International Equal Pay Day – Only together can we build a more inclusive and fair world of work

31 Aug 2020

Gender equality is a fundamental human right as well as a cornerstone of a prosperous, modern economy that generates sustainable inclusive growth. Gender equality is essential for ensuring that men and women can contribute fully at home, at work and in public life, for the advancement of societies and economies at large.

However, despite decades of gains in women’s educational attainment and employment participation, legislation, policy action and activism, women around the world continue to be paid less than men. Globally, the gap in earnings between men and women stands at about 20%. Even inside the largely developed set of OECD countries, the average gender pay gap still stands at 13%. On this first International Equal Pay Day, we must acknowledge that equal pay is still far from a reality.

The gender pay gap has many causes. Part is related to the fact that, even in the world’s most gender-equal countries, women’s work often still looks very different to men’s. Indeed, despite the remarkable progress made by women over the past half-century or so, women still often work shorter hours, find themselves in different jobs and industries, and enjoy less seniority than men. They are also much more likely than men to interrupt their careers or adapt their paid work for family and care reasons.

But gender differences in careers cannot explain all of the pay gap. Time and again, studies from across the globe find that significant gender pay gaps persist even after accounting for job and worker characteristics. Traditional notions on women’s career aspirations and expectations contribute to discrimination in hiring and career development which helps explain why gender pay gaps widen over the life course with women being at a higher risk of poverty,

A strong, co-ordinated and a multi-faceted approach involving a range of stakeholders is needed if we are to properly tackle the multiple causes of the gender pay gap. Governments, employers, unions and other stakeholders are increasingly recognising the importance of achieving equal pay and gender equality more widely. In recent decades, many governments from across the world have strengthened anti-discrimination legislation, improved women and girls’ access to education and training, and introduced family-friendly policies aimed at ensuring all men and women can participate fully in paid work. Many employers, for their part, have introduced programmes and practices aimed at stamping out discrimination and supporting women’s careers, while unions have broadened their priorities in collective bargaining processes to include work/life balance issues that are so important to both mothers and fathers.

Furthermore, the first International Equal Pay Day comes about while the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, a fateful event that has heightened inequalities at work and at home. Indeed, women have been at the core of the battle against COVID-19:

• They make up two-thirds of the health workforce worldwide, including 85% of nurses and midwives, and account for 90% of long-term care workers across OECD countries.

• The crisis-amplified women’s unpaid work burden, as women picked up much of the additional unpaid work caused by widespread school and childcare facility closures.

• The short-term economic fallout from COVID-19 particularly affected sectors (e.g. accommodation, food and beverage and retail services) that rely on physical customer interaction, many of which are major employers of women. As a result, women have suffered disproportionately from reduced working hours and job loss across G20 countries for which data are available.

Globally, almost 510 million workers, or 40 per cent of all employed women, work in hard-hit sectors, including accommodation and foodservices; wholesale and retail trade; real estate, business and administrative activities; and manufacturing.

Furthermore, in developing countries, women are among the most vulnerable workers within the informal economy without access to social protection and COVID-19 national stimulus packages.

In all, COVID-19 threatens to erode many of the gains made on gender equality over recent decades. Without affirmative action from all leaders of the labour market, there is a risk that decades worth of hard fought progress towards women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the world of work could be reversed.

It does not have to be that way. Policy makers, employers, unions and other stakeholders must work together to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity for accelerating change towards equal pay for work of equal value.

On this first International Equal Pay Day, EPIC is organising a virtual event to exchange ideas and evidence on how to accelerate change towards equal pay for work of equal value. Topics to be discussed include:

• How can employment conditions of health and social care workers be improved to give them better recognition of their contribution to the economy and society at large?

• How can we improve data on gender gaps at the work floor and the impact of policies?

• What should be the policy priority for governments, employers of different sizes and unions?

• What works best in improving women’s participation in managerial and leadership positions?

• How can role models most effectively contribute to generating change in attitudes towards more gender equality?

We also hope that your country, employers organization, union, civil society grouping and/or other stakeholder group can join us in EPIC and our call to action as only together we can ensure that the response and recovery efforts lead to building a more inclusive and fair world of work.

For more information and evidence on gender pay gap see the “resources” on our webpages.