Malta's Gender Pay Gap Partly Due To Lack Of Flexibility, Short School Hours, Experts Claim

Rebecca Anastasi - 7th June 2018

“It is so frustrating that in 2018 we are still talking about these issues and yet we are seeing no actual results," says employment lawyer Dr Roselyn Borg Knight.

Men are more likely to get the better-paying jobs on the market due to a number of reasons, including a lack of flexible working hours, short hours of schooling, possible gender bias in headhunting, according to local employment experts.

Employment lawyer Roselyn Borg Knight told The Malta Business Observer that the gender pay gap – which rose from 7.7 per cent in 2011 to 11 per cent in 2016, although it is perceived to be much less – is indeed, “very worrying” and stressed that it must be addressed without any delay. “An in-depth study should be carried out to fully understand the complexities of the situation and the precise reasons why it is getting worse. Perhaps it may be that there is an increase in income inequality. The highest-paying jobs today have even better salaries and more men than women are getting those jobs.”

She asserted that a debate needs to be had, not only about increasing female participation in the labour market, but also on “what jobs women are doing”, to ensure that they are contributing when it comes to decision-making and influencing our country's agenda. Decisions to address the disparity should not be made according to perceptions, according to Dr Borg Knight, who emphasised the need for women in influential positions and for a proper plan, with a timeframe, which needs to be implemented “across the board, from the media to the workplace to Parliament.”

And this plan needs to be on the Government's agenda and a top priority, Dr Borg Knight asserted. “It is so frustrating that in 2018 we are still talking about these issues and yet we are seeing no actual results.” She praised the initiative of free child care but emphasised that “one measure is not enough, and we are still lagging behind.” She also went on to list some of the other issues stopping women from achieving parity such as “the lack of flexible working and school hours not being long enough.”

Women’s participation on boards of directors is another “topic that we have been discussing for years on end” she stated, and there has been little improvement. “There still are not enough women in the boardrooms,” she asserted, stressing the need for a plan in this regard too. “Further opportunities are given by implementing measures which will ensure that women get a place in the boardroom and we need to ensure that they are given an equal opportunity. We need resources to focus on this issue as well as gender equality across the board. We need to set targets, have a plan on how to achieve those targets and give it the priority it deserves. It cannot be an afterthought!”

Echoing Dr Borg Knight, the President of the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) Joseph Farrugia pointed out that “more women may be employed in lower-paying jobs than men”. But, in his view, this was “probably on the decline” as more women were achieving higher standards of education and “thus have access to higher-paying occupations.” Indeed, he attributed the increased level in education to the rise in the number of women in senior management positions, asserting that more women are moving up “the organisational structures of many organisations”. This, in his view, could result in an increase in female participation in the boardroom itself. “Any progression should be based on individual merit, not tokenism.”

Women working

He pointed out that the figures on gender disparity “do not reflect differences in pay for the same job, but a comparative aggregate of earnings between men and women in the labour force” and stated that “more female students taking STEM subjects might also help in reducing the pay gap.”

Yet, he noted that the gender pay gap may also be the result of women working “fewer hours due to other commitments. As long as many women opt to work shorter hours, the gender gap will remain, and possibly, increase even further,” he claimed. In the meantime, he said that the child care measures introduced by the Government, as well as family-friendly initiatives in many workplaces, were positive. “This is resulting in a transformation, due to a complex mix of socio-economic factors, such as men’s increasing participation in the family. In the longer term, shifting family responsibilities might also lead to women working more and thus reducing the pay gap further.”

But, education, working hours and job roles are only part of the story. According to Marisa Xuereb, Raesch Quarz (Malta) Ltd Managing Director, the persistent pay gap can also be attributed to the rise in job mobility. She stated that the while people are changing jobs more frequently, and increasing their wages with each move, “working mothers are typically less likely to change jobs at every opportunity because they need to take into consideration how their move would affect their family life.” Moreover, the fluidity in the labour market is resulting in an increased incidence in poaching, either by the employer, or, indirectly, through a recruitment agency and “there could be an element of gender bias in headhunting as well.”

Ms Xuereb praised the free child care initiatives implemented by the Government, stating that this has resulted in a surge in the female participation rate but insisted that Malta needed “a major change in culture to be able to bridge the gap – something that realistically can only be achieved for the next generation.” She also noted the rise in female participation on boards, but remarked that this was increasing “very slowly”.

“At the rate it is going, it will take decades to close the gap. But we have to take into consideration the fact that for more women to be in the boardroom, some of the men already there have to leave it. And you wouldn’t expect any volunteers for that,” she wryly noted. She implied that quotas were not the answer to this, since it could “backfire on women” and encouraged women to “lean in” so that they become obvious choices on the basis of their “capabilities and apparent readiness to rise up to the challenge, particularly in situations when even their male counterparts would hesitate.”

She said the perception that Malta’s gender pay gap was less than other countries could be because “in bigger countries there is often a significant element of commuting to and from work,” which affects the amount of time a parent has to take care of the children, and also because “a relatively large portion of the local workforce is employed with the Government, where most jobs fall within a system of gender-neutral pay scales.”

Indeed, according to Ms Xuereb, it is still “a challenge for working mothers to keep a full-time job and raise a family,” particularly when working hours do not coincide with school hours. One of the solutions she proposed was educating children of both genders to grow up understanding that it is both men and women’s responsibility to take care of the family, both in financial and practical terms. This would go some way in addressing the stubborn reality created by the gender pay gap.

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