Minding the Gap

‘Equal pay for equal work’ and ‘gender pay gap’ – what’s the difference? Whereas equal pay is a principle that guarantees that no two persons performing the exact same job are paid different salaries – whether you’re Maltese or Chinese, gay or straight, twenty-two or sixty-two, or, most importantly, male or female – the gender pay gap refers to the discrepancy between men and women’s average hourly pay.

The average gender pay gap in the EU stands at 16.3%, while Malta retains the eighth lowest gender pay gap rate in the entire Union, standing at 10.6% – is this a cause to celebrate? Surely not.

The 19th of November 2018 was marked as Malta’s Equal Pay Day, highlighting the very day on which women were symbolically considered be working for free until the end of the year.

While gender equality has been enshrined in law, what happens in practice is a world away from what appears on paper. Essentially, factors contributing to this enduring gap include the fact that women, in the context of the traditional family nucleus, regularly make full use of parental leave and regular leave days for issues concerning their children, such as illnesses or school activities, or to care for their elderly parents – factors which cause hiccups and interrupt the regularity and consistency of their career pattern. Furthermore, women regularly decide to take on less time-consuming jobs or careers since they are commonly expected to take care of house-work and related chores, hence further adding to the pay gap discrepancy. These factors, among others, only serve to denigrate the image of women in the workplace, thus affecting prospects of promotions, further training, and wage increments.

And hence, the gap remains.

How can the disparity in the average pay gap be combated? First off, let’s not confuse equal pay with the gender pay gap – that’s been dealt with in the beginning of this post.

So what can employers do to help? Measures such as composing a gender-balanced recruitment panel and encouraging company leaders to receive training in unconscious bias can be considered, for starters. Employers can also consider encouraging both parents to share in availing of parental leave where possible, in order to further promote burden sharing. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) highlights the fact that occupational segregation also needs to be combated on both the horizontal and vertical levels, where the former regards traditionally and culturally established standards where men and women are constrained to perform different jobs (such as manual labour tasks versus people-oriented jobs) while the latter refers more to obstacles in career and rank progression due to a distinctive factor – commonly referred to as the glass ceiling. Promoting females to top positions in employment should be continuously encouraged – since 1997, more women than men have graduated from the University of Malta each year, and in 2018 alone, 60% of graduates were females, yet the majority of managerial positions are still dominated by men.