Equal pay for equal work but no country pays men and women the same

No country pays its male and female populations the same wage for the same job, says Aileen Lee.

Equal pay for equal work. Does that phrase sound familiar? It’s an issue raised routinely by trade unionists, the European Union, and OECD, leading to once-off news stories, but it never really gains enough momentum to push real change.

Enter, a Hollywood star writing in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter newsletter and suddenly it’s gaining currency.

“When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony,” says Jennifer Lawrence. “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator, because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”

She writes that a need “to be liked” and the fear of seeming “difficult” or “spoiled” kept her from demanding more money.

“I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue… Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t ‘offend’ or ‘scare’ men?”

Spot on Jennifer. May you be the first of many who keep this on the political and workplace agenda for the next 80 years, as, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), that’s how long it’ll take to close the gender equality gap in the workplace.

No country pays its male and female populations the same wage for the same job. Even Iceland, which ranked first in gender equality on the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014, has a gender pay gap of 20%.

According to the European Commission, the gender pay gap stands at 14.4% in Ireland, compared to the EU average of 16.3%, but this is only the case when measuring hourly wages. When annual pay is measured, the gap widens significantly — in Ireland, it jumps to 34.7% and in the EU to 41.1%. This pay gap occurs across all sectors and occupations and increases with age, which means there is a pensions gap as well.

So why does our work culture reward one gender over the other? Clare Mulligan, a Dublin-based organisational psychologist, believes the disparity exists for a number of reasons.

“I think it is down to practices and policies such as overtime allowances, travel allowances, performance management, task allocation, flexible working structures, negotiation skills, networking skills, bias in selection and recruitment, and a host of other areas where gender bias is evident,” says Ms Mulligan.

The pay gap issue is compounded by the fact that what we earn is linked closely to our status in society, making it an emotionally charged conversation on any level, be it with friends, family, peers or colleagues.

“Our work identity is a core identity to most people,” says Ms Mulligan. “The societal value of this identity is measured in terms of our salary and it’s not the actual amount but the comparison of this salary in our social group. A lower salary reflects that our work is not as skilled or as important. This is the crux of the gender pay gap, as it represents a society view that the work of one gender is not as important.”

So, if this inequality stems from deeply-held societal differences, and the discussion of salary is essentially a social taboo, how can we eradicate it? Would salary transparency on a national scale make any difference? The idea is not new, it just hasn’t been adopted in too many places.

Sweden, Finland, and Norway publish everyone’s income and tax details. In Norway’s case, tax returns have been publicly available since the 1800s, the idea being that financial transparency is an intrinsic part of democracy. In recent years, the reports have been posted online, but snooping on your neighbours is kept to a minimum, as you must log in under your own tax details to view anyone else’s. Individual taxpayers can thereby check who, if anyone, has seen their tax information.

On a smaller scale and closer to home, British prime minister David Cameron recently introduced mandatory pay audits, meaning companies with more than 250 employees will be required to publicly disclose information on the average pay of their male and female workers.

However, the legislation won’t come into force until late 2016 at the earliest.

Ms Mulligan believes focusing on organisational practices would be of more benefit than financial transparency.

“Making sure the organisation is aware of where the gender pay gap is in their organisation is the first step,” she says. “They should carry out some analysis audits to see where there is actual difference. This data provides real information that they can then have a conversation about.”

For those seeking industry-specific information about salaries, Morgan McKinley, a professional recruitment organisation, compiles and publishes an annual salary and benefits guide.

Karen O’Flaherty, chief operations officer at Morgan McKinley in Ireland, says: “We feel it is a valuable service, offering our customers insights into the trends in specific job titles, sectors and disciplines across the various levels annually within businesses in Ireland. This has proved to be invaluable market information, much sought after by our clients and our candidates as a guide for talent pipelining, cost and skills forecasting.”

She does offer the following caution, however. “While the salary guide is comprehensive and provides information on salaries and benefits, there are more elements that determine an individual salary, such as duties and responsibilities, technologies that are involved in the role, size of the team, etc. This will vary from company to company.”

In terms of discussing salary negotiations with management, Ms O’Flaherty also offers this advice: “Consistent feedback and regular reviews with management regarding your career, opportunities and salary will help broach this topic. For many people, particularly after a difficult few years where few organisations could offer salary increases, the desire to improve their earning potential is significant. The improved economic market and competitive environment for specific talent has also fuelled this.”

However, many businesses are still struggling and managing costs, while the need to grow has been referenced as a constant challenge. The best advice on offer is to keep the communication lines as open and transparent with management and staff about what is available, future plans and opportunities.

“For an individual who is going into a pay review, preparation is the key. They should present to their manager the list of all their achievements along with the reasons why they should be rewarded with an increase in remuneration,” she says.

Top tips for those on the hunt for a job

If a person is unsure of whether they are being paid fairly, then there are a few steps they can take, advises Clare Mulligan:

  • Research the market trends in relation to their own role. This also allows people to understand if they perceive their salary fair in relation to market value;
  • Ask to see a job description for your role and ensure you are meeting all the requirements;
  • Meet with HR or a line manager to understand how your salary is calculated;
  • Ask a trusted colleague or mentor how you should negotiate for an improved salary if you feel that you are due an increase;
  • Review any objectives or strategy for the organisation so you are clear on your potential and input for the organisation;
  • Ask! Sounds obvious but a lot of people don’t even ask for a raise assuming that they will be offered if required. Be ready for a discussion. You may be told no or be advised that you would be expected to take on more responsibility or upskilling. Stay calm and be open to negotiation. This essential to the discussion.


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