While new research signals strong support for tackling the gender pay gap in Ireland, there is still a lot of confusion around what causes it.
According to WorkEqual, today (8 November) marks Equal Pay Day in Ireland, the date on which women symbolically stop earning, on average relative to men, because of the gender pay gap.
The gender pay gap is the average difference between the pay for men and women in the workforce, and the most recent statistics from the CSO showed the gender pay gap in Ireland was 14.4pc in 2017.
With around 14pc of this year left, WorkEqual says women in Ireland “effectively work for free” for the remainder of the year.
On a broader scale, women in the EU still earn less than men on average and European Equal Pay Day falls on 10 November. Outside of these days, it’s also worth remembering that the gender pay gap can be even greater for women of colour.
While there is still a long way to go when it comes to closing the gender pay gap, there are some positive moves in the right direction, from heightened awareness of the issue to the Gender Pay Information Act 2021, which was brought in earlier this year. This will require employers to publish information relating to their gender pay gap, and, where there is a gap, explain why it’s there and what measures are being taken to reduce it.
A new survey from WorkEqual found that almost three-quarters (74pc) of respondents believe closing the gender pay gap should be a priority for the Government and employers.
Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Sonya Lennon, founder of WorkEqual, said this is statistic is “hugely validating” and marks an important change in attitude.
“We can’t help but look back to public and media sentiment around the discussion when we started, which was pretty derisory to be honest. I think people thought we were making it up,” she said.
“One of the more surprising statistics was around the level of support among older men compared to younger men.”
According to the report, which surveyed more than 1,000 adults in Ireland, 75pc of men aged 50 and above agreed that closing the gender pay gap should be a priority, compared to 50pc of men aged between 35 and 49.
Lennon said this is likely because when men and women enter the workforce, they can be unaware of the invisible barrier to progression that women face as they move through their career.
Meanwhile, older men who have been in the workforce longer are more likely to have seen the women in their lives and workplaces be directly affected by these barriers. “They’ve seen where those barriers can impact on women’s progression,” she said.
Lennon said one step that can help to address the gender pay gap is more transparency around salaries and wages.
Pay secrecy is one of the major barriers facing women and keeping the gender pay gap intact, and a lack of reporting along with a general stigma attached to discussing money will only compound the problem further.
Not only that, but some companies have even gone so far as to ban employees from discussing wages. “A campaign of silence around earning is a very negative situation for so many reasons,” said Lennon.
“I think that in schools, the subject of salaries and earnings should be discussed as part of your career choices and the college courses that you’re going to choose and I don’t think we have enough of those discussions.”
‘Companies are going to need supports to address their gender pay gap’
– MARY CONNAUGHTON
In a move that will start to address pay transparency, Ireland’s Gender Pay Information Act 2021 means mandatory reporting obligations will apply to private and public sector employers with more than 250 employees. This will extend to employers with more than 150 employees the following year, and to employers with more than 50 employees the year after that.
This is a strong step in the right direction in terms of bringing more pay transparency to workplaces in Ireland.
However, as there are no set regulations or definitions in place yet, the question of when this reporting will actually come into play remains unknown.
CIPD director Mary Connaughton told Siliconrepublic.com that the Government needs to consult employers about the parameters to use for the gender pay reports, such as what exactly it means by pay and who exactly is covered.
“Companies are going to need supports to address their gender pay gap,” she said. “They need to showcase what good practice looks like because we know when companies start to produce their reports that most will find they have a gender pay gap.”
In terms of when the mandatory reporting will come into play, Connaughton said it could be 2024 before companies are required to publish reports because of the time it will take to iron out the specific requirements.
“We expect that when the regulations are signed off that there will maybe year’s gap before companies have to do it,” she said.
“So it might take 2022 to sort out the regulation and then they might be saying, ‘Well, we’re giving you a year’s gap to actually make sure all your definitions and data are correct’, and hence it might be 2024 before it’s actually live.”
Confusion still needs to be addressed
While WorkEqual’s latest survey is encouraging, indicating strong support for addressing the gender pay gap, there is still a lot of confusion around what the pay gap is itself.
“While 70pc of people recognise that the gender pay gap is the difference in the hourly wage for all men and women across a workforce, 85pc still equate it with ‘equal pay for equal work’, which was enshrined in legislation in the mid-70s,” said Lennon.
Equal pay deals with like-for-like roles, where two employees of the same level and skill doing the same job should be paid the same wages. This is protected under the Employment Equality Acts.
However, an organisation that pays a man and a woman the same salary in like-for-like roles can still have a gender pay gap due to differences between men and women’s average pay across the whole organisation.
Connaughton also spoke about this confusion. “The gender pay gap is, when you look at on average, the pay of men in an organisation and the pay of women in an organisation. There’s a gap there because, in general, more men are likely to be in senior positions getting higher pay and more women are likely to be in junior positions on lower pay,” she said.
Lennon said this confusion must be addressed as part of the Government’s public awareness campaign around the new gender pay gap legislation.
“If the Government are going to successfully communicate the methodology around gender pay gap reporting, there’s a fundamental understanding that needs to be embedded first.”
WorkEqual, formerly Dress for Success Dublin, has been campaigning annually since 2016 to promote workplace gender equality. This year’s focus is on childcare and how family caring duties impact on workplace gender equality, with a seminar on reimagining childcare provision taking place on 25 November.
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