While the suffrage movement succeeded in winning British women the right to vote a century ago, the fight for gender equality in the workplace still has a long way to go.

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum estimates that women will have to wait 217 years before they earn as much as men and have equal representation in the workplace.

An analysis by the Young Women's Trust of data from a survey of hours and earnings last year reveals that, collectively, the UK's 15 million working women are missing out on $190bn each year, with the gap widening further when part-time work is taken into account.

"Some of [the gender inequality] is due to direct discrimination and prejudice against women, and some of it is due to indirect discrimination, when women are treated less well for some characteristics which aren't just about being women - for example, for working part-time," says Sylvia Walby, UNESCO Chair in Gender Research at Britain's Lancaster University.

In the UK, many people who did not know that they were being paid less than the man sitting next to them have suddenly realised that there's a significant gender pay gap and have added their voices to this issue, and we've seen some significant changes in company policies as a consequence.

Sylvia Walby, UNESCO Chair in Gender Research, Lancaster University, UK

"Some issues have to do with wider gender issues in society, such as issues of the domestic division of labour and whether society looks after children or whether it's only the women's responsibility, and also issues of education - whether women have equal access to education. And, indeed, much broader issues of the extent to which there's gender balance in decision-making and whether women are full participants in the decision-making in a particular society," she explains.

Walby believes "if women are full participants in that decision-making, then you see the fine tuning of both employment practices and policy practices, which would facilitate women's greater engagement in employment and thereby close the gender pay gap."

In a recent attempt to fight workplace discrimination, UK companies with more than 250 employees will be legally required to submit data on pay grades and explain gender gaps.

"In the UK, many people who did not know that they were being paid less than the man sitting next to them have suddenly realised that there's a significant gender pay gap and have added their voices to this issue, and we've seen some significant changes in company policies as a consequence, so there's been an
interesting development in addition to the other laws," says Walby.

In January, Iceland became the only country in the world to make pay inequality illegal

The new Icelandic law now requires companies with 25 or more employees to obtain certification on the basis of an equal pay standard, to prove that they offer equal pay for work of equal value, regardless of gender. 

In cases where a workplace has not acquired certification, unions and employers' organisations can report it to the Centre for Gender Equality. The Centre can then impose on the workplace a formal demand to rectify the situation, failing which it can levy fines of up to $488 a day. This legal power to sanction firms is a real game-changer.

Source: Al Jazeera