Systemic bias fuels enduring gender pay gap

International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8th March both celebrates women’s progress in terms of gender parity and points to the enduring inequalities. One of the most obvious gender disparities in the workplace relates to pay. Why have our attempts to overcome this situation met with such limited success to date?


Personnel Today claims that, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not women’s choices in life that have created (and sustain) the gender pay gap but systemic bias. Please read on for a quick synopsis of its fascinating article on the subject.


Many people believe it’s the sectors that women choose to work in (which tend to be low-paid) and the fact of having children (which can necessitate a reduction in hours or a career break) that drive the gender pay gap. However, the Office for National Statistics claims that these two tendencies do nothing to explain two-thirds of the situation. The most likely explanation is systemic bias, which comes in three shapes:


  1. Pay and promotion systems that lack transparency.

Equal pay for work of equal value is a legal requirement. However, in reality, similar jobs may have different job titles and pay grades.


  1. Networking that excludes those with caregiving responsibilities.

While working mothers often have to turn off their computers and make a bolt for the school gates at 3.30 pm, working fathers are free for after-work drinks and other networking opportunities.


  1. Project allocation that favours those who are physically present, AKA proximity bias.

It’s human nature for the people you see every day to spring to mind when new projects come in. Hence managers tend to give the most interesting projects to team members who are physically present. Since working mothers often work remotely, they fall victim to the bias making it harder for them to shine when it’s time to talk of promotions, pay rises and bonuses.


While pay disparity isn’t so pronounced when workers are in their twenties, by the time many couples start a family, men are likely to be earning more. It therefore often makes financial sense for women to reduce their work hours or take a career break to assume the lion’s share of childcare. And so the gender pay gap endures and the trend self-perpetuates…


The article encourages organisations to embrace IWD as an opportunity to have conversations that raise awareness and identify potential solutions to the problem. If your company favours this approach, please share your insights with us. ABL Recruitment is a proud supporter of International Women’s Day and we would be delighted to hear your views and experiences on the subject.