By Bernadette Deka-Zulu (PhD Researcher – Public Enterprise)

The Gender pay gap – A stubborn disparity

THE gender pay gap is a persistent problem that has been the subject of much research and debate. In one of our previous articles, we delved into the various aspects of gender parity and how to bridge the gap. 

In this follow-up article, we will further explore the issue of the gender pay gap in Zambia and Africa, and the challenges and opportunities for closing it.

In the world of work, the gender pay gap continues to loom large, a persistent reminder of the inequalities that persist between men and women. 

Recent studies and reports have once again brought this issue to the forefront, underscoring the need for urgent action. This article delves into the causes behind this wage disparity and explores some of the promising initiatives aimed at narrowing the gap.

Uncovering the root causes of the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is a persistent problem that has been the subject of much research and debate. While there is no single cause of the gap, it is the result of a complex interplay of factors, including occupational segregation, discrimination, and the burden of caregiving responsibilities.

Occupational segregation

One of the most significant contributors to the gender pay gap is occupational segregation. This refers to the clustering of women in lower-paying industries and occupations. 

For example, women are overrepresented in female-dominated fields such as education, healthcare, and social services, which tend to pay lower wages than male-dominated fields such as technology, finance, and engineering.

There are several factors that contribute to occupational segregation. One is that women are often steered towards certain occupations from an early age, through social conditioning and educational choices. 

Additionally, women may face discrimination in hiring and promotion decisions, which can limit their access to higher-paying jobs.


Another major factor that contributes to the gender pay gap is discrimination. This can take many forms, including overt discrimination, such as refusing to hire or promote women, and subtle discrimination, such as paying women less than men for the same work.

Discrimination can occur at all levels of the workplace, from hiring and promotion decisions to salary negotiations. It can be difficult to prove discrimination, but there is a growing body of evidence that it is a significant factor in the gender pay gap.

Caregiving responsibilities

Women also often bear a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities, such as childrearing and eldercare. This can take a significant amount of time and energy, which can make it difficult for women to balance work and family life.

When women take time off from work to care for family members, they often face wage penalties when they return to work. This is because they may be forced to take lower-paying jobs or work part-time hours.

The gender pay gap is a complex issue with no easy solutions. However, by understanding its root causes, we can begin to develop policies and practices that will help to close it. 

These include:

  • Promoting occupational desegregation by encouraging women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.
  • Eliminating gender bias in hiring, promotion, and salary decisions.
  • Providing affordable childcare and eldercare options to help women balance work and family responsibilities.

By taking these steps, we can create a more equitable workplace where everyone has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their gender.

Gender stereotypes

Gender stereotypes about women’s roles in society can lead to women being undervalued in the workplace. For example, women are often seen as being less competent in math and science, which can limit their opportunities in high-paying STEM fields.

Unconscious bias 

Unconscious bias can also contribute to the gender pay gap. This is when people make decisions based on their implicit beliefs about men and women, even if they are not aware of it. 

For example, unconscious bias can lead to women being overlooked for promotions or being paid less than men for the same work.

Work-life balance policies

Inequitable work-life balance policies can also contribute to the gender pay gap. For example, if companies do not offer paid parental leave or flexible work arrangements, women may be more likely to take on caregiving responsibilities and have less time to focus on their careers.

Recent studies shine a light

Recent studies have generated valuable insights into the gender pay gap, offering empirical evidence of its persistence and consequences.

One notable study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that women in the United States earn approximately 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, highlighting the enduring gap. 

This means that women working full-time, year-round earn an average of \$0.82 for every \$1.00 earned by men.

The study also found that the pay gap is wider for women of colour. For example, Black women earn only 63 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Hispanic women earn only 58 cents.

The pay gap compounds over time, resulting in significantly lower lifetime earnings for women. For instance, over a 30-year career, this disparity can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income.

The study also found that the pay gap is not just due to occupational segregation and discrimination. Other factors, such as women’s caregiving responsibilities and their lack of access to affordable childcare, also contribute to the gap.

Zambia and Africa

The gender pay gap is also a major problem in Zambia and other African countries. A study by the Zambia Statistics Agency found that women in Zambia earn an average of 28 percent less than men. This gap is even wider for women in rural areas, who earn an average of 35 percent less than men.

The causes of the gender pay gap in Zambia are similar to those in other countries. Occupational segregation is a major factor, with women being concentrated in lower-paying sectors such as agriculture and education. 

Discrimination is also a problem, with women being less likely to be hired, promoted, or paid equally for the same work as men.

World reports show that the Zambian government has taken some steps to address the gender pay gap, such as introducing legislation to require companies to disclose their gender pay gap data. 

However, more needs to be done to close the gap. This includes providing more opportunities for women in higher-paying sectors, eliminating discrimination, and supporting work-life balance.

Promising initiatives

While the gender pay gap remains a daunting challenge, several initiatives have emerged in recent years to address this issue head-on:

Pay Transparency: Some countries and states have introduced legislation requiring companies to disclose wage data, increasing transparency and accountability. 

For example, in the UK, organisations with over 250 employees are obligated to report their gender pay gap data annually.

Equal pay audits: Companies are increasingly conducting pay audits to identify and rectify gender-based pay disparities within their organisations. 

This proactive approach has been adopted by industry leaders like Salesforce, which invested $6 million to close its internal pay gap.

Salary negotiation workshops: Organisations and nonprofit groups are offering salary negotiation workshops for women to empower them with negotiation skills. 

Such workshops can help women advocate for fair compensation during job offers and performance reviews.

The road ahead

Closing the gender pay gap is a complex endeavour that requires concerted efforts from governments, businesses, and individuals. While progress has been made, there is much work to be done. Implementing policies that address occupational segregation, combat discrimination, and support work-life balance are crucial steps in the right direction.

Recent studies and initiatives provide hope that change is possible, but sustained commitment is needed to bridge the divide once and for all. 

By working together, we can ensure that future generations of women do not face the same wage disparities that persist today. The journey toward pay equity is far from over, but with determination and collective action, we can pave the way for a more equitable workforce.



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