Forum: Look to other countries' efforts to narrow the gender pay gap

A PricewaterhouseCooper study in the UK found that three out of five women returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles.
A PricewaterhouseCooper study in the UK found that three out of five women returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Ministry of Manpower's gender pay gap report reinforces several hard truths (Adjusted gender pay gap narrows over more than a decade, Jan 10).

Among them is the finding that the labour force participation rate widens substantially after women have children, which contributes to a gap in pay later in life.

The report points out that this "motherhood penalty" is in fact a global phenomenon.

So are there lessons we can learn from other countries on how to narrow the gender pay gap? Here are two suggestions.

First: Encourage the uptake of paternity and shared parental leave. The labour force participation gap, and subsequently the gender pay gap, can narrow if men and women share caregiving responsibilities more equally.

If more men took leave for childcare, women would not be seen as a financial liability at work, and their commitment to work will not be questioned as much.

Reports have found that men who take time off for childcare directly contribute to their female partners' earnings later on in life.

According to a study in Sweden (where a family loses some of its designated paid parental leave unless the father takes it), a woman's earnings rose by 7 per cent for every month of leave taken by her husband.

Second: Recruit returners. A PricewaterhouseCooper study in the UK found that three out of five women returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, experiencing an immediate earnings reduction of up to a third.

This is likely because of a combination of factors, including a lack of flexible work arrangements for higher-skilled jobs, and a stigma associated with gaps in women's curriculum vitae.

One measure taken by the UK was setting up a Returners Fund with a budget of £1.5 million (S$2.7 million) to help organisations that support women returning to work.

We too could introduce a dedicated "returnship" programme that provides clear employment pathways for women who wish to return to the labour force.

We could also make stronger attempts to address recruitment biases, and provide quality flexible work arrangements at all levels of management.

These international strategies could be key to Singapore harnessing the economic potential of women and narrowing the gender pay gap.

Shailey Hingorani

Head of Research and Advocacy

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline 'Look to other countries' efforts to narrow the gender pay gap'. Print Edition | Subscribe