Gender inequality in the workforce is a global problem – throughout the world there are significantly fewer women in the workforce then there are men and, when women are employed, they earn less money for similar jobs.

But what exactly does gender equality in the workforce mean? Basically, it means that people are able to enjoy the same rewards, resources, and opportunities for work regardless of their gender.

Supporting economic equality for women does not mean that you believe that all women should be working instead of choosing to be stay-at-home mothers or homemakers. It does mean that you support women have the exact same opportunities in the workforce as men if they do choose to pursue a career.

Globally, women earn 24% less than men. Only 50% of the world’s working-age women are in the workforce, compared to approximately 75% of men.

According to ActionAid International, an antipoverty organisation, if the employment participation gap and wage gap between women and men was closed, women could increase their income globally by up to 76% – a global value of USD 17 trillion (R244 trillion).

The reasons for gender disparity in the workforce vary – from women choosing to stay home with their children to women who live in societies that don’t value gender parity to women not having the same educational opportunities as men.

According to a 2014 United Nations Report entitled “Women, Business, and the Law,” among 143 countries, at least 90% have a legal restriction on women’s employment, usually based on a definition of what “women’s work” is. South Africa is one of 15 countries with no legal differentiation between what women and men can do.

Still, employment statistics in South Africa show that there’s still an uphill climb towards parity.

According to Statistics SA, in 2011, there were significantly less women then men employed. Not accounting for race, about 59% of men were employed versus 42% of women.

The problem with equality in the workforce isn’t just about ratios of men to women in the workforce, but also about how much they’re paid. According to tax statistics released by the SARS in 2015, women earn nearly a third less than men on average. For women, the average earning was about R16 000 per month, while men earned R21 000 over the same period – meaning women would have to work about two extra months to make the same amount as men.

The pay gap is caused by several factors: the fact that women are sometimes paid less than men for the same work, and the fact that women are more likely to be working lower-paying jobs. Women are also less likely to be in management positions – according to the 2014 MasterCard Index of Women’s Achievement, for every 100 male business leaders there are 57 women. For every 100 male business owners, there are only 25 women.

This means that women are less likely to have higher-paying management or leadership positions. 3031 men earned more than R5 million in 2011 – versus only 306 women.

Overall, these statistics point to a problem mirrored all of the world – women earning less, being underrepresented in leadership positions, and not having the same employment opportunities as men.

Women have come very far over the past 100 years – even the past 50 years – in terms of equality. But inequality in the workforce shows that there are still legacies of a time when women were seen as lesser than and the property of men.

Call to action

Business Engage, the 30% Club, and the Gender Mainstreaming Awards are attempting to improve inequality in the workforce in South Africa. Submissions for the 4th Annual Gender Mainstreaming Awards are open until 15 June. The Awards recognise companies that have demonstrated a commitment to diversity, and aim to encourage private sector companies to commit to meaningfully representing women.

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