The gender pay gap remains a startling reality and more needs to be done to address the wage disparity between men and women, both globally and locally.

This is according to Fiona Leppan, a director in Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s (CDH’s) Employment practice, who says that progressive thinking is required to change the status quo.

A report released by PwC found that South African women are not only consistently paid less than their male colleagues, there is also no single industry sector in which women earn more than men. The PwC Executive Directors Practices and Remuneration Trends Report for South Africa found that males working in the healthcare sector are paid approximately 28,1% more than women.

This figure is 25,1% for the media and general retail sectors, while men earn 22,9% more in the technology sector and 21,8% more in the financial sector.

World Economic Forum figures show that South Africa has the second-highest gender pay gap on the African continent, behind Namibia (45%) and ahead of Egypt and Senegal (26% and 25%, respectively), out of 16 countries surveyed.

Leppan says part of the issue is the fact that women are still grossly under-represented at senior executive level in South Africa, despite legislation and policies aimed at addressing gender imbalances in the workplace. “The legislation has not been particularly successful, because it has not been strictly enforced. Hence, even though the laws are in place, they have had very little impact,” she says.

“Other countries, such as Norway, have seen much more success by adopted mandatory quotas to increase the participation of women on boards which are strictly enforced.

“Unfortunately, many companies believe that men make better employees than women, as women are seen as less dedicated due to the burden of domestic responsibilities. In many instances, employers are also wary of female employees taking maternity leave when they fall pregnant,” says Leppan.

However, she says, the attitude towards this is changing in some countries, which recognise that men also have a role to play in raising children and are giving fathers extensive paternity leave. “There is a recognition that it is not solely up to a woman to look after a new-born child and fathers are given more time off. In South Africa, paternity leave is still disproportionately short and we need new policies to address this,” she adds.

According to the PwC report, only 3,3% of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have female CEOs.

“Our corporate culture is still one that promotes a very male-dominated work environment. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of graduates are male, which means that there is no real chance for a culture shift,” says Leppan.

She points out that men have a large role to play in helping to narrow the gender pay gap and urged them to become actively involved in bringing more equality to the workplace.

“There is a lot that men can do to help eradicate the pay disparity between them and their female colleagues. They can actively mentor, coach and involve women in succession planning, which will go a long way towards putting women on a more equal footing in corporate world,” Leppan says.

Women too can play an active role to change the current inequality in the workplace, she says.

“Women who enter the workplace should become involved with forums and groups that promote women’s interests within the organisation. These are the type of things that can bring change by encouraging a culture shift within a company,” Leppan concludes.