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Closing the Gap of Gender Inequality in the South African Labour Market

MAIN IMAGE: Chris Blair, CEO at 21st Century; Bryden Morton, Executive Director 21Century

By Chris Blair, CEO at 21st Century and Bryden Morton, Executive Director

Women’s Month has highlighted the role of women (past, present and future) in society and once again reinforced awareness around disparities in gender-based pay that persists today.

A recent study by the National Business Initiative (Gender Pay Gap Pilot Report 2021) highlighted the persisting levels of gender inequality, not only in South Africa but around the world. The paper further stated that the negative impact of the Covid pandemic, from both an economic and societal point of view, was felt most by women.

The recently published Q2 2021 Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for South Africa supports this view as the number of employed women fell by 10.4% between Q1 of 2020 and Q2 of 2021.

The equivalent figure for men was a 7.5% decrease. In the report published by the National Business Initiative (NBI), there is a table which details the definitions of the gender pay gap as well as the kinds of information that are typically reported in each country. The below is an extract of that table indicating a description of the Gender Pay Gap by country.


The female average earnings are subtracted from the male average then expressed as a percentage which forms the pay gap (Kee, 2006).

The gender pay gap is the difference in the average (mean/median) hourly gross wage of all men and women in a workplace (Maier, 2007).

The gender pay gap is calculated as the difference in the mean gross hourly wage between male and female workers (Plantenga, Remery, 2006).

The gender pay gap is calculated as the difference in the mean gross hourly wage of all men and women in a workplace (Plantenga, Remery, 2006).

New Zealand:
Statistics New Zealand calculates the pay gap as the difference between the mean hourly earnings of men and women in both full-time and part-time work (Pacheco et al., 2017).

The gender pay gap is the difference in the logarithm gross hourly wage, which includes the 13th and 14th month salary, bonuses and gratifications of all men and women (Bonjour, Gerfin, 2000).

The gender pay gap is the difference in the average (mean / median) hourly wage of all men and women. *Source: NBI – Gender Pay Gap Pilot Report 2021

Although each of these speak to a comparison of the remuneration of men and women, what is missing is ensuring that it is a ‘like-for-like’ comparison. A significant part missing from these descriptions is a statement ensuring that the pay of men and women within the same job or at the same job grade is being compared.

In the absence of this direct, ‘like-for-like’ comparison, issues outside of pay are being added to the mix e.g. the proportion of jobs at each occupational level that are occupied by men and women as well as gender unemployment rates (to name just two).

Using the 21st Century remuneration database and calculating the weighted average gender-based wage gap in SA, comparing positions on a ‘like-for-like’ (same job grade) basis, men earn approximately 15% more than women at the same job grade. This indicates that despite the increased social awareness and discussion around the topic of gender-based pay inequality, it continues to persist in the South African economy and around the world.

Although there is not any legislation that states that two people must be paid exactly the same, it is important that the reasoning used for applying any wage differentiation is based on sound, defendable reasons rather than any kind of conscious or unconscious bias.

Gender disparities are covered in the Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value legislation. A basic, internal remuneration audit that compares the pay levels of different groups within the same job, job grade or occupational level is a great starting point to identify whether such biases are potentially present within an organisation.

In our experience most organisations in South Africa still have a gender gap at least at some occupational levels or specific jobs. Calculating your organisations current position and working towards a target within a specified period is a practical way of ensuring that this concept is turned into a metric that can be tracked by the organisation.

It is only through interrogating our current practices and consciously evaluating our decision-making processes that we can ensure that fairness is present in these processes. Hopefully this article has stimulated thought regarding a few practical ways in which organisations can strive towards equality within their remuneration practices. If enough organisations can close their own internal gap, it can only have a positive impact on the gap faced by the economy as a whole.

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