Women, Work and Wage – Striking the Gender Balance
Two months ago, on 8th March, 2020, the world again celebrated the International Women’s Day to mark the struggles, challenges, contributions and achievements of women in the various spheres of life. This was the day when the internet and social media sites were abuzzed with hashtags like #HappyWomensDay and #IWD2020.
This was the day when people across the globe suddenly realised the role that women play in their lives and mulled over why women are denied their rights in several (read: almost all) countries. Politicians, governments, corporates, unions, legal institutions, etc., were again reminded of their commitments towards the achievement of an equal and a just society for all, regardless of gender.
However, the fact that no country in the entire world has achieved gender equality shouldn’t be seen as some kind of revelation to anyone. In fact, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, there is still a 31.4% average gender gap that remains to be closed globally. Unsurprisingly, the report also finds that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years. And believe it or not, none of us will remain alive to witness that day!
- In the findings of Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it is worth noticing that only 58% of the gap has been closed so far as measured by the Economic Participation and Opportunity using the data for 153 countries. As women are persistently less present in the labour market than men, it is estimated that it will take 257 years to close the gender gap as far as economic participation is concerned (compared to 202 years in the 2019 report). On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men, indicating that women’s participation in the labour market is stalling and financial disparities are slightly larger (on average)
- The report reveals that the greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. In cloud computing, just 12% of professionals are women. Similarly, in engineering and Data and AI, the numbers are 15% and 26% respectively.
The Workplace Seniority GapSource: Global Gender Gap Report 2020, World Economic Forum
Share of women in labor force/skilled roles
- According to the International Labour Organisation’s World Employment Social Outlook Trends 2020, in 2019, the female labour force participation rate was just 47 per cent, 27 percentage points below the male rate (at 74 per cent). There is strong regional variation in gender disparities in access to employment.
(Note: Labour force participation rate is the proportion of the population above the age of 15 and older that is economically active, supplying labour for the production of goods and services during a specified period.)
- Apart from access to employment, there are also persisting gender disparities in relation to job quality. This is true even in regions where women have made significant inroads in the labour market. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, the average level of educational attainment of women now surpasses that of men, yet women in the region still earn 17 per cent less per hour worked than men.
- In the Future of Jobs Survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (published in January 2016), across all industries, women currently make up on average 33% of junior level staff, 24% of mid-level staff, 15% of senior level staff and 9% of CEOs. There are expectations of a 7 to 9 percentage point increase in the share of women in mid-level roles by 2020 and an 8 to 13 percentage point increase in senior roles. Persistent gender wage gaps are reported across all industries, even in industries where female participation is comparatively high.
The Gender Pay Gap
The Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap is the average difference between hourly wages for men and women. However, the gender pay gap isn’t the same as equal pay. Unequal pay is when women are paid less than men for doing the exact same work. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 mentions four methods to calculate pay/wage disparity and each one of them delivers different results.
Worldwide, on an average, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
The staggering wage disparity between men and women
Source: UN Women
There are several factors that are responsible for such outright discrimination. Earlier it was thought that educational attainment levels are the foremost reason for the wage disparity between men and women. But as the world achieved tremendous improvement in bridging the educational differences across gender, education levels became less of a parameter in influencing earnings.
As pointed out by Laura Tyson, Distinguished Professor of the Graduate School at Berkeley, the difference arises because of the choice of occupation and industry one works in. Around the world, men are more likely to hold jobs at any skill level in manufacturing, a sector that pays relatively high earnings, while women are more likely to hold jobs in educational services, a sector that pays considerably less than manufacturing.
Moreover, there are not enough role models for women in higher paying jobs. Further, even within the higher-paying jobs, women are not often able to break the ‘glass ceiling‘ and the persistent gender gap at higher ranks of management and leadership within occupations contribute to disparities in wages.
Secondly, women are subjected to “motherhood penalty” when they choose to put a break to their careers and devote more time to childcare. And most of the time, they have to accept a lower wage compared to the wage they would have earned had they stayed in their original job, when they join full-time. This may even push them into the informal, part-time economy.
In addition, women are also more likely than men to work part-time which offers a lower hourly wage and lesser social benefits and job protections. They account for about 57% of global part-time work, and the earnings gap between comparable full-time and part-time work is in the order of 10% (Source: International Labour Organisation).
Last but not the least, the determination of wage rate is also affected by gender stereotypes and implicit biases, keeping all other things constant.
