What can the Irish government do to narrow the Gender Gap in Ireland?

Labour policies and business practices haven’t caught up with the rise of female breadwinners, dual-income households and households reliant on one parent. Work is still designed for family and economic structures that existed half a century ago. But that world no longer exists.

According to Central Statistics Office figures Ireland has seen its gender pay gap widen from 12% in 2014 to 14% in late 2017 – even though women received more tertiary degrees than men.

So, what can the government do to help close the gap, and what has worked for other countries around the globe?

Ireland makes progress in legislating for the Gender Pay Gap

The Irish Government is planning to make it mandatory for companies to report gender pay gaps and are “committed to gender equality”, according to Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Justice and Equality.

Initially the plan is to compel companies with over 250 employees to be transparent about any wage differences between genders – with fines of up to €5,000 for those who don’t comply, but there are plans to introduce this further over time.

Companies will have to report on differences in bonus pay, part-time pay, and the pay of men and women on temporary contracts. Any discrepancies in hourly pay, bonuses and part-time workers’ pay will have to be disclosed in an annual report. The information on pay will also have to be broken down by job classification.

The Workplace Relations Commission will be tasked with ensuring compliance through on-site inspections and information gathering.

67% of Irish employers are concerned about the risk to their reputation once they go public with their pay rates. 34% are even worried that their gender pay gap is worse than the national average.

Gender equality generates much discussion, but there is a considerable lack of progress to back it up. 50% of companies support the Government’s proposed regulation, but 70% of companies haven’t even begun to examine their own gender pay gaps.

Publishing gender pay is a positive initiative that will help highlight areas for improvement and give stakeholders a benchmark to work from. It also has the positive benefit of fostering awareness among young women that certain subjects lead to higher salaries.

Ireland and Paternity Leave

According to our Q3 2018 Employment Monitor, 49% of fathers in Ireland don’t take their full two weeks of paternity leave. Employers aren’t legally obliged to pay employees during paternity leave which could be impacting the low levels of uptake.

Ireland can learn a lot from our European counterparts Sweden and Germany. Sweden offers two months’ paid leave exclusively for fathers, and 85% of fathers avail of it.

In 2007 Germany tweaked Sweden’s model, reserving two out of 14 months of paid leave for fathers. Within two years, the number of fathers taking parental leave surged from 3% to more than 20%.

A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation has shown that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7% for every month the father takes leave. Encouraging men to take parental leave enables mothers to reintegrate into the workplace by reducing the dependence on them as principal caregiver.

Both employers and the government must educate men on the benefits of paternity leave, and in turn promote shared responsibility for care-giving, so we can challenge social customs and increase the percentage of men utilising paternity leave.

Increasing female representation in government

According to the Irish Times, of the 200 senior ministers in Irish governments from 1919 to September 2018, only 19 have been women. In stark terms, about 90 per cent have been men. What can be done to level these statistics?

After Iceland elected its first female president in 1980, there was a domino effect of positive change for gender parity there. Iceland has closed more than 87% of its overall gender gap and has ranked number one for gender equality nine years in a row.

Implementing quotas and placing female candidates higher at voting stations led to a surge in female MPs. Eight countries have quotas on female board membership, which has resulted in between 33-40% female board membership today. The average for G20 countries is 17%.

Women’s issues were flagged on the political agenda by various parties as a result. Quotas are often put forward as a measure to propel female leadership. France and Norway both have legally binding quotas. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau proudly announced that he had a 50-50 quota in his cabinet “because it’s 2015.”

The main argument against quotas is that it leads to token hires, as opposed to hiring by merit. It is also said that they don’t help to train leaders or build their capacity. However, it is difficult to argue against the results.

In higher education institutions, following the recommendations of a taskforce which says dramatic steps are needed to ensure more women occupy key leadership positions, the Irish government is to fund dozens of women-only professorships over the next three years to help “eradicate gender inequality” in higher education institutions.

According to the Irish Times, the taskforce report contains other measures aimed at achieving a gender balance in higher education including: financial penalties for universities which fail to meet targets around female representation; a requirement that all colleges set clear targets for the promotion and recruitment of academic, professional, management and support staff and a gender balance in the final pool of candidates for all positions.

The Irish Universities’ Association welcomed the taskforce report. “This is an opportunity for delivering a step-change in gender equality across higher education,”said Jim Miley, the association’s director general.

Gender equality in the education system

Do the degree choices that women make adequately prepare them for the labour market? Despite more women graduating with tertiary degrees then men, the gender gap is not closing.

STEM is an example of a male-dominated industry, with estimates that fewer than 25% of the 120,000 people working in this field are female.

Women are more likely to enrol in humanities as opposed to STEM, a choice that is impacting on female representation in STEM industries. In fact, only 18% of those graduating with a BA in computer science and engineering are women.

Many parents are influencing their daughters’ college choices. In a survey of 500 parents in Ireland and the UK, only one in seven felt that they were adequately informed about careers in STEM.

This has inspired a government campaign to inform parents about STEM and the benefits of pursuing such a career, ultimately helping to boost female applicant numbers at tertiary level.

Further incentives from the government shift the perception of male-dominated industries like STEM and narrow the gap. Furthermore, parents need to be educated on how to adequately educated their daughters on careers in these industries.

The onus isn’t just on the government

While government incentives are big boost in narrowing the gap, it can only go so far. According to our Q3 Employment Monitor, employers believe that three times as much responsibility lies with companies, rather than the government, when it comes to combating the gender gap.

International brands such as Starbucks and Salesforce have started to pave the way for gender equality in the workplace, and with the imminent gender pay gap reporting legislation, companies will be forced to make positive and longstanding action.

On top of that, women also need to take ownership and ensure that they are visible and getting those invitations or creating their own opportunities.

If you’re unsure how to prepare your business for the gender gap legislation get in touch with one of our Future of Work specialists, or download our free whitepaper: ‘The Gender Gap: Why is it happening and what can we do about it?