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Mind the (gender pay) gap - All Woman - Jamaica Observer
All Woman

Mind the (gender pay) gap

JAMAICA has more women managers than any other country in the world, but that's not necessarily reflected in the wages earned by women compared to men. In fact, across industries, workers are pointing to problems in organisations where male workers are valued more than females, and the disparity and bias in incomes so obvious and stark, that efforts to bridge the divide are seen as laughable.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 indicates that Jamaica is still scoring near the same average it was in 2020 — low in the 'wage equality for similar work' category — at 100 out of 156 countries. Last year the country was at 95 out of 153 countries.

The report states that the median presence of women in senior positions across all countries assessed by the index is 33 per cent, and only 22 countries have closed at least 80 per cent of the gap in managerial roles. Among them are a few countries where women are 50 per cent or more of all managers, including the Philippines, Cote d'Ivoire, Colombia, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, Togo, Botswana and Lao People's Democratic Republic.

At the regional level, there are at least as many women as men in senior positions in five countries in the region — Colombia, Jamaica, Honduras, Belize and The Bahamas. With a score of 100 per cent on this indicator, these countries are almost 60 percentage points ahead of the lowest regional performer (Bolivia), where only 29.2 per cent of senior professionals are women. On average throughout the region, 40 per cent of senior officials are women.

But the estimated earned income for women in Jamaica equated to 8.2 per cent, while for men it was 13 per cent.

What is causing the wage disparity, even when Jamaica has such a high percentage of female managers?

“I'm saying this in confidence — employers see male staff as more valuable, even though many won't admit it,” a recruiter for a digital company told All Woman, on the condition that his name not be published. “In my kind of industry, for example, the workers would have to be available and on-call 24/7 and I've found that men are more reliable for this kind of work than women are.”

Pressed to explain, he added: “Men won't have to leave work to pick up their children, they don't get PMS or mood swings, and they won't call to say their children are sick, so they can't work, or they have to attend PTA meetings. And I'm being brutally honest with you — these are things employers think about in the hiring process, but it's not politically correct to say them out loud.”

Another marketing expert turned HR professional, who also asked not to be named, was more subtle in explaining the process.

“It's not bias per se — but more about the risk and having to consider factors like attrition, and what would cause that. It's difficult to invest in a worker, train them, and then have them leave — and women leave in larger numbers than men, and often for 'domestic' reasons. So you naturally find that the investment, even in wages and training and the like, in women is less, especially women with 'encumbrances',” she said.

She added: “But chin up, career women would be treated differently, because they would have invested heavily in their careers above all else, and there wouldn't be that risk to the employer.”

Gender experts have for years called on Government to review the Employment (Equal Pay for Men and Women) legislation to better protect women, even thought it specifically states that no employer shall, “by failing to pay equal pay for equal work, discriminate between male and female employees employed by in the same establishment in Jamaica”.

“But this is mere talk, with no actual teeth behind the law,” says Maxine W, who recently resigned from a technical role in a production company over what she calls “blatant discrimination”.

“I was in a specific role for years and was always being asked to take on more, even to act for other people in other positions when they were on leave, but I never got acting pay,” she said. “I was stuck in one income bracket for years, with yearly two per cent increases that didn't even make a dent in my 'Net. I went and got my master's — in the same field — and HR just sent me a congratulatory message. Then they decided to restructure and reorganise, and I was placed at another location. The man who took over my position is earning almost twice what I was earning, and he only has a first degree that's not even in anything production-related.”

It's the same cry from other women, who insist that it's not that they are not doing the work, they are sidelined because they are women, and are just not equally respected.

“The biggest insult was having a manager come in to 'streamline' our department, even though the position wasn't advertised internally so those of us who were qualified could apply,” Debra S said. “He came with all the pomp and certificates from overseas, and at the end of the day, it was the admin assistant who did all the work, because while he understood what the job entailed in theory, he couldn't apply the theory to the practice.”

The Global Gender Gap Report was published in March by World Economic Forum, and it warned that another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt. Closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation, from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

But of note, Jamaica has been doing well with regard to the educational attainment for women versus men, particularly at the tertiary level.

In the 2020 report, Jamaica ranked highly among the countries making significant progress, and Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, said the country had made significant strides in reducing the overall gender gap and has, since 2006, achieved parity in educational attainment.

Grange said the Government is committed to ensuring that there is a robust gender framework which protects and empowers the nation's women.

“This is evident in our strong policy framework that offers protection to women and children; increased gender parity in education; paid maternity rights; increasing the number of women in managerial posts; and reduced child mortality,” she noted.

These gains, she said, are the “fruits of collaboration” involving the Government, civil society, international partners and the private sector.

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