radical” action is highly needed because the gender pay gap seems to be closing for younger women but steadily while the gender competence gap is widening.

The situation is even more crucial for working mothers as most feel pressured to quit their jobs once they have kids. A study by law firm Slater & Gordon revealed that one-quarter of those surveyed felt under pressure after the birth of their child to leave their position or reduce their role. The fact is that it is hard-working women that are getting less than they deserve – particularly when 1 in 3 working mothers in the UK are breadwinners.  But the biggest reason why women remain frustrated is more profound: many women are forced to choose between motherhood and careers. Childless women in corporate earn almost as much as men. Mothers with partners earn less and single mothers much less. It has also been revealed that many women who feel unhappy with the pay gap feel obliged to work because of responsibilities (especially single mothers) rather than a desire to empower themselves.

The cost of motherhood is particularly precipitous for fast-track women. While countries like Finland, Australia, Czeck republic and Hungary give up to three years paid maternity leave for women to spend more time with their newly born, in UK it’s just up to a year and in America there’s no statutory paid leave for mothers and only 12 weeks unpaid leave. This is increasingly making it difficult for working mothers to survive in the workforce.

It is equally sadden when this status quo gains support by some politicians as The UK Independent Party leader Nigel Farage – who earlier this year said women who go on maternity leave deserve less pay because they lose important clients to the firms and most struggle to maintain that gap on return to work. This statement which caused a serious outrage by women’s empowerment and rights groups only showcase the  broader perspective of working women who choose to have babies and hence the widening pay gap.

In developing countries, Pregnancy and motherhood generally put women out of job. Most firms do not follow statutory maternity policies and since checks and balances are ineffective, Pregnant Women are generally left to endure the consequences. In most cases women are forced to relinquish their positions when they got pregnant and some have been refused maternity leave while others have been granted unpaid maternity leave.  Few countries in Francophone Africa have reviewed their labour policies and signed ILO treaties to suit the needs of women taking cognisance of issues such as pregnancy and the health and safety of women. The policies also include penalties for firms who fail to abide by the legislations.

African women have always been active in agriculture, trade, and other economic pursuits, but a majority of them are in the informal labour force. In 1985, women’s shares in African labour forces ranged from 17 per cent, in Mali, to 49 per cent in Mozambique and Tanzania.

In the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa, women are well-represented at junior levels, but diminish suddenly at middle, senior and executive levels with modest representation at board levels. Additionally, men profit more from having a higher education than women with similar qualifications – and men obviously excel more. In South Africa, the gender gap is 35%, which means women earn in a year what their male counterparts earn in eight months.

African Women work twice as long as men, 15 to 18 hours a day, but often earn only one tenth as much. While women grow 80% of food produced in Africa, only a few are allowed to own the land they till.

 It is often more difficult for women to gain access to information and technology, resources and credit. Agricultural extension and formal financial institutions are biased towards a male clientele, despite women’s significance as producers.

Women in the Middle East and North Africa in the labour force face greater challenges than men in accessing employment opportunities – women experience significantly higher unemployment rates than men. A World Bank’s Survey also shows that women’s entrepreneurship in these areas remains low compared to other regions. Women also face a more hostile business environment in these areas even though there are no marked differences in the types of firms owned by women and men.

Unequal pay among men and women continue to put more young women at risk of sexual and other abuses.  In some instances, Young women are often tempted to accept gifts of money from men who in turn would make sexual advances. In most cases senior executives in both public and private sector demand love and sexual favours from young female employees in order to push their case for recommendations for promotions. This put women in very precarious positions and makes it very difficult for them to grow and attain board membership positions.

For women like Aisha it is not about being a woman, it is about giving to Caesar what Caesar deserves. It’s about equality in the workforce. It’s about looking at competence rather than the gender. It’s about making sure men and women who perform the same roles have equal pay. How long are the Aishas all around the world going to continue changing jobs and bringing instability to themselves and their families if the current status quo is not changed?

Have we thought of what the future holds for the increasing number of young girls jumping into the workforce and how not having a model in the higher echelon of businesses; firms and big organizations would squash their enthusiasm? Have we thought of how this negative outcome would have a ripple effect on our efforts to achieve a gender equal world? If we have thought about this, I believe the widening pay gap between women and men should continue to bother us significantly until change is achieved.

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