Gender pay gap: Women earn less and this is why

That women are paid less than male colleagues is a stubborn fact in the workplace globally. Despite the many strides and contributions they have made at the workplace, women still earn a fraction of what their male counterparts earn for performing the exact same jobs.

A report by Equileap released in November last year, says women globally still earn 23 per cent less than men. The report on gender equality in Kenya further says Kenyan women on average earn 32 per cent less than men; and that at the current rate of change, pay parity may not be achieved before 2069.

Prof Grace Wamue-Ngare, the Director Centre for Gender Equity and Empowerment at Kenyatta University defines gender pay gap in terms of how many women, compared to men, occupy certain strata in the corporate job scale.

“It is gender pay gap to me if there are four men at the executive level whose salaries can collectively pay for the salaries of all the hundred women at the lower level,” she says.


Borrowing from her research in western Kenya, she says: “In the village, you would ask a man to come work in the farm and even though a woman would do the same job with the same results, the work seems more important when it’s done by a man, and they get paid more money.”

Director of TIFA Research Margaret Ireri says women perform dismally in pay negotiation. She wishes women would negotiate for a package as much as they prove that they are competent during a job interview.

“I have seen a man push and not relent, while the woman eventually bucks down and receives lesser pay,” she says.

The difference, she adds, could be as much as 60 per cent.

Ms Ireri explains: “And that is why even when there is an opportunity for more, they would take the 10 per cent more than their previous salary and be okay, or be giggling when asked how much they would like to be paid, while the man will not only ask for the pay, but also the insurance, the house allowance, car grants, travel and other benefits.”

The issue of gender pay gap is at the centre of Catherine Musakali’s work. The corporate governance consultant who chairs the Women on Boards Network says the key mandate of the organisation is to accelerate diversity on boards.

While she has not personally experienced gender pay gap, experiences of some members within her network are different, insights that have centred the focus of her work on equipping women to beat the gender pay gap.


“Organisations will not give what you do not ask for. As women, we have not mastered the art of negotiating our worth. Men do this effortlessly because society has taught them that they should be the breadwinners.

This view mirrors that of the Architectural Association of Kenya president, Mugure Njendu, who says women need to come from a point of understanding their value during negotiations.

“Unlike men, women tend to shy away from declaring their accomplishments and strengths.
Sit on that table, own it, and negotiate based on your value,” she says.

The assumption that women are not good at asking, or do not ask at all has, however, been disputed in studies.

In the journal Industrial Relations, Morten Bennedsen, a professor of Economics at INSEAD- Business School, says women ask for pay increase and other benefits at work, they do not just get.
If they do, they get 15 per cent while men get 20 per cent.

Prof Bennedsen and his colleagues rule out that factors such as high level of education and coming from privileged backgrounds does not affect the asking.


Ms Musakali notes that even where organisations have a structured scale, women tend to join at the bottom of the scale compared to their male counterparts who most often join at the middle or top end of the scale.

“The gap is usually introduced at the point where women join organisations, and perpetrates itself throughout, unless she is smart enough to negotiate.

Many performance management systems are gender insensitive.

There are organisations where women are disadvantaged in pay rises because of maternity leave,” says Ms Musakali, adding that their absence from work means they have less time to deliver on their targets.

“If a performance management system is not calibrated for this scenario, the woman will always be disadvantaged,” she says.

These gender dynamics play against women even when they are eventually given the salary they want.
According to GenderGap.Africa, an online tool designed to calculate the gap, a man in Kenya makes on average US$ 118 (approximately Sh11,800) more than a woman per month –the 17th largest gap in Africa.


An income brackets survey conducted by TIFA Research in 2018, also shows that there are more women in the lower income bracket – those earning less than Sh5,000 per month.

It further shows that more women than men have zero income, while the category of those earning more than Sh5,000 a month is dominated by men.

We spoke to a number of women who were aware of, or have experienced this gap in their work places. Many did not, however, wish to be quoted on record for fear of jeopardising their jobs.

Those who spoke say the gap exists mostly in junior and mid-level management as opposed to executive and the top management.

Ms Betty Rariewa – Wanjohi, a HR practitioner with Human Asset Consultants Ltd says the gap cuts across, but is mostly in the middle and lower level.

“The seniors know how to fight out their rights.”

