The Gender Pay Gap: Why We Need to Break the Salary Taboo

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

If an organisation has to coerce employees into keeping salaries secret, chances are that there are inequities in the system and some people are under and/or overpaid.

These discrepancies occur to varying extents among different employee demographics; between new hires and existing employees, between younger and older employees, between men and women, and among minorities. An employee would be worse off financially if they stayed with an organisation that underpays them for a long time, so the best and quickest way for them to increase their pay would be to work for a new organisation where they are likely to be offered more. Older employees may get paid more on the assumption that they have more responsibilities or that their age is an indication of more experience. Racial minorities may get paid less due to unconscious bias, but their pay expectations may also be affected by not having the same sense of entitlement as their privileged counterparts. And women are likely to earn less for several reasons, including the fact that they rarely ask for more and often do not feel entitled to questioning what they get. Naturally, as a woman, this plight concerns me most.

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unplash

How then might we go about ensuring that women are getting paid fairly and that we are actively closing the gap?

Who tells them that it is okay to ask? Who encourages them to negotiate? How do they know how much more they can get or what they should do to get it? The general advice for individuals is to get familiar with the going rates in the industry. In countries where market data is readily available and pay secrecy is not as entrenched, this is fairly easy. But in data-dark countries, where available information is not as reliable and the standard HR practice is to discourage talking about salaries, it is much more difficult. A random internet search may not yield the best results, and since pay ranges differ by geographic location, level of education and years of experience, relying on data sources that are not local may paint an unrealistic picture. So research and information alone do not solve the problem. In fact, it can create even more inequity where only those with ‘the inside scoop’ can improve their position.

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