Veronika Smrckova is a software developer and a Femme Palette mentor and ambassador. In this blog post, Veronika takes a closer look at myths which often arise in discussions about the gender pay gap, and why we shouldn’t believe them so easily.
The gender pay gap has gained considerable attention in recent years, particularly in the Western world. Governments and organizations are actively working towards closing this gap, but there are several misconceptions surrounding the issue, leading to a focus on areas that have minimal impact on the actual figures. In this blog post, I want to dispel five common myths about the gender pay gap and shed light on its root causes.
Myth #1: Gender pay gap means being paid less for the same position just because of sex
Reality: This is just a small part of the gender pay gap and it is set to be quite narrow, at least in the European Union (usually not more than half of the total GPG). See this study for concrete numbers. The main portion of the gender pay gap is caused by women working at constantly underpaid positions. The typical examples are women in caring professions or education. Also, a significant part of the gap is caused by the small number of women working as managers. In addition, it is important to know how the GPG was calculated. If it is based on hourly, monthly or yearly income. Often women work part-time, and this means lower salary than for a full-time job. It's clear that women end up working fewer hours in paid jobs because they have a much heavier load of unpaid work to keep their families running compared to men. This is just another way we see the inequality between men and women. However, simply raising wages won't fix the problem.
Myth #2: Different roles justify different salaries
Reality: Companies may conduct gender audits or produce equal pay reports suggesting marginal salary differences between men and women. However, defining "same position" within an organization can be challenging, especially when comparing unique roles like department managers. Some companies may pay women managers less, even when their departments are similar to those managed by men. Honest reporting would involve broadening the definition of "same position," demonstrating a genuine commitment to closing the gap rather than merely projecting an image of fairness.
Myth #3: Women naturally choose lower paid jobs
Reality: Unfortunately, it is the other way around. When women dominate a profession, the occupation's prestige tends to decline, resulting in lower salaries. This phenomenon is evident in fields like teaching and healthcare, less known is IT, which was originally quite a womanized field, but as men took over, the salaries went rocket high. The story is well described in this article. If you are interested, you can also read more here or in this academic study.
Myth #4: A small gender pay gap indicates overall gender equality in a country
Reality: The gender pay gap is heavily influenced by the number of women participating in the workforce. In countries where only a few women are economically active, and they predominantly occupy highly specialized roles, the gender pay gap may appear minimal or even favour men. However, this does not indicate equal treatment between genders; in fact, it highlights the opposite. Some Arabic Islamic countries exemplify this situation. Another example of such a country is Rwanda, where the genocide created a critical shortage of men, prompting women to assume roles previously held by men. Although Rwanda's gender pay gap may be narrow, we must acknowledge that such progress came at a terrible cost.
Myth #5: When the gender pay gap is getting smaller, it is always a good sign
Reality: In the Czech Republic the gender pay gap dropped significantly during covid years (from 19% in 2019 to 15% in 2021, data can be found here. However, it does not mean that covid caused significant pay raises for women or a miraculous crack in the well-known glass ceiling. The truth is much sadder. When covid started the amount of unpaid work in families raised insanely and many women just had to leave their jobs and become full-time carers and educators. Some of them were just made redundant and became unemployed for a long period of time (unemployment rates for women went from 2.4 in 2019 to 3.4 in 2021, for men it is from 1.7 to 2.3). When people with lower earnings exit the job market, the average salaries increase.
Gender pay gap is an important number that deserves our attention, and we must work towards closing it. It's simply wrong for someone to be paid less for the same job based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability. However, it's essential to recognize that there are other, less obvious factors contributing to this gap. Understanding these factors will help us find genuine solutions, not just ones that look good on spreadsheets. I believe a key objective is to increase salaries in fields dominated by women, like caregiving, and encourage greater male involvement in unpaid daily tasks. After all, if women are willing to work predominantly for free in their personal lives, then why should they be compensated generously in their jobs?
Gender pay gap explained
EU on gender pay gap
Worldwide report about gender equality