She adds that while the number of women employed in the formal sector is on the rise, the wage gap is still a cause for concern.

“Whenever I interview candidates for job placements, men are not shy about pushing the negotiations for higher pay,” she notes.


“Female candidates are keen not to rock the boat. It is almost as if they are communicating that they don’t want to sell themselves out of a job!”

While Ms Rariewa agrees that closing the gender wage gap is an urgent issue, she notes that the new battlefront is shifting away from the public service and the big corporates, many of which have signed onto the UN Global Compact, an initiative in which companies align their strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises provide employment for a big proportion of our population,” she observes.

A retired human resource director Dorothy Opondo, hints at a societal bias on what men should earn. She notes that in the 1980s and earlier, women never got benefits because it was assumed the man would provide.

“For women, it is like they hire the professional, but delegate the responsibilities of her insurance and house allowance to the husband, and assuming that he would take that,” she says.
Ms Ireri calls this a “subtle bias” in negotiating for pay.

“When women are asked “are you married?” and they answer ‘Yes’, it’s like a trigger to be offered less, assuming there would be a man to take care of the pay.”

Even in managerial positions, women would not enjoy other provisions like overseas travel and training where they would earn more money from per diems, as well as exposure that would work for their upward mobility.

“This would not favour women because how many of them re in such high position?” Ms Ireri notes.

Indeed only six per cent of CEOs or managing directors of companies listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange are women according to data compiled by the Nation Media Group’s Newsplex.

It further shows that only five per cent of these firms have women chairing their boards.

BrighterMonday, a job website in Kenya, in its 2019 ‘Best 100 Companies to Work for’ survey, notes that men earn more than women with an average of 60 per cent to 40 per cent of women.

Most of those who earn below Sh50,000 are women. It further shows that men occupy a slightly higher monthly salary percentage of over Sh200,000 salary bracket.

Several reasons have been fronted for the disparity including the manner in which women are socialised to act modest.

Most employers base the starting salary on a candidate’s salary history. This means women who had lower salaries in the past will always be at a deficit.

Bias in hiring and pay decisions also affect women as they are consistently overlooked by employers who tend to view men as more competent.

The BrighterMonday survey confirms that senior roles have more men than women; negatively affecting the pay gap.


At that lower level, women are bogged down by reproductive responsibilities that deny them opportunity to participate in other peripheral activities that can allow them to climb the ladder easily.

Being child bearers, they frequently take time off to raise children.

Ms Rariewa says employers and employees should lead the push against the social, cultural and implicit biases that accompany women’s reproductive roles.

“Why do we penalise women for choosing to raise their families in the midst of their life-work cycles?”

Also known as the ‘motherhood wage penalty’, motherhood has important ramifications on hiring, promotion, career progression and salary processes.

Men do not suffer this penalty and their wages are either unaffected or even increase after having a child.


It is argued that women ‘choose’ to care for children, and naturally end up in self-employment or part-time jobs, which pay less. Unfortunately, even if they try to return to work after childbirth, they often face the ‘motherhood penalty’.

Men rarely suffer the penalty; their wages are unaffected, or even increased after having a child, a term better known as ‘fatherhood bonus’.

A study by Shelley Correll, a sociologist at the University of Stanford, found that employers perceived mothers as less competent than childless women; it also perceived childless men as than men who were fathers.

It found that fathers were 1.83 times more likely to be recommended for management than childless men. For females, childless women were 8.2 times more likely than mothers to be recommended for management positions.

Traditionally, certain jobs were typically seen as “women’s work” and were paid lower. Nursing, teaching, cleaning have remained in the lower pay cadre than manufacturing, business, construction and science etc. traditionally dominated by men.


Maggie Musonye, an employee at a service providing company in Nairobi, has to supplement her income by working at construction sites. She says that while men and women are paid the same amount, men have advantages that make them earn more.

“There are certain tasks at construction sites, such as mixing concrete that women cannot do because they need muscles. We can’t do this because we are not physically as strong as the men; when the issue of earning less is raised, such things are thrown at us,” she says.

‘Motherhood wage penalty’, motherhood has important ramifications on hiring, promotion, career progression and salary processes. PHOTO | POOL | NATION

In some cases, women are paid less than men for the same role.

