The min­ing sec­tor is prob­a­bly the industry with the most ex­treme gen­der pay gap

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - @WORK -

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.

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