Glass Ceilings, the Rat Race, and Education: Problems Facing Irish Working Women

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Seán Mooney and Lana Salmon explore the gender pay gap, discover interesting findings, and note that not all may be as black and white for businesses as we believe.

 

Author: Seán Mooney

A factoid is an item of unreliable information that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact. To say that there is a 14% gender pay gap in Ireland is a fact, whereas to say that women are underpaid by 14% due to gender inequality is a factoid.

“Most of the pay gap can be explained on the basis that men and women gravitate towards different jobs.”

Most of the pay gap can be explained on the basis that men and women gravitate towards different jobs. In 2016, women in Britain were paid 28.6% less than their male counterparts, but this narrowed to just 0.8% when a like-for-like comparison of jobs with the same level, company, and function was made. The gender pay gap is therefore driven mainly by the fact that on average men hold higher-paying jobs than women. The debate then centres around the factors which lead men to hold higher-paying positions.

The first aspect is that men occupy most high-risk positions as men are generally less risk-averse. The U.S.A workplace death gap highlights this: In 2015, 93% of all workplace deaths befell men. It need not only be a risk of physical death. One reason there are more male than female entrepreneurs is the associated risks, and entrepreneurship is a potentially lucrative venture.

The second factor behind the pay gap is that many of the highest positions are held by men. Rising to the top of a company requires many sacrifices. Such an endeavour favours those willing to work 80+ hours a week at the expense of their social lives for decades. Those who do not participate in the capitalist rat race are left behind. Anyone who leaves the workforce for an extended period suffers this fate and most often, these are women who opt to have families. Tangentially, unmarried women are paid more than married women on average.

This is not to say that the workplace is devoid of systemic gender discrimination, especially when we widen our perspective to beyond the borders of countries such as Ireland where liberal values are upheld. Equality is absolutely something we must strive for, but the problem is multifaceted.

Attempts to establish equality of outcome directly oppose a meritocracy. Instead, we need equality of opportunity, where everyone can freely choose a career, irrespective of gender. Education is the first step and the fact that more Irish women hold third-level qualifications than men as of 2016 is a mark of progress. However, societal expectations can still discourage women from entering lucrative fields that are dominated by men, and that may prove to be the biggest hurdle yet.

 

Author: Lána Salmon

The gender pay gap in Ireland currently stands at 13.9%, meaning that on average, women in Ireland work for approximately one month without pay compared to males. Ibec has recently suggested two solutions to tackle this inequality. They first suggest public salary reporting, which, much like the implementation of quotas, forces companies and their HR departments to change their day-to-day operations rather than creating change from within. This public pressuring of companies ignores the underlying societal causes of the gender pay gap.

I first encountered the limits that society’s gender roles place on women’s careers when I was considering applying for a PhD. I had to acknowledge how my career would be affected in the future if I choose to have a family. These kinds of limits lead to the glass ceiling, which is caused by, amongst other things, unequally shared domestic roles amongst males and females. Gender roles cause women to take career breaks and shorten their hours in work, ultimately leading to females being overlooked for promotion and pay rises, as their loyalties must lie both at home and in their occupation

“The roots of the gender pay gap begin at second level where there is a significant gender gap in STEM subjects.”

The ill-effects of the gender pay gap on businesses and employees are numerous. The financial effects on women are evident, but undervaluing women in the workplace leads to women undervaluing themselves and their abilities. This suppressed confidence is one of the other causes of the glass ceiling, but women in Ireland are looking above this barrier with support from the numerous women in business organisations and support groups. Another ill-effect of the glass ceiling is that boardrooms lack diversity and place themselves at a great disadvantage. By diversifying the workforce you are empowering a company and its employees.

The second recommendation put forward by Ibec addresses the role that society plays in marginalising women in the workplace. They recommend tackling gender stereotypes in schools, through teacher training and updating the curriculum. The roots of the gender pay gap begin at second level where there is a significant gender gap in STEM subjects, leading to more marginalisation at third level and in the workplace in sectors like IT and engineering. Ibec’s suggested approach could have a huge impact.

Younger generations are embracing equality and rejecting gender stereotypes, leading to a 1.4% wage gap between men and women in their 30’s. This societal approach clearly works, and should be encouraged.

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