Former MP Priscilla Nyokabi Kanyua, a lawyer and a commissioner at the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) says the principle of “equal pay for equal work done and equal skills” should be reinforced by the provision of equal opportunities even in gender neutral institutions like the public service and the National Assembly.

She says workplace inequality have consequences skewed against women.

“Fifteen years since I left Law school, many of my male peers working in law firms are now partners, but things being constant, I doubt I would have got that far,” she quips.

She adds: “Had I gone into corporate commercial law (instead of politics), my career would probably have stagnated at some point when I started raising children.

A male colleague cannot relate to this experience, and as long as the status quo remains, they will always fare better than women.”

Thanks to the gender pay gap, Sub Sahara Africa loses 2.5$ Trillion, which is 12 per cent of the region’s wealth. More alarming is that studies now implicate the gap as one of the causes of domestic violence.

Prof Wamue-Ngare quips: “While it is an unwritten rule, most pay deals and big appointments are sealed in the boys’ club over drinks, or when playing golf, but which mother with little children or wife, would get moments to go have a drink in the evenings to negotiate her pay rise?,”

The gender expert says the gap is big in informal sectors. She not only points to economic damage it is doing to Kenya on a macro-level, but also links it to the domestic violence cases being witnessed.

Her studies have noted that concentrating too much money on one gender is dangerous whether it is a man or woman, and that denying women money leads to family ill-health.


“In some cases, either of the genders use the money as a tool against the other due to unbalanced work dynamics,” she says.

Despite some studies pointing out to the wage gap, some male executives in companies enlisted in the stock market, do not agree it exists.

One executive who did not wish to be named says the gap is “just another issue women have to cry and blame men for.”

For Dr Josphat Kwasira, a PhD a senior lecturer of Human Resource at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, there is no such gap in the work place.

“While there are factors that complicate the workplace and pay, gender should not be one of the things through which they are interrogated,” Dr Kwasira says.

The don says he does not believe there are violations because there are pay structures in the work place to cushion against such exploitation.


“When you are employed as a lecturer, or teacher, the pay scale is determined and fixed, so there cannot be gap,” he says.

But as Marilyn Kamuru, an independent consultant points out: “Gender gaps are structural, not personal. This is why advice like ‘negotiate better’ doesn’t really work. It can work to some extent, but it doesn’t resolve the structural issues,” she says.

According to her, we need to ask; do men and women start on the same rate? Are assessments done periodically to ensure people within a certain band are paid the same? How do organisations ensure their pay scales are not gender-biased?

“Then we can really start shifting the needle for more women,” Kamuru says.

Still at the current rates, it may take another 257 years to close the gender pay gap globally according to the World Economic Forum. Realising the gap is here and will be here for a while, some women have crafted means of navigating it.

Some like Hon Nyokabi got herself a mentor, while TIFA’s Margaret Ireri made detailed plans sketching out her career.

After forgetting to negotiate her pay once, she’ll never do it again.

Ms Ireri advises women not to fear office politics, the back and forth of negotiations, and to always research and prepare for that conversation.

It is not all doom and gloom – things can, and are being done to improve the situation.

Take Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, for example, who had heard about this gap in the staff feedback forms. As the Executive Director of Africa Population Health Research Centre, (APHRC) Nairobi, she decided to take real action.

She was aware of the financial implications, but decided to fix it once and for all. The dynamics of doing this are complex and can take a company down on a financial red.

She says: “I thought the dismissive attitude of ‘people don’t know how hard it is to run an organisation’ would fix it.”

In 2018, she conducted an annual pay equity analysis and a salary survey to determine if each employee’s pay was based on a global market value, experience and performance ratings etc.


When the results came out, some employees had to be placed on different grades, and others got pay rises from as little as 34 per cent to as much as 106 per cent.

The wage bill increased by a whopping 15 per cent, and with the approval of the board, the management staggered the pay when they would be renewing their contracts starting last year.

Dr Kyobutungi has ensured this is not repeated even in new hires: During employment, they ask employees about their last pay and would not justify exorbitant pay increase unless they are bringing in a new qualification such as a master’s degree.

The gap between highest pay and the lowest, Dr Kyobutungi says, is not above 50 per cent.

Moves like APHRC’s are, understandably, scary for many companies: They are costly. However, the situation may eventually change if all organisations follow Dr Kyobutungi’s lead.

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