International Women's Day: The West can learn from Zimbabwe when it comes to the gender pay gap

30 March 2017

By Tendai White, executive director at INPACT International

In April 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK reported the lowest ever gender pay gap, 9.4%. This is obviously heading in the right direction but it is still a significant gap given the first equal pay law, the Equal Pay Act, was introduced over 45 years ago.

The figures are even more concerning when you look closer at our industry. The ICAEW Salary Survey 2015 reported that the gap between average salaries for male and female chartered accountants has increased by 5.4% since 2014. In fact, in 2016, Dave Way, Managing Director at a leading financial recruiter in the UK, Marks Sattin, said the gap often becomes wider in more senior roles.

Why is there still a pay gap between men and women? Research from AAT suggested that one reason is men are more bullish about salary expectations and are more likely to push for pay rises! According to the AAT research, the top three reasons why people thought men were being offered better progression opportunities were: the persistent ‘old boys club’ mentality, male-domination of the sector at senior level and childcare responsibilities falling mostly to women.

Whatever the reason, it is clear there has been dreadfully slow progress to correct the gender pay gap. Equal earning between genders is crucial to encourage and develop female leaders, and businesses need greater diversity to operate in this ever more interconnected world.

Perhaps one place we can learn from when it comes to equal gender pay is Zimbabwe. I am a Trustee of a scholarship fund for accountants in Zimbabwe. When speaking to the other women on the Board of Trustees, who are all based in Zimbabwe, I was surprised to find out that they do not feel that there is a gender pay gap and they were paid what their male counterparts in similar positions were paid.

While there are no official statistics to back this up, it does seem that view is shared somewhat. The Financial Gazzette recently published a story explaining why the gender pay gap may not exist in Zimbabwe. It cited grade based pay (job grade alone accounts for 90% of variation in salaries), minimum salaries agreed by National Employment Councils (NECs), companies adhering to pay structures and pay compression as reasons why it may not exist.

However, the women I spoke to on the Board of Trustees agreed it is still difficult for women to get into C-level executive roles, nepotism playing a big part in that.

There are things we can take from Zimbabwe though. If we, as an industry, were to adopt their logical grade based pay philosophy we may soon find the pay gap between men and women closing. This may also encourage women to push for more senior roles if they knew they would be earning as much as their male counterparts.

One thing is for sure, it is our industry’s job to report gender pay discrepancies as clearly and as transparently as possible. This will continue to highlight this important issue and encourage change.

Reporting its gender pay gap will become compulsory in the UK for larger companies over the next 12 months. I eagerly await the results.