The mining sector is probably the industry with the most extreme gender pay gap
It was four years ago when Jo*, now 37, discovered she had been earning less than a male colleague who was junior to her in the workplace. ‘When I went into the hiring process candidate, I asked for the salary range – and they gave me John’s salary package on paper,’ Jo says now. ‘It was more than mine. I had a master’s degree and, at that stage, eight three years’ experience in our industry. But most importantly: I was managing him and, probably, without exaggeration, working 16 to 20 hours more in a workweek than he was.’
Jo works in mining, but her experience in the South African workforce is by no means exceptional. Anita Bosch, lead researcher at the Women in the Workplace research programme at the University of Johannesburg, says that on average South African women are paid between 15 and 17% less than their male colleagues.
The gender pay gap is a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s one that many people don’t believe exists. That fact was abundantly illustrated on the internet during Equal Pay Day on 12 April this year. The date is selected because it’s the point in the year at which an American woman is likely to catch up with a man’s salary for the previous year. Here’s a sample tweet from that day: ‘Try getting a degree that isn’t completely worthless like “gender studies” and you might get an actual job that pays better. #EqualPayDay’. Here’s another: ‘If it were possible to pay women less for the same work no men would have jobs.’
Why hire a man for more money? On the face of it, the concept seems absurd, and yet it happens every day. Nomfundo*, 43, is a South African woman working in the media industry. ‘I know for a fact I am earning less than one of my male colleagues,’ she says. ‘I am more experienced than him, I have more responsibility, and I’m in a more senior position. I have raised this with all the relevant departments on several occasions, and backed up my concerns with solid facts. I have been faced with many mutterings about how my queries are valid and “they’re working on it”. They must be giving it a lot of thought because this has been going on for a couple of years.’
The reality is simple: in South Africa, it is illegal to pay men and women differently for doing the same job. ‘South African law for equal work,’ says labour lawyer Michael Bagraim. ‘Paying men and women differently would be an unfair labour practice and could amount to a law suit.’
One of the problems, however, is that there is so little transparency around what people are paid. There is no obligation for companies to reveal remuneration to employees, and in social terms it is often considered impolite to ask a colleague what they are earning. This is one of the factors that allows businesses to get away with paying male workers more than women.
was against company policy to discuss salaries,’ says Minoshni*, 27, of the moment when she realised she was being paid less than her male counterparts. ‘I worked at a major retail company full-time for almost two years. Before I left, I spoke to the men I worked with about salaries as I was offered an increase to stay. It was only then that we realised I was paid at least R1 000 to R2 000 less than each of them. We did the same job, worked the same amount of hours, had the same sales targets and had undergone the same training.’
The gender pay gap is worse in some South African industries than others. Anita stresses the fact that the 15 to differential’. In certain sectors, women earn more than men. ‘In administration positions, for instance, women outperform men,’ Anita says. ‘Their skill level in those positions is highly sought after, and they tend to command salaries that are much higher.’ Anita says that in South African terms, the mining sector is probably the industry with the most extreme gender pay gap. ‘But in the services sector, which includes education, there is clear evidence of a pay glass ceiling,’ she says. Women will move up to a particular level, and thereafter will not be promoted or remunerated further.
The question of why the gender pay gap exists is not straightforward. Plain sexism is not an adequate explanation in all cases. American podcast Freakonomics recently tackled the issue, and quoted economist Claudia Goldin as saying, ‘We don’t have tons of evidence that it’s true discrimination.’ In Claudia’s view, the major factor why men are paid more than women is what responsible for childcare, for instance, and as a result are forced to take more leave, or seek out employment which allows them time to look after their children.