Surprisingly, The Gender Pay Gap is Still a Thing!

Published: 18/09/2023

The gender pay gap or gender wage gap is the average difference between the remuneration for men and women who are working. Generally, women are paid less than their male counterparts globally, regardless of social status, skill level or location. This figure changes when controlled for confounding factors such as differences in hours worked, occupations chosen, education, job experience, and level of danger at work. The reasons for the gap link to legal, social and economic factors, including topics such as discrimination based on gender, the motherhood penalty vs. fatherhood bonus, parental leave, and gender norms. According to ActionAid, this disparity increases for women who are at a further disadvantage due to additional intersecting factors of discrimination, such as religion, race, caste, geographical location, age, sexual orientation, ableism and many more.  


When looking at the numbers, it is important to focus on the median figure rather than the mean. As stated by The Guardian: The mean is calculated by adding up all of the wages of employees in a company and dividing that figure by the number of employees. This means the final figure can be skewed by a small number of highly paid individuals. The median is the number that falls in the middle of a range when everyone’s wages are lined up from smallest to largest and is more representative when there is a lot of variation in pay.


It is a complex issue that has far-reaching effects on individuals’ lives and society as a whole. While significant strides have been made toward levelling the playing field, disparities in earnings between men and women continue to persist, challenging our notions of fairness and justice in the workplace.


Some of the factors that greatly contribute to the gender pay gap in the mining industry include:

  • Many industries and professions continue to be dominated by one gender, leading to differences in pay. Generally, women in mining are paid less than men, regardless of social status or location. According to the Women and the Mine of the Future Global Report, of which IWiM is a project partner, a significant share of employment in the large-scale mining sector is held by men. From ILO modelled estimates (ILO, 2021), some 21.4 million workers are employed globally in mining, of which an estimated 85% are men. Various country baseline studies pointed out that wages and salaries in the large-scale mining sector were on average higher than in other economic sectors in the report. For example, “In Chile, average salaries in the large-scale mining sector are almost three times higher than in other economic sectors. In Mongolia, the average salary is twice that of other sectors. In Ghana, the extractive sector pays significantly higher wages (about 10 times higher) than other sectors. However, despite the relatively good wages mining can provide, the gender pay gap is significant in the sector. In Australia, women earn 83% of men’s salaries in the large-scale mining sector. Over an 11-year period, the pay gap discrepancy oscillated, reaching its lowest historical figure of 13% in 2019. However, from 2019 to 2021, the pay gap widened again, suggesting that structural challenges to reversing this discrimination remained unsuccessful.”
  • Implicit biases, such as stereotypes and prejudices, can influence hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions, resulting in unequal pay for women. Most times women who negotiate for better pay are ostracised and labelled as ‘pushy’ or ‘difficult to work with’. 
  • Work-life balance is very difficult for women to achieve as they often face societal expectations to take on caregiving roles, which can impact their career advancement and earning potential. Many women take the lead parental role which equates to 1-10 years out of their careers. When competing for senior roles, they may be the right age but will have up to 10 years less experience. Women also often need to choose between having a family and not having adequate childcare. This ‘motherhood penalty’ can persist throughout their careers.
  • Women are constantly underrepresented in leadership roles. The scarcity of women in top roles can limit their influence in salary decisions and perpetuate pay disparities.
  • Many workplaces discourage or even prohibit employees from discussing their pay with colleagues. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for women to identify pay disparities and take action.
  • Some organisations may have policies, consciously or unconsciously, that perpetuate gender pay disparities, such as relying on prior salary history in determining new salaries.


The gender pay gap, defined by the UN 2030 Agenda as the difference between the salaries earned by women and men for work of equal value, has recently been the focus of research (UN General Assembly, 2015). The reasons for the gap between the wages of women and men can be attributed to their historical exclusion in the industry and inadequate labour policies, in addition to existing structural discrimination against women (ILO, 2021). While available literature was limited and could not be found across different regions and regional contexts, existing research indicates the presence of a gender pay gap in the mining industry in Australia and the United Kingdom. For instance, the average median gender pay gap in mining in the United Kingdom has been estimated at 25% (McKinsey, 2021).  


