Published December 2015 · Updated May 2016

Tackling sex discrimination through pay equity

Discrimination at work is a violation of a basic human right. Workers may be discriminated against on many different grounds, including their sex, with women being particularly discriminated against with respect to their pay.

One of the most important ways to redress this situation and achieve gender equality is through the promotion of pay equity. Explore this InfoStory for a greater understanding of pay equity and how it can be achieved.

Pay equity is about fairness in pay. Women and men should receive equal remuneration for the same work or work of equal value.

Pay equity concepts

Equal pay for equal work

Women and men should receive equal remuneration for work that is the same or similar.

Equal pay for work of equal value

Women and men should receive equal remuneration for work that may be different in many ways but is equal in value.

How close are we to achieving pay equity?

Differences in remuneration between women and men exist in all countries. The difference between their earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings, is estimated to be 23% globally. In other words, women earn on average 77% of what men earn. This is known as the gender pay gap. 

Although this gap is slowly closing, at the current rate of progress it will take at least until 2086 to achieve pay equity around the world.

Why are there gender pay gaps?

Education and training

Overall, the gap in access to education has closed, but in some countries women still tend to have fewer years of schooling than men because girls’ education is seen as less useful or less economically beneficial. This discrimination in education then translates into fewer job opportunities.

Work interruptions

Mothers need to stop work around the time of the birth of their children. Men also have work interruptions, but there is a higher penalty for women: women with children are likely to be paid less than men, and less than other women without children.

Women also perform an unequal share of family and household tasks, which can take time away from their jobs and leave them with fewer opportunities for career advancement.

Occupational sex segregation

While men predominate in better paying and high status jobs, as well as holding more supervisory positions, women are concentrated in lower paying and lower status jobs with little decision-making power. This is often a result of stereotyped assumptions regarding what type of work is “suitable” for women and men.

Part-time vs. full-time work

The majority of part-time workers are women, which contributes to unequal remuneration. Women may work part time by choice, but many do so because they shoulder an unequal share of family responsibilities. In some countries, gender stereotypes mean that part-time work is the only option available to women.

Unionization and collective bargaining

Enterprises employing mainly women tend to be small, and smaller enterprises are less likely to have unions representing their workers. In smaller workplaces where women are not unionized or represented at the collective bargaining table, pay levels tend to be lower for women.

Pay discrimination

Pay discrimination can take many forms, both direct and indirect. In some instances, pay rates are specifically based on whether the worker is a woman or a man, which is clear and direct discrimination. More often, discrimination is subtle and indirect, such as paying lower wages in sectors traditionally associated with women.

Pay discrimination in Jordan

In private universities in Jordan the gender pay gap is 23%, and in private schools a staggering 42%.

Why is achieving pay equity important?

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Increases women’s financial independence, and increases their status and decision-making power in the household and in the community

Decreases the risk of women and their families remaining or falling into poverty

Ensures an adequate standard of living for women after retirement

Decreases risk of families becoming dependent on child labour or being trapped in forced labour

Encourages more investment in public and private care services for children and the elderly

Challenges assumptions about women’s aspirations and capabilities and their suitability for certain jobs

Increases the capacity of enterprises to attract and retain the most competent and qualified workers

Increases enterprises’ competitiveness and contributes to national development

Reduces risks of discrimination lawsuits, legal costs and compensatory damages

How is pay equity being promoted?

Australia

In Australia, the highest labour tribunal found that low pay in the social, community, home care and disability services industry – where more than 80% of employees were women – was gender-based. The trade unions and Government negotiated an equal remuneration order which established wage increases of up to 45% for women workers.

Canada

In Canada, the Equality Commission of Quebec has created a free online tool to help users undertake gender-neutral job evaluations.

El Salvador

In El Salvador, the labour inspectorate has established a specialized unit on gender and non-discrimination to enable labour inspectors to address equal pay issues.

France

In France, the Labour Code requires collective bargaining to also address gender equality, including identifying measures to eliminate gender pay gaps. Employers have to make information available annually to workers’ representatives on the jobs held by men and by women and their respective remuneration.

Indonesia

In Indonesia, a ministerial decision requires enterprises to establish wage structures and wage scales on the basis of a job analysis, job description and job evaluation.

Kenya

In Kenya, the Employment Act provides that where discrimination is alleged, including cases concerning equal remuneration for women and men for work of equal value, “the employer shall bear the burden of proving that the discrimination did not take place”.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, the Labour Policy provides that “Minimum and above-minimum wages between women and men be paid on the basis of equal pay for equal work, and equal pay for work of equal value, as between men and women, in accordance with Pakistan’s obligations under ILO Conventions 100 and 111 concerned with equality and non-discrimination, respectively.”

South Africa

In South Africa, the Employment Equity Act requires employers to include statements on differences in income between male and female employees as part of their employment equity reports. These provide data on remuneration for each occupational category and level, broken down by sex and race. In income statements with “disproportionate differentials”, employers must take measures to progressively reduce these differentials, including through collective bargaining.

Switzerland

In Switzerland, the Federal Act on Public Procurement stipulates that a contracting authority may only award a contract to a company that guarantees equal pay for women and men and has a system to verify compliance.

Togo

In Togo, the Labour Code states that “employers are to ensure equal remuneration for the same work or work of equal value for all workers, irrespective of their nationality, sex, age or status.”

Kenya

In Kenya, the Employment Act provides that where discrimination is alleged, including cases concerning equal remuneration for women and men for work of equal value, “the employer shall bear the burden of proving that the discrimination did not take place”.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, the Labour Policy provides that “Minimum and above-minimum wages between women and men be paid on the basis of equal pay for equal work, and equal pay for work of equal value, as between men and women, in accordance with Pakistan’s obligations under ILO Conventions 100 and 111 concerned with equality and non-discrimination, respectively.”

South Africa

In South Africa, the Employment Equity Act requires employers to include statements on differences in income between male and female employees as part of their employment equity reports. These provide data on remuneration for each occupational category and level, broken down by sex and race. In income statements with “disproportionate differentials”, employers must take measures to progressively reduce these differentials, including through collective bargaining.

Switzerland

In Switzerland, the Federal Act on Public Procurement stipulates that a contracting authority may only award a contract to a company that guarantees equal pay for women and men and has a system to verify compliance.

Togo

In Togo, the Labour Code states that “employers are to ensure equal remuneration for the same work or work of equal value for all workers, irrespective of their nationality, sex, age or status.”

Evaluating and valuing jobs

In Portugal, cooperation between employers’ and workers’ organizations with the Government resulted in the implementation of a gender-neutral method for evaluating jobs in order to achieve pay equity for women and men in the hotel, catering and tourism sector.

The evaluation method uses profiles of workers’ skills combined with demands of the job in terms of effort and responsibilities, and working conditions. These profiles are used during negotiations about pay so that women and men are more equally remunerated.

Ensuring pay equity

Tackling the factors that create differences in pay has an impact that goes far beyond raising women’s salaries: it is one of the most important ways to combat sex discrimination at work and to create gender equality.

Pay equity promotes the well-being of families, increases enterprise competitiveness and advances national development. Commitment to pay equity is a commitment to decent work and social justice, and to economic success.

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