A boy or a girl? The odds of being well-paid

Women are still earning less than men according to a report published by the European Commission recently. Maryna Khorunzha of Worldwide News Ukraine reports…

English: Gender Pay Gap in the 27 states of th...

Gender Pay Gap in the 27 states of the EU according to Eurostat 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the fresh Eurostat data was revealed, the world gasped at the gender pay gap persisting in the European Union. Women in Europe Work 59 days “for free”; one can learn this from the brochure, published by the European Commission on the Equal Pay Day in late February.

On the average European women bring home 16.2% less pay than men. With some countries managing to narrow down the gap to less than 10% (such as Poland and Italy), some other states show eye-widening results of over 25% pay difference (Austria, Czech Republic and Estonia). Some of the U.S. sources, on the contrary, report that the gender pay gap (GPG) between salaried men and women full-time workers has been put in reverse. What are the causes of the pay difference? And more importantly, what is being done about it?

Speaking of the European Union, the statistics show that all the efforts of the 27-nation bloc helped decrease the gap by merely 0.8% in recent years. No matter how much publicity is given to the issue, women’s skills and time are still not valued the same as men’s. European Treaties dating back 1957 and other relevant legislation as well as the EU Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 seem to be ineffective. Instead of tackling the pay gap between the genders, the publicity campaigns merely notify of the existing situation.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR, the U.S. think tank focusing on domestic women’s issues), informs, that “if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take almost another fifty… for women to finally reach pay parity”. IWPR, through analyzing annual reports, found out that “outright discrimination in pay, hiring, or promotions” remained a substantial part of the American women’s careers. In the gender and race related research, they learned that Hispanic women earn only 53 percent of what white men earn for full-time, year-round work, while women of all races make 77 cents on every dollar made by men. American Community Survey seconds the results, making a similar conclusion: pay parity would be reached around 2063. Therefore, both EU and the U.S. demonstrate very poor dynamics when it comes to closing the GPG.

Comparably, the Eastern European Ukraine, non-EU member, demonstrated a far better progression. Thus, the country of 46 million managed to narrow down the gender pay gap by 7% since early 1991 (the year Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR) until 2003, and by another 4% percent until 2007. Currently, the GPG in Ukraine is mostly persisting in the areas of finance and transportation.

On the contrary, The Daily Mail reports groundbreaking news – single female workers under 30 earn more than their male peers in big cities around the U.S. The newspaper claims, that researchers uncovered an 8% surplus to what women are making compared to men. In some cities the difference reaches 20%, reads The Daily Mail. This, however, can hardly be considered a breakthrough in women’s rights protection: the optimistic numbers only apply to young, single, big-city women with no children. Keeping this in mind, the unequal distribution of household duties – women still perceived as “caretakers” when it comes to children or the elderly – is what feeds the GPG.

Together with private life, the Eurostat names other main causes of unequal pay – legal, economic, and social. As blunt as that, direct discrimination is named the number 1 cause . The rest include: undervaluing women’s work, segregation in the labor market (women tend to work in lower valued hence lower paid occupations). Stereotypes often play a big role in women’s choosing their education and profession, which consequently affects their future positions and, therefore, salaries. Thus, one can arrive at a reasonable conclusion that women are fewer in managerial positions. “Women represented around 32% of business leaders within the EU and 12% of members of boards of the largest publicly listed companies in EU countries in 2010,” proves the point statistics.

Notably, the salary gap becomes ever more visible in those rare cases when women do reach senior positions. This phenomenon is common for the EU and the U.S. For instance, the American Bar Association commissioned a study, which revealed that women senior lawyers fall about 26% short of what male peers get: USD 2,000 annual gap for associates stretches to USD 64,000 difference between men and women who are equity partners.

But what is being done about this basic problem? The EU’s Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla commented: “The GPG has multiple causes and needs multiple solutions. Tackling it requires action at all levels and a commitment from everyone concerned, from employers and trade unions to national authorities and every citizen,” as cited by The Telegraph.

The problem, however, runs deeper than that. It lies within the people’s mentality. For instance, one of the members of online Irish chat room  refused to even accept the fact that in Ireland women are paid 13.9% less than men: “Except of course, they aren’t,” reads his statement.  “EU Equal Pay Day claims that women are paid less than men, what their research actually shows is that women earn less than men. A very big, very important distinction – but one that is completely ignored in the rush to shout that women are still being discriminated against”.

His thoughts are eagerly supported by a number of male commenters. British news also seem to explain the pay gap by the part time employment – an option more often chosen by women rather than men. Not so fast. The gender pay gap – as it is explained in the European Commission’s working paper – is the difference between average gross hourly earnings of male and female paid employees as a percentage of average gross hourly earnings of male paid employees within the economy. This one sentence proves both Irish chatters and British media wrong. So the effort of the EU to spread the word, explain the causes of the GPG, and, therefore, reverse the trend, seems to have failed. Their statements face different interpretation when they run into the wall of unconscious (or conscious for that matter) discrimination.

Any problem should have a solution. Oftentimes it requires multiple-step action to resolve it.  Now, admitting the fact that there is a problem is the initial part of the solution. So when will we admit that there is a problem so that we could move on and find the solution?

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