The last decade has been one of renewed consciousness around social justice issues, some of which have been regarded as normal for decades. One of those issues is the gender pay gap. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers in 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020. Similarly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, full-time year-round working women earned 82% of what their male counterparts earned.
By definition, a gender pay gap is the difference between the amounts of money paid to women and men, often for doing the same work. It is sometimes also used to describe pay disparities between white workers and workers of color, as well as between workers within the same industry but in different countries. Gender pay gap dates to the beginnings of our civilization. It emerged for the first time as a political issue in the U.S. as far back as the 1860s under the movement “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” The movement gathered slow but steady momentum over the years and today, it has turned into one of modern society’s hot button topics.
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As is tenable in all human discussions, there are those who question the existence of a systemic gender pay gap. If you haven’t experienced this form of discrimination before, then I suppose you might consider the situation exaggerated. In developed countries like the US, it is also remarkably easy for the conversation to be lumped into the ideological differences of parties and race. The reality though is that millions of women continue to experience pay gap or discrimination in their offices. As the debate around this topic intensifies, various solutions have been put forward, one of which is for companies to be transparent in relation to their employee compensation packages.
Gender pay discrimination starts at the very beginning and only widens further with time. Women are less likely to negotiate for higher starting salaries than their male counterparts because when they do, they may viewed upon as arrogant. Even when employed, the unspoken culture of confidentiality around compensation packages make it tougher for women to learn that they’re earning less than their male colleagues. Additionally, companies have no motive to even out these pay disparities on their own because it is likely to cost them more.
Transparency as a solution here seems simple because if indeed a company wants to tackle gender pay gaps, it can simply remove the need for negotiation in the first place. This should not be difficult particularly as companies have repeatedly professed the determination to end gender pay gaps in their organizations. My confidence in transparency as a solution to the gender pay gap comes from my own country, Nigeria.
In Nigeria, the government is the biggest employer. As gendered and patriarchal as the government is, when it comes to the public service, there literally is no gender pay gap. The reason is simple; the pay for all positions are standardized by role. Job adverts for public service positions expressly state the entry level requirement as well as compensation packages. With this information, every applicant has an intimate knowledge of their salaries even before applying for the post. It also makes it easier for a female employee who suspects pay discrimination to check her contemporaries for confirmation or otherwise.
Fortunately, the above applies to government job postings in some other countries as well. In the public sector, it is now common for job postings to come with salary and compensation brackets. According to the World Bank, the global gender pay gap is about 10% lower in public organisations when compared to what is tenable in the private sector. This is also rubbing off on some companies within the private sector as well. In the UK for instance, a campaign launched by the East London Fawcett Society (ELFS) aims to end gender pay gaps by altogether banning salary history questions from the onset of a company’s hiring process. It is an equitable argument because all applicants start from a place of equality and fairness.
Many other privately-owned companies are hesitant to be transparent for two main reasons. For one, transparency on salaries and compensation packages is not considered to be in the best financial interest of the business. For another, there is a social and psychological argument in favour of paying men who negotiate their salaries more. As I understand it, the basis of this argument is that if a man possesses the negotiation skills required to successfully obtain a better pay, then it would only be fair that he be rewarded for that. This is a reasonable argument but it begs two questions: why would the corporations prefer an applicant to negotiate first before paying them what they are worth? And why is a man more likely to be considered bold when he negotiates for better pay, and a woman more likely to be considered arrogant or too aggressive for the role?
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Having female candidates start from a place of disadvantage by virtue of being denied information on compensation is unfair and that is what the current system promotes. Transparency is a great solution but like a lot of modern issues, it can be further assisted by the tech industry. Technology can, and is already providing us with tools to tackle gender inequality and empower women. From its infusion in social media to job platforms like Glassdoor, tech helps by making it more and more difficult for companies to hide what they pay.
Closing the gap will require various other solutions that in addition to transparency, can help ensure that the work women perform is valued fairly, that women are not penalized unfairly for their caregiving responsibilities, and that there is greater transparency in workplace pay practices. It might take us a little longer to get there but I am confident that with the current growth in momentum, more companies will have no option than to capitulate, take the initiative themselves and publicly declare compensation for the jobs they post.
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