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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Gender Pay Gap – A Matter of Choice?

Australia has a real problem with the gender pay gap. The Workplace Gender Agency (WGEA) released figures in November 2017 covering 4 million employees and they don’t make good reading. Full-time working women earn 18% less than full-time working men. Only 5% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women (7% in FTSE 100 in UK) - so it's clear that there is not only an imbalance in pay but also in senior roles.

Look at total package and the difference is a whacking 22% - pretty shameful.

‘While the overall gender pay gap is trending down, which is good news, men still out-earn women by more than $26,000 on average.’ (WGEA November 2017).

It gets worse. Women retire on half the amount compared to men; but women live longer.

So why are women still in this position?

The reasons are complex and not only down to the usual suspects: discrimination, bias, under-representation of females in senior roles and lack of workplace flexibility (although they all play their part).

Differences in pay in the industries men and women gravitate towards in Australia are also a factor (mining is the most male-dominated industry with health care the most female-dominated).

But the full answers may be harder to find and made up of many factors.

Jordan Peterson, for example, Professor of Psychology at University of Toronto, even argues that one reason for the Global gender pay gap is down to personality traits. Research shows that people who have an ‘agreeable’ personality trait (who are compassionate and polite) earn less than those who don’t - and there are more females than males with this trait. In fact, many senior women have tackled this issue with assertiveness training.

And the choices women make also play their part.

Sarah O’Connor (FT: 7th March 2018) explores why female Uber drivers earn 7% less per hour than male counterparts. There are three reasons:

  1. Men have more experience: they drive more hours per week and have been with Uber longer. They know more about the tactics to maximise earnings

  2. Women choose to drive slower than men – meaning they do less trips

  3. Women often choose not to drive in the more lucrative parts of town – sometimes they aren’t as safe as other areas, particularly at night when prices are higher.

And the last point says a lot.

Women often make choices freely that impact their pay levels– but sometimes they are driven to make these choices by the society they operate in and the circumstances they face.

Is the choice between earning less and being safe a real choice?

That doesn’t stop the employer thinking through solutions to limit the impact of choices that are not freely made.

They might just be able to do things so the cards are stacked more fairly.

So, here’s a question not often asked in the gender pay debate: what choices are women having to make at your company that impact on their earning potential and what can be done to find a solution?

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