Four reasons why employers pay women less

  • Pay & Benefits
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Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

Four out of five employers pay women less than men, according to the Guardian’s analysis of the government’s gender pay gap reporting. And as women in work continue to protest against the gender pay gap, it’s not getting any better.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise after findings by the ONS in 2020 revealed that only 11.3% of men worked in a company where women earned the same or more.

 And as of 2023, the Guardian’s analysis says that the median gender pay gap is still 9.4% - a figure that hasn’t changed in the past five years.

So, why are businesses still paying women less? And what should you be doing to make a difference?

1. More women do unpaid and part-time work

Research suggests that on average, women tend to do more hours of unpaid work (like housework and childcare) than men. Sixty percent more, according to the ONS.

Why? Well, gender stereotypes don’t help. Society still tends to view women as the primary caregivers and homemakers. And while this is a positive choice for some, it may be more of an obligation for others.

Hence why the Women’s Budget group found that 57% of women are likely to be ‘involuntarily part-time’, while 74% of all part-time workers are women.

And as the burden of unpaid work tends to overshadow paid work, it’s often women that will take the pay cut for it.

2. Women are less likely to ask for a pay rise

Confidence seems to be a key factor in getting more pay.

And studies suggest that not only are men more likely to ask for a pay rise, they’re also more likely to come away with a more generous pay packet.

A study by CV-library found that 64% of men were comfortable asking for a pay rise, in comparison to 43% of women. Fifty one percent of women also said they were more likely to get a pay rise of up to 2%, in comparison to 29% of men - who were more likely to receive a 3% boost or more.

And over half of the women in the study hadn’t tried to negotiate their pay.

The primary reasons? Anxiety. A fear of rejection. Worries about seeming too ‘pushy’. Meanwhile, the study showed that men believed that asking for a raise would actually strengthen their position at the company.

3. Fewer women are in management roles

It may be this fear of being pushy that prevents women from pushing for that promotion. Because while we’ve seen more women rise through the ranks in recent years, it’s still not on a par with their male counterparts.

We tend to see confidence going hand in hand with dominance. And as Eagly and Karau point out, people often see men as more ‘qualified’ to take on leadership positions. That’s because  stereotypically we see men as having more ‘assertive and dominant’ qualities. And even if a woman does show these qualities, people are more likely to see her in a less favourable light.

According to the McKinsey report on “Women in the Workplace 2022”, for every 100 men given a promotion to a management role, only 87 women will get promoted.

4. More women are in lower-paying jobs

Not only are there fewer women in management roles, there are more women in lower-paid jobs, according to research.

And the top reasons for this come down to:

  • women wanting greater flexibility and less demanding jobs to help balance their commitments outside of work
  • women opting for jobs that tend to pay less
  • women not wanting to apply for higher-paid male-dominated jobs

The Women’s Budget group say that women make up 69% of low earners.

And it’s discrimination that could be behind 38% of the gender pay gap, says Blau and Kahn. Because while certain job types pay more, the ‘culture’ and ‘male dominance’ of these jobs can be a deterrent for women.

So, what steps can you take to help women progress in your workplace?

You can take steps to tackle gender bias and help women progress in your workplace by:

  • Encouraging women to pursue opportunities at work

Have regular meetings to discuss how they can advance and achieve their career goals.

Flexible working can help women to balance their work responsibilities and childcare, which would help more women stay in work full-time.

Help to break gender stereotypes by encouraging more men to take up shared parental leave and flexible working, so the childcare responsibilities don’t fall solely on women.

  • Encouraging more women to apply for stereotypical ‘male’ roles and higher-paid positions

Only layout the essential skills and qualifications in your job descriptions as studies have found that women tend to apply for jobs only if they meet all the criteria.

There’s so much more businesses can do to support women in work and help close the gender pay gap.

For advice on how you can make a difference in your workplace, get in touch today on 0800 028 2420 to speak to a HR expert for free.

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