The Gender Pay Gap In Ireland – What Is Being Done To Reduce It?

The Gender Pay Gap is the difference in the average hourly wage of men and women across the workforce. It compares the gross hourly earnings of all employees and therefore does not reveal discrimination or an absence of equal pay for equal work, but rather reports a gender representation gap.

We must be careful not to confuse the Gender Pay Gap and unequal pay, the latter being discrimination between men and women who perform the same job with the same experience and/or working pattern. Inequality of pay is governed by the Employment Equality Acts. In contrast, the Gender Pay Gap highlights unequal gender representation within an organisation.

The latest figures from Eurostat indicate that the Irish national Gender Pay Gap is 13.9%, which is below the EU average of 16.7% and the 11th lowest out of all 28 EU countries. It is also lower when compared to the UK, USA and Canada. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) Gender Equality Index indicates that women’s mean monthly earnings are €2,808 in Ireland, compared to €3,423 for men. This means that from in or around the 11th November, Irish women are effectively working for free until the end of the year.

In addition to an unequal representation of men and women in an organisation, the Gender Pay Gap also highlights other challenges that businesses may encounter. For example, why are fewer women employed in more senior positions within an organisation and why are more women employed in lower-paid roles?

Why does the Gender Pay Gap exist?

There is a multitude of possible explanations for the Gender Pay Gap, some of which are rooted in cultural and social norms.

One of the most obvious reasons for a Gender Pay Gap is a segregated labour market. There are a number of sectors and jobs which are dominated by one gender. For example, women tend to dominate education, human health and social work activities, while men dominate technology and engineering[1], the latter of which is more highly paid. This results in women typically being employed in lower-paid professions.

A segregated labour market has its roots in the traditional roles held within society, and what are considered to be “men’s jobs” and “women’s jobs”. Such concepts are often introduced to us from a very young age and are often reinforced, consciously or subconsciously, by parents, teachers, other people of influence and society itself. Furthermore, the prevalence of single-sex schools in secondary education can reinforce these notions, as some schools fail to offer “gendered” subjects which will exacerbate segregation within the workforce and therefore Gender Pay Gap itself.

With regard to education as a whole, figures suggest that women graduate from tertiary education at a higher percentage compared to men[2], however as alluded to above, there is a substantial difference in those participating in areas such as education, health and welfare, humanities and arts, with the women’s incidence of 48.5% while men’s is only 23.5%[3]. As a result, fewer women are suitably qualified for higher-paid jobs in sectors such as IT, technology, and engineering when such positions become available.

How do traditional family roles come into it?

When discussing the Gender Pay Gap, we must also consider the traditional family and domestic roles. There is often an overrepresentation of women working part-time or at reduced/flexible hours after starting a family, and this is often irrespective of the employment status of their partner. But why does this happen? Could it be the result of the unequal parental rights of men and women and the lack of autonomy of the couple to determine how their benefits are to be divided, thus allowing them to take into account their own circumstances?

Women are currently entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave and will receive a Maternity Benefit of €245.00 per week (assuming the necessary PRSI contributions have been made). They also have the option of taking an additional 16 weeks (not covered by Maternity Benefit). In contrast, paternity leave (which is usually taken by the father but is available to any new parent with the exception of the mother of the child) is only 2 weeks and must be taken in the first 6 months after the birth. Paternity Benefit is also €245.00 per week (again, assuming the necessary PRSI contributions have been made). Unfortunately, it is thought that, since its introduction under the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016, only circa 50% of fathers avail of paternity leave.

We should at this juncture also address the cost of childcare in Ireland, which is among the highest in the EU. As a result, it is often more economical for one parent to stay at home full time or reduce their working hours, at least until their children are in full-time education. In these circumstances, and a further consequence of the traditional family roles, it is more common for women to stay at home, and this is evidenced by the higher number of women opting for part-time employment. Such carer beaks can result in lost opportunities for promotion and salary increments and general detachments from the labour market and a deterioration in skills.

Finally, the Gender Pay Gap can be affected by discrimination and bias within organisations, even in those organisations and businesses which promote equality of pay, irrespective of gender, for those employed at the same level with similar skills and experience. In these circumstances, the Gender Pay Gap is evident when more senior and higher-paid positions are filled by one gender over the other. In such cases, the organisation is simply failing to address the Gender Pay Gap issue, hiding behind the guise of adhering to equality legalisation.

What is Ireland doing to reduce the gap?

The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019, currently before Dáil Éireann in the fourth stage, will amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and require “certain employers to publish information relating to the remuneration of their employees by reference to the gender of such employees for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in such remuneration referable to gender and, if there are such differences, the size of such differences and to require such employers to publish statements setting out the reasons or such differences and the measure (if any) taken, or proposed to be taken, by those employers to eliminate or reduce such differences”.

Unfortunately, the above legislation will only affect employers with over 250 employees, albeit it is intended that this is narrowed to 150 employees within three years and will ultimately target all employers in Ireland with more than 50 employees. Although this is a positive step toward narrowing the Gender Pay Gap, compulsory reporting is unlikely to, in and of itself, reduce the gap. It might however keep open the larger debate. After all, what gets measured, gets managed.

In addition to reporting on the Gender Pay Gap, can we also address the wider issue of the traditional roles of men and women within society? Neither gender should be discouraged or prevented from participating in those perceived to be “gendered” subjects due to the lack of availability of the same in educational institutions and the unwillingness to offer these subjects to everyone. Wider availability of such subjects might help eradicate these outdated notions, increasing the employment pool in a range of sectors which will in turn aid in narrowing the Gender Pay Gap, without compromising on the skills and expertise of those being employed.

Read more about employee rights such as ‘ An Employee Guide To Flexible Working Arrangements During Covid-19’. 

[1] https://eige.europa.eu/gender-equality-index/2020/domain/work/IE

[2] https://eige.europa.eu/gender-equality-index/2020/domain/knowledge/IE

[3] Ibid

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