Gender pay gaps are an entrenched mental struggle for society

‘SA needs urgent equitable interventions to promote gender equality argues Celeste le Roux, 2021 Exceptional Woman in Construction Award winner.
Three weeks ago, the United Nations marked International Equal Pay Day drawing attention to the gender pay gap – the difference between what women earns compared to men for work of equal value – remains stark amid the prevailing systemic inequalities it is rooted in. The focus on this fundamental right is the perfect time to call for reform on pay inequality in South Africa. The “great reset”, emphasising executive pay, gender pay gaps and racial income inequality has been somewhat of a disappointment – and none more so in the Property and Built Environment. Very little movement has been seen on the ground apart from some cosmetic action announced every August during Women’s month.

Gender pay inequality is not isolated to issue of wages and salaries but extend to womenowned businesses as well, in the form of a lack of market access and lower contracting rates due to the pervasive male-bias both conscious and unconscious.
It is my observation and experience that the property sector and built environment is underlined by conservative gender roles which have defined the dominance of a particular gender across the industry. Daily we deal with the established perception of the strength and technical ability of men to be more suited or qualified to handle the “dirty” work required to fulfil projects that require hard labour.

As I walked across the stage in August, to collect the Exceptional Woman in Construction Contributor of the Year Award at the 2021 Empowerment and Recognition of Women in Construction Awards (ERWIC) in August – these system inequalities pricked my conscience.  I’m grateful for the award from the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) but would
not be doing it justice if I did not raise a flag to some of these issues. The research is clear – this is more than a simple issue of emotion or perception. The country’s gender pay gap is highlighted in the QLFS 2018 report, which showed that the
median monthly earnings were below parity. In 2018 women earned 0,76 of what men earned a minimal improvement from 0,71 in 2013.

Equal pay for equal work a mental struggle According to StatsSA (August 2021), gauging the perceptions on income as the catalyst for women to be independent, results of the Governance, Public Safety and Justice Survey (GPSJS) showed that only 55,6% of men believed that earning an income was the best way for women to be truly independent. Alarmingly, 64,7% of South Africans believed that women earning more than their partners would almost certainly cause trouble. Even more alarming is that 67,5% of men and 62,2% of women agreed with this statement. Thus, even with the sweeping regulations of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 in place, which provides for the promotion of economic unity; equal opportunity and access, we are not seeing the desired effect of the legislation as it relates to gender

We must realise that gender inequality and pay gap issues are not just a women’s issue, but a societal one. Achieving gender equality will require specific interventions and activities. One example of what we as a company are trying to do to address the systemic inequality in the industry is in training more women artisans. At React Training College 40% of our trainees
are women. We have had particular success in training women plumbers – a trade which in our communities is considered a man’s job. We instead used the inequality as a teachable moment for our clients, as they get to see and experience the technical ability of these women.

We believe that such success stories will start to change perceptions about women in male-dominated industries as we strive towards our goal of gender equality. Addressing pervasive gender inequality therefore requires a commitment by both the private and public sector to fund gender equity programmes that can fast track the empowerment of women to participate gainfully in all industries. This most noble goal to empower women to gain greater control over their own lives as income
earners, has the power to transform communities and give single parent homes a fighting chance at a better life. Such an important pursuit deserves recognition beyond August’s annual Women’s Month celebrations.