In the Cayman Islands, between 1989 and 1999 females’ mean income almost doubled, compared with a 74.6 per cent increase for males.
However, the absolute value of this increase was still less than that for males and the gender income gap actually grew during that period. It was not until the new millennium that the increase in females’ mean income narrowed this gap, from 24 per cent in 1999 to 16.6 per cent in 2010.
While this gap has closed over time, the continuing difference in the average income of males and females reflects lingering inequalities in our society and it is important to address the root causes in order to create a better and more equal future. When males and females have the same opportunities to earn income there are positive effects for women, children and families, as well as for the economy and society as a whole.
Direct and indirect discrimination
Direct discrimination in income can occur when men and women receive different pay for the same work or when they have different job requirements for the same pay. These discrepancies may be based on sex or on gender characteristics, which are qualities that define what we think of as “femininity” and “masculinity”.
For example, an employer may assume that a woman wouldn’t be able to take on a difficult new task because females are not as good at complex problem-solving, or may believe that only a man should be promoted to a management position because males are inherently better leaders. Indirect discrimination in income is even more complicated and can result from a number of different factors that people often don’t consider.
For example, women tend to work fewer hours than men and take career breaks because of the unequal burden of unpaid domestic work and caring for children and the elderly. Additionally, jobs traditionally associated with men tend to pay better than traditionally female jobs for the same level of skill required and irrespective of the level of qualification.
Stereotypes and prejudices
Women’s work is undervalued in part because they are seen as having primary responsibility for unpaid work in the home and caregiving. This channels females into similar occupations and industries, such as domestic work, education and human services.
The skills required in these roles and “feminine talents” like caring and nurturing are not rewarded or well-paid. Once the gender division of labour is established it encourages women to choose these occupations. Employers often further reinforce the division by not adapting work environments to suit men and women or by favouring one sex over the other.
Women also tend to be at a disadvantage in the labour market because some behaviours – like self-promotion and negotiation – that work for men and lead to higher salaries and career progression may actually backfire on women and cause them to be penalised when they are perceived differently.
When we have expectations or feelings about people based their sex or gender we may act in ways that negatively affect them. Often we don’t even think about these stereotypes or prejudices and hurt or disadvantage someone without even realising it.
We might think that we are simply behaving in ways that accurately reflect the realities or abilities of men and women, but we are actually discriminating and reinforcing inequality.
Promoting gender equality
Gender gaps in part reflect the outcomes of discriminatory social processes. Therefore, valuing girls and boys and men and women equally and promoting equality of opportunity in all areas is important to minimise discrimination that leads to and reinforces inequality. As individuals, we can all strive to recognise stereotypes or prejudices we may have about the qualities or capabilities of males and females and what roles, career paths and other personal choices are “suitable” for each sex.
When we are more conscious of these assumptions we can choose how we respond – within our families and home lives; in the workplace as employers and employees; as parents, teachers and mentors to children; and in other relationships and positions that we have and hold. We can choose to act in ways that promote equality.
In 2013, make it a New Year’s resolution to promote gender equality. Don’t stereotype.