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Home / Opinion / Views /  Time to end systemic misogyny reflected in the gender pay gap

In a pre-pandemic world, UN Women alerted us that “women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men", resulting in lifelong income inequality. An International Labour Organization policy brief in July 2021 drew attention to the pandemic’s gendered impact on the global labour market, with women’s employment down 4.2%, compared to 3% for men. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 aired pessimism, saying that the gender pay gap is likely to further widen by 5%.

Further, McKinsey Global Institute’s research on the pandemic’s economic impact projected a gender-regressive scenario, with women’s jobs becoming 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s, and women enduring 54% of overall job losses while occupying only 39% of global employment. The cost of doing nothing to fix gender disparity would be high; taking action, McKinsey estimated, could add $13 trillion to world gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 over a “do nothing" scenario.

As the pandemic aggravated existing gender inequalities, PayScale’s State of the Gender Pay Gap Report 2022 for the US revealed that the uncontrolled gender pay gap in 2021 was $0.82 for every $1 that men made in America, whereas the controlled gender pay gap, or the salary difference once all compensable factors —such as job title, education, experience, industry, job level and hours worked—are accounted for, was $0.99 for every $1 men made, one cent closer to equal, but still not equal. The study inferred that even if the controlled gender pay gap disappeared, the uncontrolled gender pay gap would persist, as higher paying positions are still disproportionately accessible to men compared to women. Moreover, women also pay a “motherhood penalty" and suffer from an uncontrolled pay gap of $0.74 for every dollar earned by a male parent, which over the years, shrinks to $0.88 on the dollar, suggesting that women without children face fewer social barriers in securing higher-paying jobs. Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, in her study found that the gender wage gap in the US is the largest for women in their thirties, the prime childbearing years. Henrik Kleven, a Princeton economist, using data from Denmark, which is a country with a robust social safety net, observed that child-bearing creates a 20% gender wage gap. In Denmark, theoretically, both parents are allowed to split up childcare leave, but in reality, men accounted for just 10% of parental leave, whereas women took most of it. Kleven attributed the trend to an environmental factor that makes it harder for mothers to stay on at work as full-time workers, and a natural propensity that compels them to stay close to newborns.

A recent Pew Research Centre’s study showed that one of the reasons for the gender pay gap in the US was women workers’ lack of work experience, as they mostly leave the workforce for unpaid care work. When they try to re-enter the labour market, they face a pay gap of $0.83 on the dollar if the period of absence is less than 3 months, which widens to $0.70 if it is more than 24 months. In the post-pandemic world, with a poor pace of economic recovery and reduced public and private spending on services like education and childcare, many women may have to permanently exit the American labour market, the study report commented.

In the case of India, an Oxfam report of 2019 said that the country’s gender pay gap is about 34%. According to ADP Research Institute’s study, People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View, only 65% of women in India received a pay rise or bonus for taking on extra responsibilities or a new role, compared to 70% of men, despite the fact that men and women were just as likely to take on such additional or new responsibilities to help employers deal with the covid fallout. The Code on Wages Act, 2019, prohibits gender discrimination in matters related to wages and recruitment. However, many legal experts have opined that since it doesn’t provide a single dispute resolution forum and has multiple issue-centric set-ups, it could lead to confusion over redressal and even harassment of women.

Nevertheless, LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report said that 53% of professionals globally favoured pay transparency laws combined with well-communicated compensation plans. The World Bank’s Women, Business and The Law 2021 report said that around 190 economies had undertaken some reforms in laws and regulations that restricted women’s economic opportunities. Countries like Bahrain, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam eliminated restrictions on women working in jobs previously deemed dangerous for them. The EU has launched a Gender Equality Strategy 2020-25, identifying key areas of labour-market reforms. In the US, more than 14 states have adopted different versions of pay disclosure laws, hitherto averted in the name of confidentiality. The world also celebrates International Equal Pay Day (IEPD), which began in 2020 under the United Nations’ banner.

Since pay inequity is an offshoot of a systemic flaw deeply embedded in socio-cultural norms, as countries seek to re-build their pandemic-ravaged economies, we must focus on gender justice for the sake of a more optimally productive world.

Archana Datta is a former director general, Doordarshan and All India Radio; and former press secretary to the President of India

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