What’s going on with Ireland’s ‘unexplained’ gender pay gap?

New legislation means December will see organisations with more than 250 employees publish details of how they pay men and how they pay women

What is the gender pay gap exactly?

The gender pay gap is the difference in the average hourly pay of women compared to men, with the Irish gap standing at 11.3 per cent in 2018. That was slightly better than the EU average, which as of 2020 is 13 per cent, Eurostat says. Across the EU, the largest part of the gap cannot be linked to factors such as education, occupation or working time and is said to be “unexplained”.

Indeed, it’s a real mystery. But why am I hearing so much about it now?

This December is Christmas for equality advocates who have long argued that sunlight is the best disinfectant. For the first time, organisations with 250 employees or more must by law publish a report on their website showing how they pay men and women.

They must give a figure for their mean and median hourly gender pay gaps, including the impact of bonuses, based on a “snapshot” date in June. They must also set out differences in bonus pay and benefits-in-kind, plus the pay gaps for part-time and temporary employees, as well as the proportion of male and female employees in each of four “quartile” pay bands.

The regulations spring from the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 introduced this year by Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman.


So, we have a man to thank for this?

And also several decades of feminist campaigners who, through dogged persistence, succeeded in changing official perceptions of the gender pay gap from a desirable, natural and even morally correct facet of the labour market to how it is regarded today: an unfair, pernicious phenomenon that stifles opportunity and ambition.

Does a pay gap mean women are being paid less than men for the same work?

Not necessarily. That would be unequal pay, which has been illegal in the State since 1975. But employment lawyers believe greater pay transparency will give more women the ammunition they need to take discrimination cases.

Whatever the reason, a gender pay gap is still bad, right?

It certainly is if you are a woman. A gap can point to the clustering of women in less-valued roles – perhaps because they have traditionally been performed by women. It can also reflect how young girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in some well-paid professions. Airlines, for instance, have super-wide gaps because women are over-represented among cabin crew and under-represented among pilots.

The presence of an unshifting gender pay gap suggests there are impenetrable barriers to women's promotion within an organisation.

Ugh, what woman would want to work for an organisation like that?

Sadly, most large employers will have a gender pay gap in favour of men. There are a few exceptions, however. One of them is An Post. It has a negative mean hourly gender pay gap of 0.86 per cent, which means women earn slightly more on average than men.

This is because women are better represented within its management group than they are among An Post’s much bigger postal sorting, delivery and collection workforce. Here, only 13 per cent of staff are women, which An Post admits is “very low” and would like to improve.

Isn’t the gender pay gap the result of choices women make?

No choice is made in a vacuum.

On International Women’s Day, employers say such lovely things about women employees. Surely they’re not paying men more?

Alas, experience from the UK shows employers often have no trouble paying shameless, vapid lip service to equality while also maintaining gender pay gaps that are wider than average for their sector.

What’s next?

The Government says it will establish a centralised reporting website from 2023. From 2024, the legislation will apply to organisations with more than 150 employees, while those with 50-plus employees will be brought into the loop from 2025.

The “naming and shaming” of employers with large gaps could spur them into taking action. Either way, job candidates should be able to discern which organisations have a bad track record when it comes to paying and promoting women – useful information for anyone convinced the sequel to #MeToo must be #PayMeToo.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics