Wednesday 26 July 2017

Your Money: Five ways women can close the gender pay gap

Choose a male-dominated job and a flexible boss to overcome workplace inequality, writes Louise McBride

Bridging the gender pay gap
Bridging the gender pay gap
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

It could take another 15 years for Irish women to get paid the same as Irish men for the same job - because of gender inequality in the workplace, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). It found, on average, Irish women earn 15pc less than men each year. So, with women in the workplace - or those just starting out in their careers - facing such a wait before the gender pay gap is bridged, what can they do to get fairer pay in the meantime? Here are five ways you can help close the gap:

Choose a male-dominated career

Pursuing a male-dominated career could boost your earnings potential. "International research shows that female-type occupations tend to pay less and have lower status [than male dominated occupations]," said Helen Russell, associate research professor with the Economic and Social Research Institute. "There is a strong argument that jobs involving care work have been systematically devalued."

For example, teaching and nursing are female-dominated professions while engineering and software development are male-dominated. A recently-qualified school teacher who is a member of the trade union, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, can expect to start on a salary of €31,009 today - and earn €62,264 at the top of their pay scale. A staff nurse in a public hospital who is just out of college and awaiting registration as a nurse can expect a starting salary of €23,361 and to earn up to €43,800 at the top pay scale.

By contrast, an Android developer could expect to start on a salary of between €30,000 and €45,000 if working in Dublin - and earn as much as €85,000 after five years, according to Morgan McKinley's latest salary guide.

That guide also found that a Dublin-based engineering manager can expect to start on a salary of between €28,000 and €36,000 - and see that salary increase to between €75,000 and €100,000 after five years.

Of course, the amount of money you can earn shouldn't be your only reason to pursue a particular career: your own flair for - and interest in - a line of work is also important. The gender pay gap is still worth bearing in mind when choosing your career though.

Don't get personal when looking for a pay rise

Women are as likely as men to ask for a pay rise - but are less likely to get one, recent studies have shown. To better your chances of securing a pay rise, do your research beforehand so that you can argue your case.

Find out what people in similar jobs to you are getting paid and have an understanding of the market rate - for someone with your years of experience.

"Make it a data-driven conversation - establish the facts that will support your case," said Richard Eardley, managing director of the recruitment agency, Hays Ireland. "So if you're earning €40,000 and you want €45,000, if you can establish that €45,000 is the going rate for your job, you'll have a better chance of success."

Don't turn your request for a pay rise into something personal. "Where people make it about themselves - such as by saying something like 'I'm worth more than this', it will be easily shot down," said Eardley.

Negotiating a fair pay rise can be difficult if there is poor transparency around pay in your workplace - and this can often be the case in the private sector. Choosing a job where there is transparency around pay can help - otherwise, you could request that a company be more open about its salaries.

"It's very difficult to negotiate pay increases when you have no idea what everyone around you is on," said Orla O'Connor, director with the National Women's Council of Ireland. "Consider asking an employer for more transparency around pay - though for a woman coming into a job in a male-dominated environment, that's a hard thing to ask."

Address pay discrimination

Should you discover that a male colleague is earning more than you for the same job, arrange a meeting with your line manager or human resources department to discuss this.

"There may be a reason for the higher pay which you are not aware of - there may be another element to the colleague's job or he may be on a different pay scale," said Eardley. "Don't make the assumption that it's about gender, but tell your employer that you know that your colleague is earning more than you - and that from what you can see, you both do the same job. Give your employer the chance to explain. If there is no reason for the difference, you may have just got yourself a pay rise. If there is a reason for the difference, ask your employer what you can do to bring your salary up to your colleague's level."

Eardley has come across cases where women are getting paid less than men for similar jobs. "You do occasionally interview women for roles and be surprised that they are not earning more in their current job," said Eardley. "A man in a similar job may be getting paid more."

Should there be no reason to justify a male colleague being paid more than you for a similar job - and should your employer then refuse to rectify the pay discrepancy, you can take a discrimination case to the Workplace Relations Commission. Under the Employment Equality Acts, there is a legal right to equal pay for men and women doing the same jobs.

Limit time out of workforce after having children

Many - though not all - women take a step back in their careers when children come along. Options such as part-time work and job sharing are often pursued by mothers (and indeed, fathers). Some parents give up full-time jobs to look after their children in the home.

Should you not wish to lose out financially in your career after having a child, minimise your time out of the labour market, said Russell.

"It's crucial not to break your employment contract," said Russell. "Women who leave the labour market to look after children are much more subject to occupational downgrading when they return to work than someone who stays in their job and returns to work after maternity leave."

Having the ability to earn enough money to pay for childcare can help here - and so, a good third-level education is crucial. "Women with higher educational qualifications are more likely to stay in employment when they have young children - and this is partly because they have a higher earnings capacity," said Russell. "If you are able to earn more than the average wage, childcare becomes more affordable. Women with higher skills and in professional occupations are also better placed to maintain their position in work when they have children. Employers will make great efforts to retain skilled staff because they are more difficult to replace and so an employer might offer flexible work arrangements - or top up State maternity payments."

Choose a flexible boss

Choosing an employer with family-friendly policies could stand to you in the long run.

Some arrangements which can help parents to juggle their job with childcare responsibilities include flexi-time, term-time (where unpaid leave is taken over the school summer holidays so that parents can have time with their children), career breaks, job-sharing and part-time work. However, before taking up options such as part-time work or job sharing, understand the impact it could have on your financial and promotional prospects.

"Part-timers are less likely to gain access to training and promotion opportunities so their long-term earnings are affected," said Russell. "A key element in reducing the gender pay gap is encouraging a more equal division of caring and unpaid work between men and women."

Should both parents be in a position to take up flexible working arrangements, it is less likely that the salary or career prospects of one will take a big hit. "The problem with flexible working arrangements is that we usually talk about them in the context of women taking them up," said O'Connor. "There should be a range of such arrangements available to men - as well as women. Childcare is still very much seen as a woman's responsibility."

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