It’s time to de-nor­malise the gen­der pay gap, and take action to close it

Written by
Niamh Ferris
May 25, 2017

‘Bulmers is a drink for women and children’ – or so I was advised by a barman. The lesson taken was that I’d better stop drinking cider, lest someone think I’m a woman. Or was it that I'd better stop acting like a woman, lest someone think I am childlike and weak?

It was an encounter characteristic of the subtle culture of infantilising sexism in which we currently live. Humourous, flirtatious, harmless, unconsciously biased remarks. Anyone who has ever been bullied at work, school, in a relationship, or on the street will recognise this kind of incessant erosion of your psyche and identity as psychological abuse. Fifteen months before marriage equality was passed by referendum in Ireland, a video went viral of drag queen Panti describing her own experiences of discrimination. Please watch this, think what your own version of it is, as a woman, or for a woman you know. And get angry.

Do you count your lucky stars that you work in an industry that doesn't present the same level of machoism, sexism and objectification of women that you hear from friends in the profit-making world? I do. It might be hasty or lazy to assume it’s something to do with the fact that we are a sector dominated by women – 67 per cent! But the reason almost doesn’t matter once you feel safe going to work, most days.

So when I first read that, in the charity sector in Ireland, female CEOs are paid 16 per cent less than men, I was slow to react. The gender pay gap in Ireland on a whole is 14 per cent. The figures are similar in the UK. Win some, lose some, I thought.

Over time I realised how inexorably sad my reaction was. How it was influenced by an acceptance of unconscious bias and the safeness I ordinarily feel in my work life.

Think of your colleagues – the ones you like. One of them has a similar job, is as equally qualified as you, is of the opposite sex and there’s about 14-16 per cent difference in your pay. How does that make you feel?

There is a responsibility on the global workforce to ensure the gender pay gap is narrowed and eventually closed. And better placed to lead the charge than us? A sector that stands for justice and equality and is predominantly female.

On 6 March 2017, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) advised Ireland to:

Take concrete measures to reduce the gender pay gap by enforcing the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and intensifying the use of wage surveys. 

The UK is up for review in July 2017, having had similar recommendations made to it in 2013. The UK’s gender pay gap in 2013 was 19.7 per cent and was still a high 18.1 per cent in 2016.

The next review by CEDAW will be in 2021. So let’s get to work.

Any change will require individual organisations to monitor pay discrimination, introduce policies and implement changes to bring salaries in line. It will require a voice from our umbrella and membership organisations.  If you are a CEO, will you take responsibility for gender pay equality in your organisation? If not, will you approach your CEO to ask him, or her, to? Or will you tell your representative organisations that this is an issue that needs to be put on the table? It’s time to de-normalise the gender pay gap and take action to close it.

How will you help close the gap? Pledge on SOFII today.

About the author: Niamh Ferris

Niamh Ferris is fundraising and communications manager at CBM Ireland

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