Closing the gender wage gap

July 01, 2021 | 10:00
Although Vietnam is striving for gender parity, with over 79 per cent of Vietnamese women aged 15 and above working or searching for work, according to the Asian Development Bank, the gender pay gap persists.
Paying equal wages could enhance the income of families, Photo: shuttlestock
Paying equal wages could enhance the income of families. Photo: Shuttlestock

The World Economic Forum ranks Vietnam 87th on the Global Gender Gap Index, with 70.1 per cent of its overall gender pay gap closed to date, compared to the global average rate of 68.6 per cent.

The gender pay gap is a result of a web of interwoven factors, though it can be largely underpinned by a concentration of women working in lower-paid occupations and men in high-paying jobs. Reports by the International Labour Organization (ILO) support this, showing that on average, women around the globe earn around 20 per cent less than men.

This gender divide is commonly referred to as occupational segregation and is acutely present in Vietnamese workplaces, too. For example, female Vietnamese workers are more likely to be in junior or middle management position, or work in the informal sector because of gender barriers that limit their opportunities in other higher paid jobs.

However, this is not to say that the gender pay gap is a result of women choosing to enter lower paying occupations. The issue is not women’s choice, it is constraints on choice.

The most common factors that cause the gender pay gap include barriers to entry in certain male-dominated workplaces, needing to work fewer hours due to house care and child rearing, being socialised to show interests in “female” occupations, low access to high positions, outright conscious or unconscious bias against mothers or women of a child rearing age.

The continued existence of the gender pay gap is a negative reflection on how society undervalues women’s jobs. More acknowledgement, reform, and policies must be undertaken to close the pay gap as not only is it the right thing to eliminate these injustices but it is good for the bottom line.

Gender-biased socialisation

Girls and boys are socialised from a young age to be interested in certain subjects and career paths based on their gender, particularly in school. This gender-biased socialisation can be conscious or unconscious and remains prevalent in contemporary media and school culture by reinforcing gender stereotypes and accentuating gender differences and inequities.

Society consciously imposes its gender-based biases on young boys and girls limiting their opportunities and aspirations. This is particularly harmful for girls as they are pushed into pink collar industries which are paid significantly less than male-dominated industries.

For example, in school, girls are often pushed towards humanitarian and creative subjects. Whereas boys are pushed towards maths, sports, and science, leading them to blue- and white-collar industries. As a result, more men choose to work in high paid science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations or fields such as heavy equipment operation and repair or construction. This is because of the stereotypical assumption that men are strategic, analytical, and strong. On the other hand, women are perceived as caring and nurturing. Women then choose to work in lower paid occupations such as healthcare, teaching, or caregiving fields, preschool or kindergarten teachers, childcare workers, and registered nurses.

These stereotypes should be dismantled at a young age. Gender should not be a determinant of opportunities and career paths – instead, it should be one’s individual choice.

Equal pay for equal value

Sectors that are composed of mostly women pay less than sectors that are dominated by men. In other words, men are getting paid more for working alongside men, and women are getting paid less for working alongside women.

However, when men show interest in female-dominated jobs, the pay and prestige increases. For example, computer programming used to be viewed as a menial job carried out by women but as male programmers outnumbered female programmers, the job started to pay more and gained more prestige.

When discussing undervaluing women’s work, the concept “equal pay for equal value” is often used, where various occupations may be viewed equally demanding and hence deserving of equal pay. For example, the male-dominated construction sector may be of the same or similar objective value as a job in the female-dominated childcare sector, however, the latter is likely to pay less.

This undervaluation of women’s work stems from the outdated traditional role of women in the domestic sphere, with unpaid roles including caregiving, cleaning, child rearing, caring for the elderly, cooking, and nursing. In today’s world, as societal values shift and view women and men as both breadwinners and caregivers, feminisation is no justification for lower wage. Not only are these feminised jobs integral to our society, augmenting the pay in these jobs will also increase family income.

Disproportionate housework

Women work just as much as men, yet they are still expected to balance their work and home responsibilities more so than men.

As a result of this, women are paid less than men or forego higher paying jobs. Often women choose to work either part time or in occupations that have lower weekly hours and have less benefits such as bonuses.

This is because women take on a disproportionate amount of child rearing and household chores; all of which is unpaid work and is often referred to as a double burden. These unpaid hours women work distort the number of paid hours and decrease their salary significantly compared to men.

The ILO’s Global Wage Report 2018-2019 shows that the number of hours women work decreases after the first child and continues to decrease when having more children, whilst having almost no impact on the hours worked by the father. This applies mostly to women around their 20s and 30s, some of the most crucial years for career development, which in turn means that they are less likely to be selected for promotions and increase their salary when they return.

When women try to enter better-paid “male” industries such as constructions or, they are often discouraged by hostile work environments and experience harassment and discrimination.

A gender discrimination study by Pew Research Center shows that women working in majority-male workplaces experience more gender discrimination at significantly higher rates than in women-majority workplaces. Some women in these fields accept the masculine cultural norms in these male-majority workplaces and act like “one of the boys”, which only further exacerbates the problem by contributing to the normalisation of this culture.

Most majority-male occupations are still largely designed to satisfy the needs of the traditional male who is supposed to have a spouse at home, a scheduling dilemma that not only fails to accommodate women but also actively pushes them out. This outright occupational segregation lowers female income and jeopardises family economic security.

Closing the gender wage gap is a matter of basic fairness and it is required for that reason alone.

By MyLan Holland - Research assistant, EQuest Asia

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