Enough Excuses: It's Time to Bridge the Gender Pay Gap

Why the Gender Pay Gap Excuses Don’t Stand up – Practical Insights for Achieving Gender Wage Parity Across your Business

On average, women are paid 17% less than men globally. We’ve heard all the excuses —women are opting out of the high-paying roles, they’re pausing their careers to take on caring responsibilities; they’re not as ambitious as men… the list is endless. But even in controlled studies (measuring like-for-like across industries and careers), women are still coming out worse off financially.

Whilst some factors that play a part, much of the blame for this unfair disparity is being laid at the feet of the women. More importantly, these excuses are being used by some organizations as a fall-back to avoid taking affirmative action.

Beyond individual pay checks not measuring up, the consequences ripple out, affecting women’s long-term financial stability and casting a shadow on collective economic health.

It’s time for change.

The first step? Let’s look at the reality behind some of the common gender pay gap excuses and change the narrative.

Women do ask for raises as often as men but are less likely to receive them.

The Gender Pay Gap Excuses

  1. Women choose lower-paying jobs 
    This argument oversimplifies a complex issue. While it’s true that more women work in traditionally lower-paying sectors (like education or healthcare), this doesn’t fully account for the wage gap within the same industries. For instance, in nursing—a field dominated by women—men earn more on average. A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that male nurses earn about $5,000 more per year than their female counterparts in similar roles. 
     
  2. Women work fewer hours and prioritize flexibility over higher pay 
    This perspective overlooks systemic issues. Yes, women often seek part-time roles or jobs with more flexibility, but societal expectations regarding caregiving heavily influence this choice. Despite this, even when studies compare hours worked across genders, the gap persists. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, in 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned when comparing full-time workers, which doesn’t fully close the gap even when accounting for part-time work. 
     
  3. Women don’t negotiate their salaries as much as men 
    While negotiation plays a part it’s not the whole story. A study published by Harvard Business Review suggests that women do ask for raises as often as men but are less likely to receive them. This debunks the myth that if women spoke up more often, they’d be offered the same wages for the same roles. However, when it comes to the ‘why’ we’re uncertain. One explanation given is that it’s simply down to gender bias. 
     
  4. The gender pay gap is a result of women taking career breaks for family reasons 
    Career interruptions do impact earnings, but they don’t fully explain the persistent wage gap between men and women. Research published in Duke University Press shows that women face a pay penalty for motherhood, whereas fathers often see a pay increase. One explanation from the study is that while women are likely to be less available or focused during motherhood, men are incentivized to work harder to provide for their families. However, the gender pay gap exists even for women without children and tends to widen with age, regardless of parental status. 
     
  5. Women lack representation in high-paying industries and leadership positions 
    Research from McKinsey & Co. shows that women make up just 5.8% of CEOs globally. This is both a cause and an effect of the gender pay gap. Women are underrepresented in fields like technology and engineering, which are typically high-paying sectors. However, attributing the pay gap solely to this overlooks the barriers women face in these industries, including bias and lack of sponsorship or mentorship.

By challenging these excuses, organizations can take a more informed approach to closing the gender pay gap. However, it’s essential that practical action is also taken.

It isn’t as simple as just paying everyone the same, though. Closing the gender pay gap is a multifaceted and deeply nuanced issue that requires interventions at various levels, including governmental, organizational, and societal.

The good news is that there is a growing recognition of the importance of closing this gap not just for equity’s sake but also for the health of global economies.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and the International Labour Organization are advocating for gender pay equality and providing platforms for sharing best practices and resources across borders.

So, what can we do about it on a company-by-company basis? Here are five solid steps organizations can take to start moving the needle:

Practical steps for closing the gender pay gap in your organization

  • Transparent Pay Policies: Get clear about how pay is determined. Conduct regular audits to ensure pay is fair and communicate the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of salary decisions openly. 
  • Advancement Pathways: Create real opportunities for women to move up into higher-paying roles. Invest in their growth with leadership programs and networking opportunities like those offered by WeQual. 
  • Inclusive Culture: Cultivate a workplace where everyone’s contributions are valued equally. This means tackling unconscious bias head-on, providing flexible working options, and having no tolerance for discrimination. 
  • Work-Life Balance: Recognize that employees have lives outside work. Support this balance with sensible parental leave policies and childcare support. 
  • Continuous Evaluation: Commit to routine evaluations of pay practices and be prepared to make adjustments, to ensure ongoing equity. 

Closing the gender pay gap is not just about levelling the playing field, it’s about creating an economy that works for the whole of society, and it’s the organizations that have the leverage to make it happen. 

 

How will your organization close the gender pay gap?  

Global progress on closing the gender pay gap

Many countries have introduced laws and regulations aimed at reducing the gender pay gap.

These include: 

  • Equal Pay Legislation: Laws requiring equal pay for equal work are foundational in countries like the United States (via the Equal Pay Act), the UK, and members of the European Union. 
  • Transparency Requirements: Some jurisdictions, such as Iceland and the UK, mandate that companies disclose wage data, revealing discrepancies and encouraging corrective action. 
  • Minimum Wage Increases: Minimum wage raises in certain areas close the gap for women, who are more likely to work in lower-paid positions. 
  • Parental Leave Policies: More equitable parental leave policies in some countries help distribute caregiving responsibilities, allowing women to remain in the workforce and progress in their careers.