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TRUDY LUTHULI: Gender pay gap or penalty for motherhood?

How to manage your finances as a working mother

The issues around gender pay go way beyond the right for “equal pay for equal work”.

Illustration: 123RF/LIGHTWISE
Illustration: 123RF/LIGHTWISE

Studies highlighting the pay gap that exists between men and women in South Africa show that on average women earn 25% less than men for the same work. 

And women often work in sectors, such as nursing and office administration, that pay less than those that are dominated by men, such as construction and security.

But the issues around gender pay go way beyond the right for “equal pay for equal work”. 

For centuries mothers have been expected to be the primary caregivers of their children and fathers the providers for those very children. 

Hilary Clinton reminded us in a recent interview that when a man hangs pictures of his children in his office, he is admired for being a caring father who provides for his family and therefore is assumed to be a good leader. A woman hanging the very same pictures of her children is however assumed to be distracted and cannot keep her head in her work. 

The pay gap between men and women is smaller where the women have tertiary qualifications, are not married and have no children. 

The reality is that women with children are expected to take time to attend to their children’s needs – vaccinations, school events or sick days. Fathers typically have uninterrupted careers. 

This is when the gender pay gap discrepancy is at its worst. The solution will take legislation progression to enforce fair practices which will not punish women for wanting to be mothers.

It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.
American actress Amy Poehler

So, while we wait, how can you as a working mother manage this situation in your financial planning? 

  • Manage your own money: Understanding your income is the first step. If you haven’t yet, take time to learn about the deductions on your payslip, know whether they are an expense or a benefit. For example, a deduction for group scheme, medical aid or company car is not an expense, but rather a benefit to your wellbeing. Once you know the different benefits on your payslip, request your benefit statements from HR so that you know exactly what it is that you are paying for.

If you are self-employed, create a formal structure which will allow you to have order and predictability in your earnings. This way, you can plan and meet your monthly obligations (bills).

Secondly, establish whether your contribution to your family financial obligations is fair or not. Whatever the ratio you and your spouse use, understand whether it is fair that you use more of your money on, for example, your children, or if you need to make adjustments in how you share the household bills with your partner.

  • Protect your income: If you do not have income protection in place yet, now is the time to get it. Illness, disability and retrenchment can strike at any time. Your income is your biggest asset and without it, your lifestyle is likely to drop to an undesirable level. South Africans are experiencing difficult financial times, and are not willing or able to take on additional financial dependants.
  • Insure your health: The insurers’ 2018 claims statistics showed a significant shift in claim pay-outs, from death to survival benefits. This means more people are living with an illness or have survived an injury than have died from these events. The cost of living with an illness or disability is very high and varies from person to person. Among the under-40s, twice as many women as men are being diagnosed with cancer. This is not a death sentence as medical advances allow those who can afford treatment to live many years after diagnosis. But without insurance, it can be financially punitive. 
  • Save for emergencies: A cash reserve is imperative to keep yourself sane in the event of an emergency. This is not to buy an outfit for a last-minute vacation, but rather for expenses such as a burst tyre or a water leak.
  • Invest for retirement: Women have a longer life expectancy than men, so your retirement savings must last you longer. Compounding this, women save less than men, not because they don’t take their retirement seriously, but rather because they earn less than men or have a bigger financial obligation to the household. To avoid the risk of running out of money before you pass on start saving early and remain committed to regular contributions, increasing them yearly to keep up with or beat inflation.

In the fight to set your unequal situation right, remember the words of American actress Amy Poehler: “It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.” 

* Luthuli is an independent financial adviser and partner at Luthuli Capital