In the past few years, across major cities, women, men and more have taken to the streets to do their part for equality. In particular, issues surrounding gender inequality have constantly been under the spotlight. In the workplace, this not only translates to a perceived glass ceiling for female leaders, but also an increasing salary disparity between the two genders.

A gender pay gap is defined as the average difference in remuneration between working men and working women. The gender pay gap does not only have a negative impact on women’s financial and economic security and personal and family life but it also has a negative effect on the organisation’s workplace culture and business performance.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) also ranked Malaysia at 104th place on its 2020 Global Gender Gap Index, trailing behind other emerging ASEAN states like Laos (43rd) and the Philippines (16th).

reasons behind the gender pay gap

In many countries, the level of education is a major determinant of earnings and used to be the main cause of the gender pay gap. 

However, as the gender ratio in higher education institutions balanced out, the role of the educational attainment plays in the wage gap also decreased correspondingly. Other factors contributing to the widening gender wage gap that have garnered more interest in recent years include occupational segregation, the motherhood wage penalty, and gender biases.

reasons for gender pay gap
reasons for gender pay gap

1. occupational segregation by gender

One of the main reasons behind the gender wage gap is occupational segregation, where some industries and careers are dominated by one gender. The current gender imbalance in certain industries dates back to the first industrial revolution when only men worked in budding STEM fields such as manufacturing and engineering.

Even until today, we still see a higher proportion of men in STEM industries. Roles in these fields, such as engineering and science, also tend to pay higher due to increasing global demands and the need for highly-technical skills.

On the other hand, women often assume roles which have a larger need for soft skills, such as in healthcare and human resources - areas which traditionally have lower salary benchmarks.

However, we are seeing a change in attitudes and shift in gender ratios. Women are increasingly challenging the status quo and are more likely than ever to pursue an education and career in traditionally ‘male-dominated’ industries. We are also seeing more and more women being acknowledged for their accomplishments and contributions, paving the way for more women to join STEM industries and push new boundaries.

In 2019, the world celebrated Katie Bouman, a computer scientist who developed the algorithm that created the first-ever image of a black hole at 29. Christina Koch is also hailed for holding the record for the single longest space mission by a woman at 328 days.

2. motherhood wage penalty

The motherhood wage penalty is the negative relationship between a woman’s pay and the number of children she has. It penalises women based on the perception that they will be less committed to their jobs and careers once they have children, as though child care is a sole responsibility of the mother. In addition, some people even assumed that the more kids a woman has, the more she will be distracted from her professional life.

It is important to have equal gender participation in the workforce as a larger and diverse talent pool can help boost and sustain the country’s economy. Furthermore, a dual-income family can better allow both parents to achieve and maintain a more comfortable lifestyle.

With HR policies and benefits such as flexible parental leave (where you can share the leave between both parents), childcare responsibilities can be split more equally. In some Scandinavian countries like Sweden, new fathers have 90 days of use-or-lose parental leave, which encourages fathers to spend more time with their child and strengthen their bond.

3. gender bias and discrimination

Although global mindsets are shifting to be more progressive and inclusive, gender discrimination in the workplace and hiring process still very much exists. In particular, leadership and board positions remained heavily dominated by men, as women are perceived to have less work experience, giving rise to the proverbial glass ceiling.

A 2019 Credit Suisse report found that women occupy only 14.4% of CEO positions in Asia. This is in addition to the pervasive culture of the all boys’ club - where men in leadership positions either deliberately or unknowingly, exclude their female counterparts as they gather for golf and lunches outside of the workplace. Unfortunately, these instances of workplace bias puts women at a disadvantage as they are left out of any spontaneous business-related discussions.

Even with the employment of A.I (artificial intelligence) tools meant to weed out gender biases in hiring activities, gender discrimination remains highly prevalent. For example, in 2018, Amazon had to get rid of their A.I hiring tool as it had taught itself to prefer male resumes and candidate profiles for roles that were previously held by men.

why should women be paid the same as men?

Findings from Harvard Business Review indicated that women actually rank more highly than men in 12 out of 16 leadership qualities - including initiative, resilience and communication. According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, eliminating the gender wage gap can add between $12 trillion and $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.

The relevancy of women's labour force participation is becoming an evident driver for growth, development and competitiveness in the labour market. Equal pay for work for equal contributions should be respected and applied to women as this right is not exclusive for men.

how women can close the gender pay gap

Salary negotiation is crucial for a lifetime of higher earnings, and women not negotiating only further perpetuate the pay gap.

1. do your research

Knowing what your peers with similar work experience and positions are making is crucial to salary negotiation. Do some industry research and find out how much your counterparts (especially men) are making.

2. showcase your value as an employee while negotiating

As raises are not a given, you have to be prepared to justify to your employer why you deserve the pay equity. Merely saying that your male counterpart is making more money is not enough to convince your boss that you deserve an equal pay or higher wage. Furthermore, there is currently no legislation preventing gender-based salary discrimination in Malaysia.

Thus, preparation is key. Build your case with all the information you have collected while doing your research, and remember to highlight your key contributions, particularly those that have a direct impact on the business. Share any positive feedback that you have received from your co-workers and clients on your work quality and performance.

Instead of general qualitative statements, offering quantitative values that can tangibly tie your contributions to the company’s success will be more persuasive. Regardless of the situation, do not compare yourself to just men. Statements like, “he earns more than me, so it’s only fair that I am paid the same,” can be off putting and appear immature.

3. just ask for pay raise

Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon and co-author of the book ‘Women Don’t Ask’, found that men are four times more likely to ask for a raise than women. Even when women do ask, they request 30% less than their male counterparts. Women also suffer from the social costs of negotiation.

To reduce and close the gender pay gap, women should learn to speak up and fight for their rights. When men negotiate for a pay raise, they are perceived to be confident and assertive. However, when women do the same, they could be seen as pushy and aggressive.

It is still critical to ask for a salary increase, especially when you are a victim of such gender biases at work. To mitigate these social costs, it is recommended for women to use more collaborative terms such as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. Even if your boss decides against raising your salary because of tightening budgets or a need to meet stretch goals before they can help build your case to upper management, you would already have planted the seed.

looking for a more gender-balanced workplace?

If your employer cannot provide a satisfactory reason for that gender discrepancy nor offer you a fairer remuneration, then perhaps it is time to look for another employer.

Check out our recruitment specialisations or explore your career options. Apply for a job and connect with our recruiters and let them help you find a suitable role in a company that is committed to gender equality. Our recruiters at Randstad have access to information that may not be widely available, such as a company’s culture and parental leave policies. Factors like these are indicators of whether a company has a supportive environment for women to progress within their organisation.

ready for a career change?

browse all jobs