OPINION: The gender pay gap is a scandal of our own making 4 years ago

OPINION: The gender pay gap is a scandal of our own making

This week, yet another gender pay scandal hit the headlines as news broke that Emma Walmsley, the new CEO of pharmaceutical powerhouse GlaxoSmithKline, will be paid 25% less than her male predecessor, Andrew Witty.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word 'scandal' as "a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions." In this sense, the ongoing gender pay gap is no scandal. Can we genuinely claim that female workers being paid less than their male counterparts offends a society when its majority appear to hold no such 'established' moral conceptions?

The gender pay gap has survived centuries, wars, the women's liberation movement, female political leadership, and to purposely misquote Senator Mitch McConnell "nevertheless, has persisted."

In 2008, Europe was plunged into a financial crisis that emerged from the second phase of a financial crisis that began in the United States that same year. Countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and Spain experienced the most negative effects of the economic crisis as unemployment rates reached historical values.

The issue of vulnerability in certain groups in the workforce was frequently highlighted in both the Irish and European media. Young job seekers abandoned the country in droves, replicating the 1980s recession, and another Generation Emigration was born. Unsurprisingly, however, little public or media attention was paid to the real victims of the so-called Eurozone crisis - women. Eurostat data from 2008 to 2012 showed that women faced the most challenges in gaining employment. In fact, throughout the course of the crisis, female unemployment grew from 7.6% to 10.5% compared to the values of 6.7% to 10.4% for men. Statistics that, once again, garnered little attention and failed to offend society's propriety.

Of course, the figures were not particularly shocking to economists who have long been aware that gender participation in the workforce is (statistically speaking) poles apart. The numbers prove that women remain more concentrated in jobs in the public and administrative sectors (and in services in general) while men over-populate private sector jobs, particularly in the manufacturing and construction industries.

According to a leading Italian Economist, Professor Paola Villa, an expert in gender in the workforce, men were the most affected at the beginning of the financial crisis but women were more prone to adverse effects as it continued to unfold. This was due largely to prolific and sustained cuts in the public sector, a segment of the labour market that is largely female.

Despite Europe now being on the road to economic recovery, we note that the patriarchal gender pay gap remains firmly and silently in place. Occasional media 'scandals' rear their heads in the form of Emma Walmsleys and Emma Watsons, but are quickly shut down by a society that continues to legitimise men earning more than women.

Just last week, global business publication Quartz ran a story economically justifying Ms Walmsley's 25% pay cut with the headline "A pharma giant is paying its new female CEO less than her male predecessor - but that’s not a scandal". Perhaps it is not, but society's (and women's) complicit acceptance of gender-based salaries will never be anything other than scandalous.