Extent of workplace gender inequality remains conveniently hidden

Cantillon: Women have right to better monitoring of pay gaps and unequal representation

Compared to the overt discrimination of decades past, the institutional sexism women encounter today when trying to advance in their careers – or even just cling onto them – can take subtle and complex forms. This makes it hard to deal with in its own right.

But as International Women’s Day approaches, a spate of findings reminds us that, while there may no longer be a marriage bar or official male and female pay scales, some very real hurdles remain. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on female employment, as recorded in PwC’s annual Women in Work index, and the typical “second mortgage” cost of childcare in Ireland – a burden that still derails women’s working lives more than men’s – are just two interrelated factors that glare.

In one arena – the boardrooms of publicly quoted Irish companies – there is evidence of progress, albeit of the “fragile” kind that can be easily reversed. Representation of women on the boards of Ireland’s 20 biggest listed companies has reached 30 per cent, up from just 18 per cent three years ago when Balance for Better Business started to keep track of it.

For Brid Horan, the Nephin Energy chairwoman and former deputy chief executive of ESB who co-chairs the group, the trend shows that “monitoring does matter... when things get measured, they get managed”.

Redressing imbalance

Women on Air, the organisation that seeks to redress a gender imbalance in Irish current affairs broadcasting, is very aware of this truth. It is calling for proper and regular monitoring of the extent to which women are excluded from the airwaves. The last major report, from 2015, did not read well for broadcasters.

One piece of research on the way is new Central Statistics Office data on the picture at the top of Irish private businesses, in what will be an update to its 2019 report detailing an over representation of men in positions of workplace power.

Meanwhile, the next time you hear a member of the Government lament gender inequality, ask them when we can expect the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill to pass into law. Stalled at the last election, it has the potential to let women know which companies – for whatever reason – pay men more, and by how much. For now, the wait goes on.