Why do so many people want a 0% gender pay gap (GPG)? Because they want equal pay for equal work—or equal pay for women or ethnicities.

However, having a 0% GPG is not the same as offering equal pay for equal work. All it tells us is that the overall average salary of men is the same as the overall average salary of women. Or with 0% ethnicity pay gap, the average salary of white employees is the same as the average salary of non-white employees. There may still be vast amounts of inequality, discrimination and bias that exists within the organisation.

On the other hand, we could have no pay inequity, discrimination or bias—yet still have a gender pay gap of 10%. There’s a perception that zero implies fairness.

This doesn’t mean we should ignore that 10%. We should still investigate and find out why the gap exists, but there might be justifiable reasons for it.

Why the GPG Exists

Commonly, a much higher proportion of men in leadership and executive roles is the main cause of the GPG. But there are downsides to higher average salaries.

They often come with high expectations in terms of working hours and what people are expected to deliver. As a result, these roles become high risk and hight stress. A study by The Myers Briggs Company showed that stress levels tended to be lower in non-managerial positions.

With this in mind, research shows that more women would enter work or agree to longer hours if there were better job prospects, fewer requirements for unpredictable hours, and if childcare was more flexible and affordable.

This explains part of the reason we see fewer women in these senior roles. And although women make voluntary choices to work part-time, in practice, these choices are constrained by employment practices, social norms and a lack of social infrastructure.

This may also be true for many cultures/ethnicities where time spent with family and greater flexibility may be given more importance than a more stressful, higher paid job.

Occupational Segregation

This phenomenon refers to the concentration of men and women in different industries and job roles. Certain industries have traditionally been male-dominated, while others, like education, have had a higher proportion of female workers.

Many people are still advocating for more female representation in certain fields. We try to influence the next generation to consider different career paths to ones they may prefer because we perceive that there should be equal representation of women in all sectors.

zero gender pay gap

Instead, efforts must be made to break down gender stereotypes and encourage women to see these as viable career paths. Education and reassurance will allow people to make decisions while removing any sense that they do not belong.

Of course, a lot of work is still needed to remove any barriers for women and ethnic minorities to join and progress in different careers. But we can’t disregard research and data which shows that people have preferences to certain career paths for a reason. Otherwise, pushing more representation for women or ethnic minorities into certain careers or jobs is based purely on opinion.

Freedom of Choice

Despite what many may argue, research shows that men tend to be more materialistic, and that’s why they are often driven towards higher-paying jobs. In comparison, women are generally a lot more people-focused. As a result, we see a majority female workforce in roles such as HR and nursing, which offer lower salaries.

Therefore, the pay discrepancy we see here is not necessarily down to gender. The Equality Act 2010 ensures that men and women doing like work, work of equal value and work rated as similar must be paid equal salaries. It’s simply down to the personal preferences of men and women driving them in different career directions.

This tells us that we should focus on providing equality of opportunity and freedom of choice. As a result, everyone gets the same opportunities, but also has the freedom to make their own choices—rather than being forced into or driven towards certain roles because of the outcomes we perceive to be fair.

In Summary

While having a 0% gender pay gap may sound like a dream come true, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the level of pay equity in the workplace.

Instead of aiming for a zero gender pay gap, we need to focus on creating equal opportunities and eliminating the pay inequities that exist now.

We need to, for example, create more flexibility in the workplace. While the vast majority of part-time workers are female, there is only a tiny proportion of part-time workers in senior leadership roles. Does working part-time limit career progression opportunities?

Similarly, for some ethnicities/cultures, socialising at work is low on their priority list. Career progression should not depend on people’s ability to network and gain favour when it comes to promotions.

These are the issues we need to focus on to provide our employees with a level playing field and equality of opportunity without compromising on their freedoms to make decisions that work for them.