Gender Pay Gap – Alive and Thriving

Iceland, together with its Nordic neighbours, has for decades been held up as the utopian society for gender equality – and rightly so. Women in Iceland have held the top job of either President or Prime Minister for 20 out of the last 35 years, Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report for the last eight years, their parental leave provisions are the envy of parents across the globe, and they have successfully introduced gender quotas for corporate boards.

But even in a gender progressive country such as Iceland, not all is perfect in terms of equity across the board. On Monday 24th October 2016, thousands of women in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik, stopped work at precisely 2:38pm and marched on the main square to protest the gender pay gap that still exists between men and women. The reason why they stopped work at this precise hour? This represents the cut off time that women are paid for in a typical work day. The rest of the work day is performed for free.

The gender pay gap is a phenomenon that exists to some degree in every country across the world. And if the progressive Icelanders still can’t get this right, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The gender pay gap is not an easy issue to tackle. There is still much confusion regarding what is being measured and what is being compared. When comparing “like for like” roles, we are looking at comparable jobs and the remuneration levels received by men and women in those jobs. In this case, the gender pay gap is not as stark as when compared to roles across the board. This is when the gender pay gap comes into its own. In fact, for many industries such as the financial services sector in the Australian context, the gender pay gap is reported as being as high as 30%. The question, then is, why don’t we just look at data from “like for like” comparisons and not worry about the gender pay gap across the board. After all, is this not the fairer way to judge whether there are any discriminatory practices being played out?

The reason that both comparisons need to be taken into consideration when reviewing best practice, is that there are underlying issues that require consideration when comparing the potential earning power of women, compared to their male peers. By simply looking at “like for like” comparisons, the subject is being overly simplified and does not address the far greater issue of why less women hold positions in certain organisations and in certain industries that warrant higher levels of remuneration.

By reviewing remuneration by industry, we are also reviewing the way in which that industry attracts women, retains women, and develops women into more senior roles where they can then benefit from higher levels of remuneration. In some industries, the lack of role models, non-inclusive work environments, poor access to flexible work arrangements and traditionally held beliefs regarding what is women’s work and what is men’s work, translates to lower levels of female representation and therefore poorer remuneration results overall.

Some may point out the myth that women don’t want to work in certain industries and therefore the scarcity of women in the pipeline is not the fault of the industry but rather women themselves who don’t have lofty ambitions to hold the corner office. This explanation is an excuse that is rolled out by organisations and industries who are not interested in reviewing the underlying issues that exist that influence the gap in remuneration. It is far easier to blame women for their own poor representation than question why women are not attracted to these industries in the first place. After all, who would truthfully want to work in an environment that makes little real effort to understand their needs and aspirations and do little to develop a career pathway that is on par with their colleagues?

With well-respected research showing the improved business outcomes that come from engaging the widest possible pool of talent and developing inclusive work practices, it makes little sense that more organisations aren’t making sufficient inroads in terms of closing the gender pay gap. It is one of the best tools that we have to measure real progress to true gender balance.