In Australia, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CMEWA) compiled data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency indicating that the gender pay gap stood at 13.8% in 2019. Data from CMEWA provide insight into the variations of the gender pay gap across professions and contract types. Analysis shows that the resources sector has smaller gender pay gaps than national industry averages in all occupations except clerical and administrative, where most of the women are employed. There was also a significant gender pay gap among part-time workers, the bulk of whom were women (Macdonald, 2017; Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2015). Although data from CMEWA show that the pay gap in mining was smaller than the average for 19 other industries, it may not be the most accurate representation of the gender pay gap in mining in other regions or countries. CMEWA uses annual gender pay equity audits as an indicator of progress in their diversity surveys, and the companies are reported to adopt policies and strategies on the gender pay gap as a result (Macdonald, 2017).  


To quote from the Women and the Mine of the Future Global Report: “A thorough analysis of the gender pay gap per occupation, age, and contract type in other regions and countries is essential to understanding gendered dynamics and retention challenges in the sector. Data from the ILO provide a quick snapshot of the mean weekly average hours worked disaggregated by sex in large-scale mining. It shows that, on average, female mining employees worked fewer hours than their male counterparts. 


Many country reports highlight that women opt for part-time jobs, which might be related to the expectations associated with unpaid reproductive labour and care work, and the need to balance out work and life. Often, reducing working time is one possible option for women to remain in the labour market rather than leaving it. Not having this flexibility could possibly explain the previously observed leaky pipeline. 


However, more flexibility should not be a reason to justify the gender pay gap or confine women to lower-paid jobs. Sadly, in many instances, women opting for flexible work arrangements become less attractive for high-level positions, considering that these types of occupations often demand more working hours. This limits their growth opportunities within the company and affects their remuneration. 


Another important factor that further exacerbates the overall gender pay gap is the overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying occupations and their underrepresentation in higher-paid occupations.


South Africa reported the gender pay gap with an intersectional lens, looking at differences in ethnicity and race. In 2020, the racial composition in the mining sector was largely composed of (Black) Africans, constituting 86% of the sector’s employees, followed by Whites (11%), Coloured (3%) and Indians (1%). Wage discrepancies were noted, in favour of White men compared to White women, with the former earning nearly twice as much. The gap was even wider when comparing White women and Black African and Coloured women, where White women earn three to four times the salary of their Black African and Coloured counterparts. The research concluded that Indian men and Black African women received the lowest remuneration.”


Impact of the Gender Pay Gap

According to the United Nations, women are paid less than men, with the gender pay gap estimated at around 20 per cent globally across all regions. It is estimated that it will take 257 years to close the gender pay gap around the world at the current rate of progress. The gender pay gap perpetuates economic inequality, as women earning less than men face barriers to financial security and independence. In the mining industry, limiting women’s access to resources, opportunities, and decision-making power leaves them at a constant disadvantage with no negotiating power. The gender pay gap can lead to feelings of undervaluation and low self-worth, affecting women’s confidence and overall well-being. This leads to many women leaving the mining industry, as demonstrated in this report by McKinsey & Company.


Recommendations for Closing the Gap

Addressing the impact of the gender pay gap requires a comprehensive strategy that includes policy changes, cultural shifts, and proactive efforts to promote pay equity and gender equality in the workplace.


How do we set up female hires for success and fairness in the workplace?

  • Hiring Quota: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise gender equality in all spheres of life as a fundamental human right. To address the imbalance in the mining industry, it is no longer enough to set a 30% quota. The goal of DEI hiring is to create a balanced team and more needs to be done from the start, e.g., hire 70% women to get to a 50/50 split. 
  • Pay Transparency: Increasing transparency around compensation can help identify and address gender pay disparities within organisations. The focus should stop being on salary history but instead offer what key skills are worth in that role. For inclusive organisations looking to attract and retain the most qualified female talent, transparency over salary is critical and applicants should not have to ask for it. Legislation has been enacted in many countries to establish equal pay for equal work and to prevent gender-based pay discrimination.
  • Education and Empowerment: Raising awareness about the gender pay gap and promoting education on gender equality can help drive societal change. The talent pipeline starts by incentivising girls into STEM by showing them all the opportunities available. Part of that should start in tertiary institutions, where women can be taught how to interview well and show off their strengths for the role. Mentoring new hires should be everyone’s role where they receive additional support to know more about the role and get their questions answered.

According to the Women and the Mine of the Future Global Report, some country reports examined the relationship between levels of education and average wages. It was found that despite having higher education attainment, women in large-scale mining still earn less than men. 


An analysis of the report shows that a majority of women working in the large-scale mining industry have higher education than men, as reported for at least eight of the studied countries. For example, “In Brazil, the percentage of women with an advanced-level education is as high as 56%, which is more than three times that of men (18%). In South Africa, the educational gap is lower but still favours women: 20% of women, compared to 13% of men, possess advanced education. In Canada, nearly 50% of women in large-scale mining have some level of post-secondary education. It would be fair to assume that higher education translates into greater representation of women in the mining workforce. However, the report shows that this is not necessarily the case.


Firstly, it is important to note that while women have advanced education such as university degrees, they lag behind men in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) qualifications. The second factor to consider is the fields in which women with advanced degrees graduate. Although women generally have higher educational attainments than men, they lag behind in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Additionally, it seems that higher education, while an advantage, may not be a requirement for men’s career advancement in mining. This means that there must be other factors at play that explain why educational attainment does not always lead more women into the mining workforce. While it is important to encourage women and girls to pursue higher education, it is also important to recognise that gaining relevant experience and skills is essential for them to obtain and advance employment in the mining industry.”


  • No Discrimination in Hiring and Promotion: Implementing structured and unbiased hiring processes can reduce the impact of gender bias on pay decisions. The best person for the job should be hired and paid accordingly, regardless of gender. Companies should clearly communicate the salary scale for the proposed position to encourage women to negotiate their salary. This helps the applicant know what they can reasonably expect and negotiate. When it comes to promotion, the person should receive additional coaching, technical help, mentoring, and whatever else is needed regardless of gender.
  • Work-Life Balance Support: Providing flexible work arrangements and supportive policies can enable individuals to balance work and family responsibilities, reducing the gender pay gap. In addition, paid parental leave policies aim to support work-family balance and reduce the impact of caregiving responsibilities on women’s careers. When properly implemented, they incentivise men to also take paternity leave, thereby lessening the burden of caregiving for women who can then go back to work much faster.
  • Policies and Regulations: Governments should introduce policies to proactively promote annual pay equity reviews and reporting of mining companies to address gendered pay gaps. These policies should be regularly monitored and reviewed. Companies should adopt policies that target unbiased treatment of women with respect to skills development and career development planning. In addition, companies should publish their performance in their sustainability reports with breakdown of age, ethnicity, Indigeneity, educational attainment, occupation, pay gaps (including gender breakdown of new hires, promotions, senior leadership, boards, board committees etc.) and use ILO or appropriate international category standards for comparability. 


In conclusion, the gender pay gap remains a persistent and complex issue that demands our unwavering attention and commitment to rectify. It is not merely a statistic but a reflection of deeply rooted societal biases and systemic inequalities. To bridge this gap, we must adopt a multi-faceted approach that encompasses policy changes, workplace reforms, cultural shifts, and individual awareness.


It’s imperative that businesses and governments work in tandem to enact fair pay policies, provide equal opportunities for advancement, and ensure transparent salary structures. Equally important is the need for ongoing education and advocacy, empowering women to negotiate for their worth and fostering a culture where diversity and inclusion are celebrated.


Closing the gender pay gap is not just a matter of economic justice; it’s about creating a society where every individual, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute to their fullest potential. As we continue to strive for a more equitable future, let us remember that progress is not only possible but necessary for the betterment of all.

Featured image courtesy: IWiM’s Photo Campaign