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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

The Gender Pay Gap: Definition, Causes, and Solutions

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

The gender pay gap is a barrier to gender equality that has garnered increasing attention in recent years. However, the pay gap concept is often misunderstood. A common misconception is that the gap refers to unequal pay for equal work. In fact, this has been outlawed in the UK by the Equal Pay Act 1970. Meanwhile, the gender pay gap that exists today can be explained as ‘the difference in the average hourly wage of all men and women across a workforce’.[1] For example, the pay gap at Durham University is currently 23.8%, which means that women’s median hourly wage is 23.8% lower than men’s.[2]


There are several causes for the gender pay gap. One argument blames the ‘pipeline problem’,[3] referring to the lack of qualified women for senior positions, which results in a lower average pay for women compared to men. If this is the underlying cause, the solution would be to encourage more women to pursue higher-paid jobs and to train more women for senior roles.

Nevertheless, the pay gap is not always caused by a shortage of qualified women. An important factor to consider is that more women than men work part-time, as opposed to full-time. As of 2018, 41% of women in employment in the UK were working part-time compared to 13% of men.[4] Part-time work and ‘time spent out of the labour market to care for children or elderly relatives could affect future earnings when a person returns to work’.[5]

A study conducted in the US found that some women have avoided high-paying sectors, including engineering, believing that the work environment in those sectors is unsupportive of women.[6] Moreover, women are more likely than men to face scepticism within leadership positions, while men are more often perceived as assertive decision-makers.[7] Consequently, men are more likely than women to get promoted at work,[8] which contributes to the gender pay gap.

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

In 2017, the UK Government recommended the following actions for employers to close the gender pay gap:[9]

1. Include multiple women in shortlists for recruitment and promotions.

2. Use skill-based assessment tasks in recruitment.

3. Use structured interviews for recruitment and promotions – ‘unstructured interviews are more likely to allow unfair bias to creep in and influence decisions’.[10]

4. Encourage salary negotiation by showing salary ranges.

5. Introduce transparency to promotion, pay, and reward processes.

6. Appoint diversity managers and/or diversity task forces.

7. Improve workplace flexibility for men and women.

8. Encourage the uptake of Shared Parental Leave.

9. Recruit returners, i.e. ‘people who have taken an extended career break for caring or other reasons and who are either not currently employed or are working in roles for which they are over-qualified’.[11]

10. Offer mentoring and sponsorship.

11. Offer networking programmes.

12. Set internal targets.

While the aforementioned actions have strong potential to reduce the gender pay gap, other measures have had mixed results. For example, providing diversity training and unconscious bias training for recruiters might ‘bring to mind unhelpful stereotypes which people then act upon’.[12] Furthermore, although the participation of women in selection panels may increase the likelihood of hiring other women,[13] it sometimes has the opposite effect or no impact at all.[14]

As the gender pay gap is caused by a range of factors, closing the gap requires a holistic approach. From tackling conscious and unconscious bias to reforming recruitment processes and increasing transparency, employers must take immediate action to eliminate the gender pay gap, not only to acknowledge its existence.

M. M. Albanyan

Women in Law Society


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] ibid. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] ibid. [11] ibid. [12] ibid. [13] M De Paola and V Scoppa, ‘Gender discrimination and evaluators’ gender: evidence from Italian academia’ (2015) 82(325), Economica 62. [14] M Bagues, M Sylos-Labini,, and N Zinovyeva, ‘Does the gender composition of scientific committees matter?’ (2017) 107(4) American Economic Review 1207.

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