One of the inalienable human rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” That no one should be discriminated against because of gender, age, race, color, religion, language or sexual orientation. That’s according to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union or the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2.

Nevertheless, despite clear progress in the field of gender equality, the gender pay gap remains a pressing social issue, generating much controversy and discussion (often resulting from a lack of knowledge and awareness). Today we’ll look into some myths and facts concerning the gender pay gap to resolve doubts and understand this fundamental social issue.

What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap is a statistical disparity in earnings between men and women. This phenomenon manifests itself in the fact that women – for the same or similar work – earn less than men, which is measured by comparing median earnings or the average gross hourly wage rate in different sectors of the economy. Among the most common reasons for the differences described are:

  • Career choices – women and men frequently cluster in different industries, which contributes to the pay gap. Some industries, such as technology or engineering, are still male-dominated, where wages tend to be higher, while women are often better represented in sectors such as health care, education or various types of services, where wages are often lower,
  • Career breaks – women typically take career breaks to attend to parenthood or care for other family members, which affects their career path and thus their salary.
  • Work-life imbalance – societal expectations of gender roles regularly impact the work-life balance of employed women, who tend to bear greater family care burden. Such situations reduce their availability (e.g., forcing them to work part-time) and consequently cut their income.

The most popular myths and facts about gender pay gap

The gender pay gap has been a global hot potato in parliaments and international forums (e.g.EU). The lack of open discussion caused people to hold many misconceptions about it. It’s important to recognize them, so here’s our list of the three most prevailing ones together with the rationale that fisks each.

Myth I: The gender pay gap doesn’t exist – it’s the result of women choosing lower-paying jobs

Fact: Earnings disparities have been documented in various countries by independent reports and studies (published, for example, by Eurostat, the Pew Research Center and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), showing that even with similar qualifications, experience and positions, there is still a wage gap between men and women. For example, a Glassdoor study found that in 2019, women earned $0.79 for every $1 earned by men.

Myth II: The gender pay gap is the result of biological differences between men and women.

Fact: Wage inequality is not the result of biological differences, skills or productivity, but of systemic and social inequalities that continue to affect women’s wages. They are still treated stereotypically in many places and countries (where employers frown upon maternity leave and related absenteeism) and considered less competent than men. To see that clearly, you need to look at data comparing wages or promotions to management positions. According to the Gender Diversity Index prepared by research firm Kantar Public for European Women on Boards, across Europe only 30% of managers are women.

Myth III: The gender pay gap is because women won’t negotiate wages.

Fact: While there is no doubt that salary negotiation is sometimes necessary to achieve higher wages, it is not the main cause of the gender pay gap. Studies reveal that even when women negotiate wages at a similar rate as men, they still receive less for the same workload. As an example, a Glassdoor report published in 2016 looked at both starting salaries and subsequent earnings after salary negotiations. In it, significantly fewer women (4%) than men (15%) indicated that they had negotiated their salary and received more money.

Gender Pay Gap

Gender pay gap – summary

Tackling the gender gap – that is, in practice, breaking through the so-called “glass ceiling” – requires actions at the systemic level that will eliminate gender discrimination, focus on promoting equal opportunities in the workplace and support the achievement of work-life balance for women.

But the first step is to continuously educate and discuss the wage gap by reading current reports and studies related to the topic, as well as by responding to misinformation as it appears. Only in this way will disprove most popular myths and move toward a faired modern society.

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.