Commentary: 2018 the year of women but is closing the gender pay gap still an elusive goal?

Commentary: 2018 the year of women but is closing the gender pay gap still an elusive goal?

The World Economic Forum estimates it would take 200 years for the economic gap to be closed, points out one observer.

SINGAPORE: Only three months into 2018, and it feels as though it’s proving to be The Year of Women.

With the rising prominence of campaigns championing women’s rights such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, feminism has reached a new level of public consciousness.

There’s a renewed sense of global solidarity which, on this year’s International Women’s Day, resulted in 24-hour strikes across 50 countries worldwide (including China, South Korea, India, Pakistan and the Philippines) as women protested against sexism, workplace mistreatment and wage disparities.

READ: A commentary on the culture of intimidation and hypocrisy behind sexual harassment in South Korea.


It is no secret that women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts – in Singapore for example, a recent study by ValuePenguin that analysed data from the Ministry of Manpower put the median male monthly salary at S$3,991 compared to that of S$3,382 for women, representing an approximate 18 per cent difference.

What’s more, this figure remains almost completely unchanged compared to 10 years prior (male salary at S$2,452 versus women’s salary at S$2,053, an approximate 19 per cent gap), and can reach as much as 40 per cent in certain industries.

Health and social services, manufacturing, public administration and education, information and communications, financial and insurance services, and professional services were all found to be among the worst culprits.

However, perhaps the most shocking fact is that by global standards, and even more so by Asian standards, Singapore still ranks as one of the leading countries in the world in terms of gender parity.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2017, Singapore comes 27th out of 144 countries for economic opportunity and participation. Meanwhile, China (100th), India (108th), Japan (114th) and Korea (118th) all trail behind.

Indeed, the issue is so prevalent that the World Economic Forum predicts it will take over 200 years for the economic gap to be closed. Clearly, we’ve got a long battle ahead.

READ:A commentary on addressing bias in the pursuit of gender equality.

READ: A commentary that for women of different cultures, classes, backgrounds and age, it’s still a man’s world.


One of the greatest challenges we face is that the inequality is systemic. For example, many organisations and recruiters will ask candidates for their salary history which, if used to benchmark the pay that will be offered, naturally poses issues as it only perpetuates pre-existing wage gaps.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, research from a salary and compensation site PayScale further suggests that women in the US who decline to disclose this information when asked are penalised and paid approximately 1.8 per cent less than women who do share. Men, on the other hand, are rewarded and paid around 1.2 per cent more in the same scenario.

In response, it’s interesting to note that a number of US states and cities have recently passed or proposed legislation to ban salary history questions from the recruitment process.

To clarify, this is different from salary requirement, which is the pay a candidate expects from a job.

At HireRight, we too have modified our background screening platform so that our default offering excludes inquiries and verifications of a candidate’s compensation history to encourage this best practice.


While Singapore, namely the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), has developed a code of fair employment practices and principles including gender, the reality is that compliance is voluntary.

Furthermore, Singapore’s main labour law does not contain any provisions to safeguard gender equality. The onus, therefore, is on the community to self-regulate and address these problems head-on.

So what can businesses be doing to help close the gap? From a recruitment standpoint, there are some simple changes that you can implement.

One – as a policy don’t ask the salary history question, plain and simple. It’s not in the best interest of the candidate, regardless of whether their previous salary was low or high, and automatically puts them in an awkward position of having to decide what they want to reveal.

It may also give them the wrong impression about your approach to talent acquisition.

Two – price the job, not the person. Set a salary range for the position and stick to it – this levels the playing field both from a gender and age perspective, so that employers can focus on position-related criteria such as candidate experience, skills and cultural fit.  

Three – change your lines of enquiry. It’s fair that employers want to ensure a candidate is affordable before investing additional time and resources into the hiring process, so tweak the question to salary expectations, where the candidate can set the benchmark.

Four – be transparent about how pay is determined within your organisation. This will empower candidates (and existing employees) to measure themselves against expectations for each grade.

Gender parity will take some time yet to come to fruition, and recruiters and employers cannot bear the responsibility alone – it must be a collaborative effort from all corners of society to move the needle.

But every contribution to the cause helps – and if we build on the momentum and promise of this year, surely we can do better than another two centuries of inequality?

Dawn Hirsch is chief human resources officer at HireRight.HireRight delivers global background checks, employment, and education verification services to organisations worldwide.

Source: CNA/sl