Gender equality in the workplace

By Carlotta Balestra, Policy Analyst, OECD


As the recent OECD reports Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now and How’s Life? 2013 show, gender equality in the workplace is neither a luxury in times of crisis nor just an issue of fairness and equity – gender equality is also about smart and efficient economies. How do we expect to propel economies to new heights when men’s and women’s potential is not fully realised?

Women in work place

Job inequality

Over the past twenty years, women have made huge gains in the workplace but full job equality is still far from reality. Across OECD countries, the gender gap in employment rates narrowed by an average of 10 percentage points between 1990 and 2012. In 2012, an average of 60% of women were employed in OECD countries, compared with 53% in 1990. However, the levelling down of gender gaps in employment does not merely reflect women’s strides in the workplace, but also men’s worsening labour market situation during the recent economic downturn. As such, it cannot only be viewed as a genuine progress in gender equality.

Women are still under-represented in high-value jobs (e.g., on average, less than 25% of scientists and engineers are women) and find it much harder to access the most senior posts. Data from the OECD Gender Data Portal reveal that less than one-third of managers are women and the number of men who own a business with employees is three times the number of women.

Gender wage gap

According to an old adage “sometimes it takes a woman to do a man’s job”. However, it always takes more than one woman to earn a man’s full salary. Nowhere in the world are women paid as much as men. Across OECD countries, women working full-time earn on average 16% less than men, although there is substantial variation amongst countries. Moreover, wage penalties increase as women age and have children.  Among women of child-bearing age who work full-time, those with children earn 22% less than men and 7% less than childless women. The gender wage gap is smaller than it was 40 years ago, but what is troubling is that it seems to have stalled over the past few years.

Job satisfaction

Despite the lower wages that women receive and the occupational segregation that they face, women and men are on average equally satisfied with their jobs. How is this possible? One explanation, supported by recent research and empirical evidence, is that women and men value different aspects of jobs: women are more likely to value ‘soft’ factors, such as flexibility of their work schedule, social relations at work and meaningfulness of the tasks, while men tend to place more value on monetary rewards.  For instance, analysis based on the World Value Survey suggests that one in three women values the significance of the assigned tasks as the most important job characteristic when looking for a new occupation. By way of contrast, the same percentage of men declares that a high income is the key feature of a good job.

Some of these differences in job preferences may result from women’s desire to reconcile work with family life.

The double burden

Indeed, women do not stop working when they leave their offices. At home, women still bear the brunt of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks.  Across the OECD, women spend twice as much time as men on household chores and parenting. In other words, if women and men were to share unpaid tasks equally, women would gain 5 hours of free time per week, other things unchanged. When both paid and unpaid work are combined, the gender gap in working hours narrows, but it’s still the women who put in the longest hours.

This article originally appeared in Sodexo’s Quality of Life Observer.


Find out more: 

Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now

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