Addressing the Gender Pay Gap in Feminised Industries

by Verve

As International Women’s Day came and went for another year, it seems everyone is talking about the Gender Pay Gap right now, and with good reason. However, despite some important progress, many of the archaic, and frankly boring, narratives about women’s enduring economic inequality still remain. 

Women ‘choose lower-paying jobs’, they ‘work part-time to raise kids’, ‘we just choose the most experienced person for the job’, or our personal favourite — ‘women aren’t as good at negotiating’. It is 2024 right? *Checks calendar*

It’s time to tackle a (not so) little something called the ‘feminisation effect’. Because do women+ really ‘choose’ low paying jobs or does society just undervalue our work?

The 411 on ‘Feminised Workforces’

The concept of a ‘feminised workforce’ refers to sectors or industries where women+ are significantly overrepresented. Think: healthcare, education, childcare, and the service industry. 

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), this occupational ‘gender segregation’ has remained a problem for decades and actually appears to be getting worse in some sectors where the proportion of women+ in industries like Health Care and Social Assistance is increasing, and the number of women in Construction and Transport is decreasing.

This phenomenon goes far beyond a ‘choice’ to join a certain industry or take a particular role. Those choices don’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it’s intrinsically linked to broader societal expectations and norms around gender roles, as well as how we value (or don’t value) the work of women+.

Start ‘em early

The reality is that we are still living in a world dominated by historical and systemic gender biases that undervalue ‘women’s work’. These biases lead to both subconscious, unconscious and just straight out conscious assumptions that the work we do requires less skill or is of lesser importance to society despite its critical role in propping up economic and social structures

From as early as primary school, gender stereotypes have already influenced children to aspire to vocations typically coded ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.

As we grow up, women+ are often expected (and taught) to take on caregiving and nurturing roles. As such, the hard-earned skills associated with these roles are often considered ‘natural’ and, therefore, not deserving of high remuneration or respect in a professional context. In short, these roles are highly skilled without high pay to match.

Dominated By Women = Poorer Pay

The world over, traditionally ‘feminised’ sectors with majority-women and pervasive feminine stereotypes related to caring are lower paid.

Recent analysis by Impact Economics and Policy found that employees with a bachelor’s degree or higher working in industries over-represented by women earn 30% less per hour than equivalently qualified employees in male-dominated industries. 

Similarly, employees with a Certificate III/IV working in women-dominated industries earn 36% less per hour. And in the US it’s much the same story, with the median earnings of IT managers (mostly men) 27% higher than HR managers (mostly women), and janitors (usually men) earn 22% more than maids and house cleaners (usually women), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

And in a recent report from The Centre for Future Work, they identified 80 occupations in which men make up 80% or more of the workforce; these occupations have an average salary above $100,000. In contrast, no occupation where women make up that share of the workforce has such a high average salary. 

Lower wages, fewer benefits, and less job security, compared to sectors dominated by men — this is all part of the feminisation effect; not merely a reflection of local economic conditions but part of global labour market trends. And this situation is often worse in lower-income countries where labour protections are weaker, and informal work — where women are overrepresented — is more prevalent.

Jeez women, just stop choosing lower-paying jobs

Ha, if only. A study from researchers at Cornell University found that not only is this ‘gender segregation’ driving the Gender Pay Gap, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.

It’s not that women engineers are getting paid less than men doing the same job, though that still happens. And it’s not only that a childcare worker is getting paid less than an engineer, because of ingrained gender biases. This is only part of the story.

The kicker is the fact that when women start to enter more lucrative, and traditionally male-dominated professions, the pay goes down — ouch.

And there it is. We can see this from computer programming to biology. Wages drastically fell (by 34%) when women in large numbers became designers, housekeepers (by 21%), biologists (by 18%), in the field of recreation (57%), and ticket agents (43%). The reverse was also seen when male programmers began to outnumber women. 

As Professor England goes on to say: “It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance, it’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.” *Sigh*. About time to get to the ‘what can we do about it’ bit, don’t you think?

What you can do to step up for women

Addressing gender inequality and combating the feminisation effect demands a fundamental reevaluation of how societies value work traditionally performed by women. This has to be supported by policies that promote gender equality, fair labour practices, and equitable pay structures, at a minimum. But you can’t be responsible for all of that on your own — you just need to play your part, and influence those around you in positions of structural power, whether they be elected officials, bosses or media commentators.

Keeping up the momentum created by the IWD Walkout, we are urging businesses to continue to take the Pay Gap Pledge and show that the time for change is now

Only by working together can we create a more equitable world where work is valued based on its societal contribution, not the gender of those who perform it.

Are you ready to start truly valuing ‘women’s work’?

Take the Pay Gap Pledge today

Learn more about Why The Gender Pay Gap is Everyone’s Business, and be sure to sign up to the Verve newsletter so you don’t miss a thing!

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