By Benjamin Laker

Campaigns for equality are occurring in all industries across the world, because male leaders continue to be paid more than women, in many instances, for exactly the same responsibility. And so, last week, the United Nations initiated the first-ever International Equal Pay Day and demanded that women receive equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Despite Equal Pay already legislated by law in most countries, this day is, unfortunately, needed. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, is clear that equal pay laws have failed to address the problem, so better solutions are required.

The problem is, indeed, global. Take Australia: according to KPMG in 2018, women make up just over half of their population yet, on average, are paid $26,000 less per annum than men. Things are no better in Europe, where in 2020, three countries have a 20 percent gap between male and female employees’ average gross hourly earnings. In India, this gap is 19 percent. Here in the United States, the average gender pay gap (in 2018) was around 18.9 percent, with Black and Latinx women in our nation facing the most significant pay gap compared to white men.

Reducing these gender pay gaps is both a moral and pragmatic necessity, especially when the highest-paid female CEO in the Fortune 500 earns $758,474,697 less than the highest-paid male CEO. This simply cannot continue – morally, all humans have equal rights and equal value.

Business Fibre recently analysed the top 10 companies across 15 different industries in the Fortune 500 to ascertain which lead the way in gender equality. The data makes for interesting reading, and highlights which industries pay their CEOs the most and how salaries compare between men and women. Alarmingly, only 6 out of 15 industries evidence female CEOs in their top 10 companies, with sectors such as energy and telecommunications not featuring any women in the position of CEO. The transportation industry shows a particularly wide gender wage gap, within which the average male CEO is paid 45 times more than female counterparts, a gap of almost $13 million.

In practice, the right to equal pay is hidden under a multitude of reasons which attempt to rationalize why women are remunerated less than men while doing the same work. Such explanations are often described as choices made by women, especially around low paying roles and career breaks, particularly parental or caring responsibilities. But KMPG Australia offers a more nuanced set of factors, supported by their research, that contribute to the gender pay gap:

  • Gender discrimination – 39 percent [of the gap] in 2017
  • Family and care including years not working due to interruptions, part-time employment, and unpaid care and work together – 39 percent [of the gap] in 2017
  • Industrial and occupational segregation – 17 percent [of the gap] in 2017

Research also offers clarity regarding the significant economic value in reducing the gender pay gap. A 2017 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, for example, concluded equal pay would add $512.6 billion to the US economy if men’s wages remained the same. This would support 3.1 million Americans and 2.5 million children to rise out of poverty.

The World Economic Forum concludes a strong correlation between a country’s progress in closing the gender gap, especially in education and the labor force, and its economic competitiveness. Therefore, education systems around the world must help instill a thorough understanding of the issue at hand, to catalyze the advancement of female representation, both for economic and societal reasonings.

But perversely, although Education is a feminized workforce, proportionately fewer women hold higher-paying senior leadership positions in schools, colleges, and universities: women who gain senior leadership roles are paid less than men. So if education systems are to set an example to other sectors, significant change is required, starting immediately. Take the UK, the disparity is enormous: 2015 data found 71 percent of school principals leading elementary schools to be women in England, compared to 28 percent of male counterparts, yet the latter earned, on average, £1,607 per year more than the women working full time in the same role. This example of the gender pay gap for elementary school principals was replicated in all leadership positions in schools, contributing to the broader education sector being ranked 3rd in the UK league table of sectors with the largest gender pay gaps, alongside the Construction and Finance and Insurance sectors which, traditionally, have a masculinized workforce: these Educational organizations demonstrate some of the highest gender pay gaps of all companies submitting reports, within which, average salaries are now higher for men across all teaching and leadership roles:

  • For male classroom teachers, the average salary was £37,885 compared to £36,985 for females.
  • For school principals, the average salary for males was £77,362 compared to £68,870 for females.

It is, for this reason, why a recent collaboration between WomenEd and the National College of Education is so essential, who together this week launch a flagship master’s program that includes mandatory content on agency, diversity, equality, equity, representation, and of course, the gender pay gap. ‘Doing so will provide a truly diverse and informed perspective on leadership development that challenges the inherent system bias that pervades in our domain’ says Nick Heard, Executive Director of the National College, and host of an acclaimed podcast.

Many would agree that education is a profession centered on moral purpose, social justice, and equality for all. Yet for women working in this feminized sector, it seems equity is many years away, which is more than troubling. Mainly because if things continue at their current pace, it’ll take until 2059 to achieve equal pay.

Worst still, though, it could take until 2124 for Black women and 2248 for Latinx women to earn equally compared to white men. This may be because, despite the global spotlight on diversity and inclusion following George Floyd’s death, more than three-quarters of workers (78%) have not noticed any increase in their workplace diversity, according to The Manifest’s latest research – the study also concluded fewer than half of baby boomer (48%) and Generation X (45%) employees accept diversity fosters a feeling of belonging.

Evidently, equality by law and statute is not working, so better solutions are needed – given the bias, conscious or unconscious, shown to women, particularly Black and Latinx, in all sectors and countries.

While Covid-19 exacerbates inequity on many fronts, it does provide leaders with a vital opportunity to end the gender pay gap as part of recovery plans from the pandemic utilizing both moral purpose and pragmatism. Can they really afford not to?

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