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The great gender pay gap debate

Is this an issue for T&T?
Published: 
Thursday, November 16, 2017

There’s no denying the role that women play in corporate T&T.

From boardrooms to C-suites, women have come to hold increasing positions of power across many industries in this country. This is to be encouraged.

Broadened gender representation brings with it multiple advantages for corporations and, in many respects, provides a level of insight that perhaps the traditional male-dominated models of operation could not tap in to. That said, and in spite of the strides being made to improve gender balance in the corporate world, many issues still remain taboo.

Perhaps the greatest of these is the issue of the gender pay gap—the percentage shortfall in the average wage of women relative to the average wage of men. As expected, emotions tend to run high when treating with issues of gender pay. It is a vast and controversial topic to say the least. However, the fundamental question that merits consideration is: how much of a problem is this in T&T?

Put differently, as a country, are we faced with a real or perceived gender pay gap issue?

A look at the available data is always the best place to start.

According to the World Economic Forum-produced Global Gender Gap Report (which ranks countries according to the calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas: health, education, economy and politics), for 2016, T&T ranked 44th out of 144 countries captured by the report.

This ranking reflects, on balance, the fact that across the four key areas, T&T compares quite well to its international counterparts in terms of broad-based gender-specific matters.

In other words, women—relative to men—enjoy a fair measure of representation in the categories defined above. The average Trinbagonian would be hard-pressed to deny that opportunities for female advancement in our society have not improved. However, looking specifically at the “wage equality for similar work” metric, the rank shows there is some room for improvement with T&T ranking 76th in this category. It will certainly be interesting to explore this metric over time to see whether it improves since women currently account for both the largest entry into education and the labour force.

There’s one other report that is worthy of mention.

In 2015, two central bank economists conducted a study on the gender wage gap in T&T.

Noting some of the positive steps that have been made in promoting gender pay equality as captured by the international measures, their report stated that “while there are many positives sentiments emanating from these reports, there is still the perception that in T&T a significant differential exists in the wages earned by women versus men due to discrimination”.

The report goes on to show that on average, men out-earn women in T&T with the average female salary standing at $4,821.26 per month, whereas the average male salary was $5,985.58 per month—evidence of a gender wage gap. As is to be expected however, numbers often conceal just as much as they reveal. There are a number of caveats that accompany the report.

Firstly, the economists note: “While the results suggest some level of gender discrimination, it must be noted that one of the limitations of the current data set is that variables such as number of hours worked, tenure of job, and level of experience are not available.”

Again, no one can deny the influencing effect of these factors on wages between genders.

In fact, the economists themselves state: “Such variables would play a role in determining the wages that individuals earn.” Other areas of the report outline the fact that men tend to dominate higher earning sectors, and that women are heavily concentrated in a number of service industries.

Additionally, the report points out that on a pay scale ranging from $1,000 per month to $15,000 per month, “the differential of the earnings between the two sexes was insignificant.”

The report also makes an interesting revelation when it highlights that in the $6,000 to $7,999 category, “women earn significantly more than men”.

Taken together, the data seems to suggest that T&T is moving in the right direction and that gender pay issues are neither as bad or as good as any gender debate might make them appear—contextually, it’s a fairly mixed bag.

Unfortunately, though, statistics don’t often capture feelings and perhaps how women are treated or made to feel in some of our nation’s workplaces is just as important as what they earn.

Andre Worrell