Women shout outside the Labor Ministry during a demonstration on international Women's Day in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, March 8, 2018. Women marched to demand equal pay for equal work and to protest violence against women. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
JOHANNESBURG - There is no denying that although women in South Africa have, since the dawn of democracy, come a long way and made significant advancements in business and politics, among other spheres of life, they still lag far behind their male counterparts in many ways - including when it comes to gender equality in the workplace.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2017 Global Gender Report findings revealed that gender parity is more than 200 years away. South Africa is ranked 19th in the global index report on gender inequality, with men still earning 2percent more than women.

According to another study conducted at the University of Johannesburg, the South African gender pay gap is estimated, on average, to be between 15percent and 17percent. One of the implications in this regard is that a South African woman would have to work two months more than a man to earn the equivalent salary he would earn in a year.

The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that it takes women 10 more years to earn a man’s pay. This means that when a man retires at the age of 60, a female counterpart would have to work 10 more years, to the age of 70, to make up the difference and close this lifetime wage gap. There is no question that a gender pay gap remains a reality in South Africa, 24 years into democracy. One can't help but question whether gender parity is even possible in our lifetime.

Gender inequality in the workplace is a topic that has been instantaneously beaten to death in public discourse and yet very little or no action results in redress, particularly in the private sector.

Women are still likely to be paid less or passed over for some jobs or promotions because of the way employers perceive existing or future family commitments.

As the corporate environment becomes more competitive and the need grows for efficiency rates to increase, most employers are looking for “an ideal worker”, that being someone who is flexible to the employer's convenience and is available 24/7, with no child caring or family responsibilities. Unfortunately, in most cases, this is a male.

Less loyal

It is said that women are also seen to be less loyal to the company and more likely to exit the workplace in their child-bearing years, and this has also led to most women trading off money for family-friendly working conditions.

Pay inequality is most blatant in industries in the private sector. Previously, this inequality was attributed to education and experience.

However, this has since been addressed and there is significant research data that has shown that over the years more females have graduated with university qualifications and have the professional experience, but still remain sidelined.

In 2014, we saw the government take a stance towards women’s economic emancipation through the introduction of the principle of “equal pay for work of equal value’’ in the Employment Equity Act.

It is clear from the statistics that this has made little difference, if any at all.

South Africa can learn lessons from Iceland, which had similar challenges with gender disparity. To tackle the challenge head on, the Iceland government promulgated a law that makes it illegal for organisations to pay women less than they pay men. We, as a country, really need to emulate countries such as Iceland that take gender equity seriously.

For the past nine years, Iceland has, in fact, been ranked by the WEF as the world’s most gender-equal country, as evaluated by The Global Gender Gap Report, a worldwide survey that is using measures such as economic opportunity, political empowerment, as well as health and survival.

Another piece of legislation that has been passed by the South African Government to emancipate women is the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) codes.

But the women emancipation agenda in South Africa is much bigger than mere quotas that private companies can choose to ignore. The government will have to implement better policies and legislation that make it mandatory for companies to take part actively in advancing women and particularly closing the gender wage gap.

Bridgette Mokoetle is the Industrial Relations and Legal Services Executive at the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT