International Women’s Day: Breaking the Bias in Occupational Segregation and Bridging Gender Pay Gap



Mar 07, 2022 — 3 mins read

Global strides towards achieving gender equality have gradually witnessed an inclusion of women in occupations that were once predominantly and exclusively the domain of men, including in leadership positions and governance processes. Yet, existing gender segregation in occupation continues to perpetuate gender inequalities as patriarchy and social norms ultimately impede educational and occupational choices of women and men, thereby resulting in gender pay gaps between men and women, and hindered sustainable economic growth and development. Research has shown that sustainable development and economic growth can only be achieved by addressing the disproportionate burden of poverty on women, promoting equitable access to education and work opportunities for women, ensuring income parity and harnessing productive opportunities for women.

Despite efforts to close gender gaps globally, gender bias and occupational segregation remain. Data published in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum shows existing gender gaps in cross cutting areas including in educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity and in political empowerment. Girls and women still experience barriers in accessing education and navigating the complexities plaguing unconventional spaces for women. Occupational segregation stems from gender stereotypes and bias, that perceive certain occupations to be masculine or feminine. This socialized view usually begins from an early age, where restrictive ideas about gender roles are established. Such perceptions limit the educational choices of women and influence their career paths especially in pursuing careers specifically in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The underlining factors that enable occupational segregation and gender pay gap revolve around systematic exclusion of women from educational opportunities and legal frameworks and practices that restrict women’s participation and equitable earnings within the labour market. UNICEF estimates that globally, only about 18 percent of girls in tertiary education are pursuing STEM courses compared to 35 percent of boys (UNICEF 2020). The limited educational participation of girls and young women in STEM directly engenders and contributes to the burgeoning occupational segregation that exists.

Furthermore, statistics from the World Bank Women, Business and the Law 2022 report indicate that around 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent women’s full economic participation. In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work. Considering the fact that STEM jobs are highly lucrative and in demand today compared to jobs in other sectors, these lead to a gendered segregation in the labour market, causing men to earn significantly more than women. 

Occupational segregation is an often overlooked form of discrimination that necessitates appropriate attention as part of efforts to achieve gender equality. Gender segregation in occupation and stereotypes about women’s skills is a form of discrimination and represents a huge loss of human potential, with great costs for women. It ultimately reinforces low employment and promotion of women compared to their male contemporaries thereby resulting in both the unequal representation of women in certain occupations, significant income disparities and undermines the advancement of the global goals.

This year’s International Women’s Day commemoration themed ‘Break the Bias’ aims to create global systemic and social changes that break gender bias and proactively build inclusive and equitable societies. To ‘Break the Bias’ is to achieve a gender equal world, free of discrimination in the form of gender segregation in occupation and income disparities. Gender biased norms and laws make it difficult for women to achieve positive impacts in sustainable development at individual, community and national levels. Gender equality in occupation and income is integral to ensuring the promotion of an inclusive human rights system for all, building resilient economies and achieving sustainable development.

For systemic changes to occur in promoting female participation in male dominated sectors and eliminating gender barriers that entrench occupational segregation and income disparities, concerted efforts must address harmful social norms and legal structures that perpetuate gender bias and all forms of discrimination against women. It is important that state and non-state actors assiduously promote gender transformative education in schools and communities. Gender responsive laws and practices should be implemented that enable a diverse workforce by addressing occupational segregation and gender pay gap.

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