Do you know about the Droste effect? Find out what it is and how it explains the causes of the pay gap in the chemical sector.

23 November 2021.

Magda Bargalló

What are the main causes of the Wage Gap in companies in the Chemical Sector?

There is a pattern in the behaviour of the gender gap, which is repeated with great frequency in the results of the pay audits we have been carrying out in companies in the chemical sector.
Do you know the Droste effect? The Droste effect speaks of an image that includes within it a smaller version of itself. Well, in order to understand the reasons that generate a gap in companies in the chemical sector, let's first analyse the sector itself.

There is no doubt that the chemical sector is a sector committed to the implementation of real equality policies between men and women in the workplace, as demonstrated by the publication in 2018 of its 19th collective bargaining agreement. This was a pioneer in terms of equality, regulating the following matters:

  • Obligation to draw up an Equality Plan for companies with more than 150 employees.
  • Creation of the figure of Equality Delegate for all companies.
  • In the same vein, the obligation to provide workers' representatives with the gross wage bill broken down by gender and the need to take into account the gender perspective in the prevention of occupational risks were incorporated.

Although it is a sector that is committed to including equality issues in collective bargaining, it is also true that the presence of women in the chemical sector in Spain is very low. The third quarter of 2021 closed with 37,900 women, representing 28.97% of the total workforce in the sector. (Source: INE)

At the same time, we observe that the departments with the greatest presence of women in leadership positions in chemical companies are mainly safety, environment, research and development, laboratories, human resources and administration, although the list among companies is heterogeneous. Meanwhile, men make up the vast majority of production and engineering staff, with percentages ranging from 90% to 100% of the workforce.

Let me now, having revealed the picture of the sector, begin to develop in detail the conclusions drawn for each of the companies analysed:

We start by assessing the total gap at the company level, and this is presented with soft values. In other words, the gaps are far from 25%, but they still appear to be in favour of men.

If we look deeper to see where and why the gap arises, we first analyse the fixed wage items of the collective agreement:

Base salary; Collective agreement bonus; Seniority: in the vast majority of the companies analysed, the gaps in these salary concepts are negative, i.e. the amounts received by women at the overall company level are higher than those received by men.

This pattern of behaviour shows us that the presence of women workers in the vast majority of the companies analysed is located in medium-high positions within the organisation chart.

On the other hand, if we focus the analysis of these same concepts on those jobs that are more masculinised (especially in production jobs), we can see that the behaviour of seniority is completely inverted. That is to say, in jobs with a higher rate of male presence, the behaviour of the seniority gap is in favour of men.

Why? Because the entry of women into production jobs in the sector has been later. If we compare the average number of years of seniority of workers with the average number of years of seniority of women workers in production positions, the difference is very significant.
Despite detecting that seniority is a concept that at the job level generates a gap, this is not the only explanation for the total company gap, so what are the causes that really have an impact on the total company gap?

Undoubtedly, the causes that have an impact on the total company gap are job-related wage supplements: those that compensate for special working conditions and working day circumstances. These allowances are directly linked to production jobs, which, let us remember, are mostly occupied by men.
These concepts are:

Shift work: This is intended to compensate for the special condition of workers who do not always work the same shift, with the disruption that this entails for their family and personal life, as well as for their health.
This supplement is perceived to a greater extent by male workers, since, if there is a voluntary choice of shift work, women will choose it to a lesser extent, normally because of the incompatibility it entails with the reconciliation of family life.
Inequalities may be increased in cases where this allowance is granted to shift workers under certain conditions. For example, shift workers must work full shifts, and part-time workers (who are mainly women) do not receive this supplement.

Nocturnity: Article 36.1 ET considers night workers to be those who work between 22:00 and 6:00 hours. The reason for the night shift allowance is to compensate for the difficulties that night work causes in reconciling family and personal life with working life. However, it is mostly received by male workers, as women are the ones who carry out family care tasks at night.

Dangerousness - Hardship: In terms of the application of these bonuses, we find that they tend to be paid to a greater extent in those jobs that have traditionally been carried out by male workers.

The same phenomenon occurs with bonuses that compensate for availability, salary supplements such as: on-call duty, time off, flexibility, availability bonuses, holidays, etc. These types of concepts compensate for workers' ample availability for work. Once again, the vast majority of women will opt to a lesser extent to receive these bonuses due to the incompatibility that this entails with the reconciliation of family life.

It is logical to conclude that, as a sector committed to equality policies, it needs to encourage the implementation of innovative positive measures to achieve egalitarian workforces. In the meantime, the sector continues to be forced to live with the lack of policies aimed at achieving family co-responsibility.

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