The Unpaid Work of Women
Women, all over the world, not only spend more time on unpaid work than they do on paid work but also devote more time in doing household chores and childcare than men. The additional time spent on unpaid work daily amounts to the equivalent of an estimated four years extra work over the course of a woman’s lifetime compared to men. Their work, although essential for the smooth functioning of the economy, is seen as unskilled, unvalued, unpaid and unimportant.
Nevertheless, housework and caring is omitted while measuring the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a key indicator of the economy’s health. When the modern system of national income accounts was created in the 1940s, however, economists argued whether or not to include it in GDP.
In his papers published in 1958, Paul Studenski pointed out that over time, markets had developed for some household activities and concluded that in principle, unpaid work in the home should be included in GDP, but there were practical difficulties in estimating the amount of work and its valuation.
As people realise that there remains practical difficulties in almost all aspects of data collection for the estimation of GDP, several initiatives to measure and incorporate unpaid work in the calculation of a nation’s economic output has been undertaken.
Overlooking the contribution of women’s unpaid household work not only leads to underestimation of GDP and hence, the numbers do not show a more realistic picture of economic growth, but also denies women a sense of empowerment and self-worth that comes from acknowledgement of their daily work.
Certainly, there are a lot of technicalities and conceptual issues involved in the process of calculating the market value of household work, but then, it is still not one of the best excuses for not including women’s work. As the World Economic Forum puts it, “The time has come now to reopen the 1950s debate about how we should define the economy, and ensure that GDP or its replacement counts the vital work that goes on in the home, and in the community, as well as work in the market.”
Importance of Women’s Work
In a study conducted by the WEF, it was found that a lack of support for working mothers, a disproportionate impact of automation on jobs traditionally performed by women, barriers to women entering the booming science and technology sector, social and cultural stereotypes associated with the gender roles, gender pay gap, division of work between men and women, lack of career development opportunities, inaccessibility to credit, land and financial products and outright sexism – are some of the many reasons and challenges that women face while entering and remaining into the workforce.
Even today, several countries in the world fail to provide equal opportunities for women who want to work while others place certain restrictions in the name of societal norms. All this, in spite of the fact that 131 economies made 274 reforms to laws and regulations increasing gender equality and protecting women from sexual harassment in the workplace, during the period 2008-2018.
By denying women their right to work and ascend to the higher positions in their jobs, we are forgetting that this gender disparity comes at a huge cost and ultimately, it affects everyone. Women’s inability to participate in economic activities slows down countries’ ability to develop sustainably and govern effectively, which negatively impacts the standards of living and poverty rates of the society as a whole. After all, “none of us can move forward if half of us are held back”.
Providing young girls and women with necessary education and adequate skills so that they can contribute in the economy makes everyone better off. It can potentially solve the existing problems of illiteracy, sex-selective abortions, poor healthcare, abject poverty and inefficient environmental management.
As far as society’s indifference towards the unpaid care work of women is concerned, according to an analysis by Oxfam, if women earned minimum wage for the unpaid work they do around the house and caring for relatives, they would have made $10.9 trillion last year, an amount which exceeds the combined revenue of the 50 largest companies on last year’s Fortune Global 500 list, including Walmart, Apple and Amazon. For those who still didn’t get the idea, $10.9 trillion equals $10,900,000,000,000!
Besides, women’s participation in the economy ensures their financial independence, personal and professional growth, effective decision making, greater employment opportunities, and creation of better governmental policies.
How can women be economically empowered?
Reforms are slowly taking place, but not as systematically as needed.
Identification of all the socio-economic, cultural and regional barriers is intrinsic to develop adequate policy solutions in order to eliminate them. As suggested by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value must be protected in law and promoted in practice. Improved wage transparency, gender-neutral job evaluation and strengthening of existing systems such as minimum wage and collective bargaining can also help in achieving pay parity between men and women.
Gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work should be eliminated through public awareness campaigns, effective remedies, dissuasive sanctions and specialised equality bodies. Decent work for care professionals should be promoted along with reducing the over-dependence on unpaid care work.
Paid parental leave policies that provide both paternity and maternity leave and other basic social protection programs are important to ensure better division of labour and avoid maternal penalty for women. More significantly, women need to be equipped with disruptive technical skills supplemented by an expansion of employment avenues for them in various sectors.
Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As for 2020, the United Nations offered a vision of what gender equality will look like by coming up with the country of Equiterra – a hypothetical place where all people have equal rights and opportunities, regardless of their gender.
This is a clear indicator of the truth that the global community is far away from realising the promises made at the Fourth World Conference on Women. However, collective efforts of all individuals to achieve gender equality can certainly bring the utopian world of Equiterra on the Earth itself, and not just in our imagination.
The city of Equiterra
Source: UN Women/Ruby Taylor