Pay Gap: South Africa’s Case Study

Despite decades of progressive efforts, there’s still a great deal of inequality in workplaces across the universe. A company that practices gender equality treats men and women the same. Each and every business should respect the fact that men and women must receive equal treatment which includes equal pay and benefits for comparable roles, equal consideration of needs and equal opportunities for progression and promotion. Employees should not face any sort of discrimination or inequality because of their gender.

The fight for equal pay is a prominent gender equality issue. New laws ensure the gap between men’s and women’s pay is smaller than ever. As an employer, you must ensure men and women receive equal pay for work that’s equivalent in terms of skill, effort, or level of responsibility. Inequality is not just an issue of fairness. It is also undesirable because it hampers poverty reduction strategies and leads to suboptimal allocation of resources. In South Africa, where labour market income makes up more than 85% of total household income, it is reported that individuals living in female-headed households are more likely to be poor compared with individuals living in male-headed households. South Africa has experienced a decline of the gender wage gap at the mean from about 40% in 1993 to about 16% in 2014. However, the gap declined only until 2007 and was stagnant thereafter, oscillating at 16%. Women have made great strides in labour force participation. In 1993, 44.5% of women in South Africa were working; a number that rose to 48.9% by 2018. Proponents of human capital theory credit the decline of the gender wage gap over time in different countries to the continued labour force participation of women.

South Africa enacted the Employment Equity Act in 1998 and it led to the enforcement of affirmative action. Employment trends over time show that there has been an increase of women in occupations where they were formerly under-represented. For example, the proportion of female managers almost doubled in the period 1993–2014. Also, the decline of the unexplained gap at the 90th percentile and the mean is an indication that affirmative action may have had an impact on the gender wage gap. Now more than ever, women are redefining pathways to power, re-architecting industries, sparking movements, and solving the most pressing problems of our time. Despite this, much more effort is required to address the issues that result in gender based pay inequity in corporate South Africa, says Lindiwe Sebesho, Executive Committee Member of the South African Reward Association.

According to the 2018/19 ILO Global Wage report, women continue to be paid 28% less than men. The report covered 70 countries and 80% of wage employees worldwide. An even more alarming statistic is that South Africa has the world’s highest wage inequality overall. The ‘motherhood penalty’ refers to research that shows that women see a significant reduction in earnings after having children, something that men are not subjected to. The magnitude of the drop in women’s earnings vary from country to country, but research has found that there is a high correlation between the intensity of cultural expectations of women to stay at home with children and the degree to which they experience motherhood penalty.

“There is still a lot of unconscious bias in how we treat mothers, with men enjoying an income boost when they have children and women earning an average of 10% less for each child they conceive,” says Sebesho. Research has indicated that working moms are actually more productive workers. Despite this, there are many managers who avoid hiring younger women to get around maternity leave and the belief that women aren’t as good at their jobs’ when they return.

“It is advisable for women, particularly skilled women, to seek out employers who are committed to the advancement of women and illustrate this through favorable policies for working moms, value family and offer flexible work arrangements without a pay penalty. It’s also important to make sure that women have the support they need at home, as child-rearing isn’t a women-only job,” says Sebesho.

How can we promote gender equality in the workplace you wonder? as gender inequality in the workplace might include hiring or training only one gender for a particular role (perhaps because it’s seen as ‘men’s work’ or ‘women’s work’). Female employees may also worry about treatment during pregnancy or motherhood, or being sexually harassed. To help foster gender equality, you could: give training to raise awareness and promote fair behaviors, provide childcare facilities, family-friendly policies and childcare vouchers, shine a spotlight on successful women in your company, both internally and through media channels and ask senior women to act as mentors and establish policies for fair pay and work/life balance, and ensure managers fully support them.

Why is gender equality important in the workplace? As well as promoting a fair working environment, it also ensures an overall business productivity as high as possible. In turn, this ensures the national economy can grow naturally. There are no unfair barriers in place restricting progress. With this in mind, how can you go about ensuring the implementation of a gender equality policy across your business? While this relates to women’s inequality in the workplace, don’t forget that you must also respect your male employees. By being transparent about your pay, small or medium businesses with less than 250 employees, must be open about wages to ensure women aren’t receiving less for the same roles as men. This helps promote a better work-life balance for both genders. “Those in leadership positions need to use their authority to promote and advocate for women. It is imperative that we lead deliberate and structured approaches towards combating gender inequality in corporate South Africa. The current and future talent that must create sustainable solutions for the world’s problems, depends on it,” concludes Sebesho.


About the author:

Yosser Tarchi, born and raised in Tunisia, is a young woman who aspires to be a human rights advocate. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Language, Literature, and Civilization and a master’s degree in International relations. A former member of GirlUp Tunisia, her interest in gender studies expanded which is why she’s currently volunteering for Politics4Her. Her motto? GRL PWR!

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