The underlying causes and current barriers of the gender pay gap are often misunderstood.

This is according to Dr Mark Bussin, master reward specialist and executive committee member of the South African Reward Association (SARA), who points out that the gender pay gap in South Africa has been between 15% and 18% for many years. And, while South African legislation and company policies have been put in place to address the issue, the statistics aren’t changing speedily enough.

“Section 6 of South Africa’s Employment Equity Act was implemented several years ago and it stipulates that companies may not discriminate in terms of remuneration; they are legally obliged to offer equal pay for work of equal value. In America and Canada, similar legislation has been around since the 1960s, but the gender pay gap in these countries still exists. Legislation isn’t solving the problem and this isn’t a uniquely South African problem,” says Bussin.

Many companies have openly stated their commitment to gender pay equality and regularly review whether they are paying equally for equal work, but this isn’t having an effect on the gender pay gap either.

“The only thing that has changed is a heightened awareness of gender pay discrimination. Company remuneration policies and legislation has been around for years, and it isn’t bridging the gender pay gap. A major underlying cause is the power of prejudice,” says Bussin.

He says that many prejudices exist about women in the workplace. Companies have down-sized, right-sized and are leaner than ever before, but leading recruiters and HR professionals tend to be even more wary about hiring or promoting a female candidate. Maternity leave, time spent away from work to care for children, or the possibility of a new mom deciding to not return to the workforce after childbirth, are still scenarios that are ingrained in the minds of people in power positions. This has given rise to a new term I call the “mommy gap”. Women may never catch up to men once they have had a child – the gap stays with them in perpetuity.

“Unfair assumptions and scenarios such as these still count against women. Whether recruiters, HR managers and directors are open about their prejudices or not, these prejudices still exist in the back of their minds,” says Bussin.

Adding to the challenge is that women are less likely to question the salaries that they are offered and less likely to negotiate better pay.

“Recruiters and HR managers may subconsciously assume that they can pay a woman less because she might have a partner that helps support her and her household. Women, in turn, are part of the problem because they trust that the remuneration that they are being offered is fair, when they should actually be researching market related salaries as well as the company’s pay scale, and be advocating for fairer pay,” says Bussin.

He says that company directors should be concerned about the gender pay gap for a number of reasons. Not only can discriminatory pay be damaging to their brand, but it can negatively impact their businesses in a number of ways.

“If a case about gender pay discrimination makes its way to court, the CCMA or the media, it could be very damaging to your brand. Not only do employees want to work for a company that remunerates fairly and sustainably, but it’s also good governance. It’s simply the right thing to do.”