The gender pay gap persists
Comment writer Connor Goddard explores reasons behind the gender pay gap persisting in the UK and beyond.
The gender pay gap is something that we are all well aware of, but why is it still such a big problem after so much progress has been made in terms of women’s rights? In much of the Western world, the problem is much more to do with mindset than legislation. In the UK, the Equal Pay Act has been in place for 50 years, but we are the sixth worst country for unequal pay. There is clearly a problem: either bosses and employers don’t deem women capable of having more responsibilities, or women don’t have the same level of confidence that men do to ask for pay rises or apply for promotions. More than likely it’s a combination of the two. It’s not as if enough young women aren’t going to university; on average, 57 per cent of higher education students are female (Exeter is slightly below at 54 per cent). So why are they still struggling to reach the same level as their male counterparts?
It is impossible to talk about the gender pay gap without mentioning the many other ways life is made much harder for women. The #MeToo movement exposed just how grave the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace is, an experience which will without a doubt affect a woman personally as well as her ability to succeed in her work. The #MeToo movement also opened up a great deal of conversation about workplace culture, and how women who may not have been sexually assaulted at work have still been spoken to inappropriately or harassed in other ways. These problems could not only mentally scar a woman, but also, when combined with employers not taking women’s ideas seriously, could prevent them advancing in their careers.
“sharing the responsibility of maternity/paternity leave may eliminate a lot of employers’ biases against women and open up more opportunities for them to excel in their careers“
The problems that women face in their lives vary greatly between different countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia women do not only face a pay gap, but they are restricted to only working in certain sectors such as teaching. America is a country that for centuries has been a symbol of liberty and hope, ‘the land of opportunity’. For all its triumphs, closing the gender pay gap is not something America is a world leader in. Currently, the gap stands at an average of 20 per cent. Interestingly, the gender pay gap is much worse in America in states with fewer cities and a more conservative population (comparing California’s 12 per cent to Wyoming’s 35 per cent). It’s possible that in these conservative states where religion is a much more important factor in people’s lives, traditional values are preventing women from pursuing ambitious careers, and affecting employers’ perceptions of their abilities.
In an environment in which women are made to feel inferior and lesser than their male counterparts, their self-confidence will inevitably be affected. For most women, the point at which their career plateaus is when they have children or are at the age when most other women do, due to employers’ worries about having to accommodate a woman’s maternity leave. This could stop women finding new, better jobs in their 20s and 30s, or it could prevent them gaining promotions that will advance their careers. It is illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant, so why has the same principle not been applied to asking a woman if she is recently married or will be having children in the near future? The effect that the prospect of maternity leave can have on a woman’s prospects can be detrimental to her career.
“[employers] cannot be prejudiced against men and women who are in their 20s and 30s“
Undoubtedly, there is a period immediately after the birth of a baby when women physically need time off. But why has the option for men to take more paternity leave not been explored? Surely, if employers know that a man could possibly take 3-9 months off of work, they will be forced to alleviate their bias against women. They cannot be prejudiced against men and women who are in their 20s and 30s; they need employees that are at their level of experience and qualification (older and younger men and women would either be under or over-qualified).
Ultimately, sharing maternity and paternity leave would be a personal decision for couples, but sharing the responsibility of maternity/paternity leave may eliminate a lot of employers’ biases against women and open up more opportunities for them to excel in their careers.