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The Gender Pay Gap : An Endless Saga

by Caroline Buhagiar | 06 May. 2016

Endless discussions have been brought on the executive’s and government’s agenda for the last 30 years or as long as I can remember since I joined the workforce. The issue of Gender pay gap is no news to us all, however it still persists. In the United States, women earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men (source: US Department of Labor). In 2013, women's gross hourly earnings were on average 16.4 % below those of men in the European Union (source: Eurostat). Different studies have shown that there are mainly 5 Factors That Affect The Gender Wage Gap. These are:

Job Type: Jobs and industries with higher pay are often dominated by men. Job Level: The gender pay gap increases as you climb the corporate ladder. Compensable Factors: In order to identify pay inequity between similarly qualified men and women Marriage and Family: Even though more men say they prioritise family over work more often, married working mothers have the highest pay gap compared to married working fathers. Unconscious Bias: Behaviour that contributes to gender pay inequity is often the result of beliefs we don't even know we hold. We must become aware of these beliefs in order to correct subtle, discriminatory behavior and policy.

Coming closer to home, we took a look at the latest National Statistics Office (NSO) report on the Maltese workforce and needless to say, the gap exists in Malta too. The gender pay gap in Malta stands at -5.1% (i.e women’s salary is 5.1% lower than than their male counterpart). Upon digging further into the NSO report, we noticed that overall there is a lower participation rate of women in the labor market; 75.7% vs. 51.5% for men and women respectively (note: total workforce of 184,871). Important to take note of, but this should not impact the salary earned. Looking at factors that may create this gap mentioned above with such a low participation in the workforce, it may sound even reasonable. However let us not forget that on average more women graduate from University than men in Malta. So what happens? The answer to this question was given by Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli who admitted “that there is a lack of local awareness on the gender pay gap between men and women. ...when a man and a woman start off their careers at the same stage and with the same qualifications, the men tend to end up earning a higher wage, largely due to the woman taking on additional responsibilities.” These additional responsibilities are normally tied to the family. Women tend to take a step back when it comes to choosing between family and career. Someone has to take an active role in the family and it is uncommon for men to step in.

Another sad aspect of this gender pay gap is often witnessed at the workplace where many employers still tend to promote men over women to avoid the “hassle” of maternity leave and requests for more flexibility in the way worked is done or managed. There are still very few companies who have introduced new policies to help address such issues. It is hard to change a culture that has seen mainly women tending to family. Educating our kids and future generations on this topic will help change such a mindset. If a person shows capability then opportunities must be given independent of gender.

Fortune magazine listed the top ten countries where they have almost closed the gender gap. Amongst the 142 countries analyzed, “the places to top the list in 2014 where, the unsurprising Nordic contingent of Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3), Sweden (4) and Denmark (5), famous for their holistic approaches to citizens’ personal and professional lives”. The other five countries in the list are Nicaragua (6), Rwanda (7), Ireland (8), Philippines (9) and Belgium (10). This report measured gender-based disparities across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics. So until Malta makes it amongst these countries, I say let’s pack our bags ladies and head to the Nordic region for a couple of years!

Caroline Buhagiar is an avid and passionate HR professional who has worked in large multinational companies in Europe, US and Asia. She is fluent in manufacturing excellence, business excellence, building HR capability and driving
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