The gender pay gap- what's next?

The gender pay gap- what's next?

In this, the eighth anniversary year of the Equality Act, we have data—for the first time—that reports on the scale of the gender pay gap in private business and the public sector. By and large, the results make for difficult reading; of the 10,016 public and private bodies eligible to report, 7,795 reported figures that revealed men are paid more than women, based on the median hourly pay.

While all those companies reporting particularly damning data have gone to lengths to underscore that these statistics do not represent unequal pay for equal work, they do reveal structural inequalities that speak to a gendered epidemic: our professional ecosystems leave women behind.

The “opportunity gap”- as it will be referred to in this article, is a strident issue for most female professionals, not only for how it impacts remuneration but also for its capacity to blockade women from senior leadership positions.  The disconnect between opportunity and pay underpins the issue of the gender pay gap; it was discovered that while women occupy the greater majority of junior roles, the number of female professionals in senior or managerial positions diminishes significantly. Despite women making up 47% of the workforce, only 35% transition into managerial positions, and even fewer women go on to be directors or senior officials.

Where does the imbalance come from?

While the 2010 Equality Act made it impossible for employers to pay the genders differently, as the Gender Pay Gap Report highlights, unconscious biases remain rife in our workplaces, and certainly have a lot to answer for. Most costly is how ingrained gender bias informs perceptions about female colleagues, not least in informing our perception of female ambition and professional aspiration. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission describes, colleagues are wont to make “assumptions about women not wanting to accept promotion, or not being in a position to do so, particularly where they have caring responsibilities” (The Equality and Human Rights Commission.)

This is certainly played out in the demographics of people who make up senior leadership teams, and is particularly acute in companies where men are already overrepresented at the top of the food chain; The Guardian’s 2018 insight report shows a clear correlation between female representation and a gender pay gap. In the majority of cases, the data shows that the gender pay gap favours women when women are most represented in Senior Leadership, and men are more favoured most when they are most represented in Senior Leadership. When this trend is considered against the scale of the gender pay gap, it is clear that of the 82% of companies which have reported a gender pay gap, they are the same companies who promote fewer women into the board room. While the promotion of a select number of women to Senior Leadership positions would provide short term relief from an unsavoury pay imbalance, the problem is as much a cultural issue as it is fiscal. As the Telegraph reports: CMI’s chief executive Ann Francke said that too many businesses are like "glass pyramids" with "women holding the majority of lower-paid junior roles and far fewer reaching the top." And it’s a problem that suffers from self-perpetuation. In companies which are predominantly masculine, male oriented business cultures are encouraged. This might include after-work drinks, failing to acknowledge women in meetings or developing job specifications which lend themselves towards male characteristics. All of these ingrained practices serve to alienate female colleagues, and “it is an all too common occurrence; when women are excluded, companies lose out on their talent.” (The Guardian)

It is a truism that being male carries a certain currency in male dominated industries. In a world where first impressions matter, it is inevitable then that women are set apart by their gender identities when entering these arenas. As one Chinese-American woman in a study hosted by Catalyst remarks: “[There are] things out of my control, like my gender and race, first impressions [are that] either I am a dragon lady when too direct, or too meek. It is difficult to process.” Feeling a sense of “otherness” within business is a striking barrier towards achieving professional success. As Catalyst reported, when we are made to feel like the other, we are less likely to have high level mentors, less likely to receive promotions and more likely to downsize aspirations (catalyst: It’s not easy feeling different. New York: Catalyst, January 16 2014.) Whilst the majority of companies are not doing this purposefully, male dominated industries will inevitably lose out on a diverse profile of talent if this issue is not addressed, as increasing numbers of women feel separated from the power structures at the top of the chain.

“Best revenge is your paper”

Increasing the number of women in Senior Leadership is a key strategic goal towards achieving parity. As things currently stand, women are globally over-represented in traditionally low paying work industries: 84% of employed women work in the services industry compared to 60% of employed men. Described by the ILO as “elementary occupations” overall, women appear to gravitate towards lower paying jobs globally compared to men. “Whatever the reasons and strategies you devise to break down the gendered employment divide, it is important to acknowledge there is such a thing as “women’s jobs”, and that these are often more poorly paid than so-called ‘men's jobs’” (OECD, Observer, November 2017 (Men are from Mars; women are poorly paid.)) As the single biggest cause of the gender pay gap it is vital to comprehend the existence of gendered occupations and the “occupational and industry sorting of men and women into jobs that pay differently throughout the economy” that diverts men and women into different career paths.

While this stems from broader societal issues, when combined with the reported sense of “otherness” experienced by many women in male dominated profession, what is manifested is an opportunity gap that prevents any satisfying progress from being made. Installing women in Senior Leadership positions will ensure that a culture of diversity has the opportunity to manifest, rather than permit the perpetuation of a male homogeny.

When the Professional gets Personal

As a 25 year old woman, the mean gender pay gap for my age bracket sits at 5.5%. While this statistic is by no means cause for celebration, the picture fails to improve with age as the divide develops in ferocity. Unequal pay is most rife from the ages of 30-60+ and spikes in the age bracket of 50-59. However, it's Baby Boomers who have suffered most, labouring under a reported gender pay gap of 16.4%. It seems that, the gender pay gap may be smaller among young workers because women beginning their careers today face fewer barriers than older workers faced in previous generations. Alternatively, older women may simply face harsher age discrimination in the labour market, amplifying the gender pay gap for older workers” (Glassdoor, Demystifying the gender pay gap.) While both conclusions are difficult to reconcile, what appears to be obvious is the very real existence of unconscious bias towards women of all ages and experience.

Over the course of this series, Esther Adetoba and Catherine Gleave will examine the Gender Pay gap, and discuss what can be done to correct the divide. Exploring a range of societal issues, Esther and Catherine will examine the origins of the gender pay gap, and discuss a range of problems facing women in the work place. From issues of diversity, to the imperative of flexible working, this series aims to cast light on the opportunity gap and what lies beneath.

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About the author:
Catherine is one of the Future of Law's digital editors. She graduated from Durham University with a degree in English Literature and worked at a barristers chambers before joining Lexis Nexis.