The global gender pay gap: Unveiling disparities and their complex roots

The global gender pay gap persists as a stark reminder of the inequalities embedded within our societies, transcending geographical boundaries and economic sectors. Despite decades of advocacy and awareness efforts, women continue to earn less than men on average worldwide. The statistics paint a sobering picture, revealing not only the extent of the gap but also the multifaceted factors contributing to its persistence.

According to data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, The Global Gender Gap score for all 146 countries included in this edition stands at 68.4% closed. Considering the constant sample of 145 countries covered in the 2022 and 2023 editions, the overall score changed from 68.1% to 68.4%, an improvement of 0.3 percentage points compared to last year’s edition. India was ranked 127 out of 146 countries in terms of gender parity — an improvement of eight places from last year, according to the annual Gender Gap Report, 2023 of the World Economic Forum (WEF). India was ranked 135 in the report’s 2022 edition. India had closed 64.3% of the overall gender gap, the report said. However, it underlined that India had reached only 36.7 % parity on economic participation and opportunity.

Several interconnected factors contribute to the perpetuation of the gender pay gap on a global scale.

1.Gender Norms leading to role and occupation segregation: One significant driver of the gender pay gap is occupational segregation, whereby women are disproportionately concentrated in lower-paying industries and roles. This phenomenon is often a result of cultural norms, biases, and historical gender roles that steer women towards caregiving, education, desk jobs, and service-oriented professions, which tend to offer lower wages compared to male-dominated fields such as technology, engineering, and finance. The terms like ‘male-dominated industry’ or ‘conditions not suitable for women’ are often associated with industries like infrastructure and manufacturing, and functions like sales and operations.

2.Unequal Opportunities for Advancement- Sticky floor, broken rung or glass ceiling: Women frequently encounter barriers arising out of Discriminatory practices, unconscious biases, and lack of mentorship and sponsorship that impede their career progression and access to higher-paying positions. It is a fact across companies that while women’s representation at junior levels will be in double digits, as we go higher up the ranks, the numbers dwindle.

3.Motherhood Penalty: The transition to motherhood often exacerbates the gender pay gap, as women face tacit barriers in the workforce related to childbirth and caregiving responsibilities. Maternity leave policies, lack of flexibility in policies after resuming work, and the perception of mothers as less committed professionals can result in reduced ratings, increments, missed opportunities for promotion, and reduced opportunities. This leads to demotivation with women often opting out of the workplace and the vicious cycle gets perpetuated.

4.Wage Discrimination: Direct wage discrimination, wherein women are paid less than men for performing the same work or work of equal value, continues to be a significant factor contributing to the gender pay gap. Despite legal protections in many countries, pay discrimination persists due to many factors. It is a well-researched fact that when it comes to negotiating for oneself, women do not do it well. Secondly, When women return to work after a career break, they are treated as low-cost resources as the organisation feels that they are investing in them and giving them a chance, almost like doing them a favour. On the contrary, women returning to the workforce are a committed talent pool, in a hurry to grow to make up for lost time. It’s up to organisations on how to leverage them.

5.Unpaid Care Work: The disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, including household chores, childcare, and eldercare, falls predominantly on women globally. This invisible labour not only limits women’s participation in the formal labour market but also affects their ability to work full-time and pursue career opportunities.

6.Structural Inequities: Deep-rooted structural inequities, including systemic sexism, patriarchal norms, and institutionalized discrimination, perpetuate the gender pay gap. These systemic barriers reinforce social and economic disparities, hindering women’s access to education, training, and resources necessary for career advancement and economic empowerment.

Sonica Aron
Marching Sheep.

Addressing the global gender pay gap requires a multifaceted approach that addresses its underlying causes at individual, organisational, and societal levels. Policymakers, employers, and society must work together to implement comprehensive strategies aimed at closing the gap.

1.Legislative Reforms: Governments play a crucial role in enacting and enforcing laws that promote pay equity, prohibit wage discrimination, and provide support for working parents. Strengthening anti-discrimination legislation, implementing transparent pay reporting requirements, and investing in affordable childcare and parental leave policies can help mitigate the impact of the gender pay gap. Laws and acts are great, it’s the on-ground implementation and monitoring that is needed. For example, Do all workplaces that have complete work from office have operational creches that meet all the standards?

2.Workplace Policies: Employers must prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to create fair and inclusive work environments. This includes implementing gender-neutral recruitment and promotion practices, offering unconscious bias training for different touch points, and providing flexible work arrangements to accommodate caregiving responsibilities. This will require involving all levels of people leadership.

3.Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the gender pay gap and its consequences is essential for fostering collective action and driving cultural change. Consistent and continuous awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts can challenge stereotypes, promote gender-balanced leadership, and empower women for growth and career opportunities.

4.Economic Empowerment: Investing in women’s economic empowerment through access to education, skills training, and financial resources is critical for narrowing the gender pay gap and promoting sustainable development. By removing barriers to economic participation and fostering entrepreneurship, societies can unlock the full potential of women as drivers of economic growth and innovation.

To conclude, the gender pay gap is a complex and deeply entrenched phenomenon that requires concerted efforts to dismantle. We all have a role to play and can make a difference in our circle of influence. If we all do our bit,  we can move closer to achieving true gender equality and creating a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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