From today until the end of the year, the average Irish woman will effectively be working for free, because the average woman earns 14.4% less than her male counterparts.

Today is Equal Pay Day, which ironically highlights the lack of equality in pay.

European Equal Pay Day is held each year, with the date changing in line with the current Gender Pay Gap figure. 

The Gender Pay Gap (GPG) is defined as the percentage difference between the average gross hourly earnings for women and men.

According to Eurostat, Ireland's GPG has fallen from 17.3% in 2007, to 14.4% in 2017, below the EU average of 14.9%. 

However, employment law partner Mary Brassil of McCann Fitzgerald solicitors stresses that the GPG should not be confused with the concept of equal pay for equal work, adding that a GPG does not necessarily equate to discrimination.

Equal pay campaigners also acknowledge that the calculation delivering this 14.4% figure is a bit of a "blunt tool", as there can be many reasons for disparities in earnings, such as education levels, the number of hours worked, and the kind of work involved.

In some sectors, men tend to be bunched in higher pay grades (eg: aviation, where the majority of better paid pilots at present are men, while more lower paid cabin crew are female). 

More women may be working part-time to accommodate family requirements or a lack of affordable childcare, and this in turn will drive down earnings. Almost 70% of part-time workers are female. 

Remote working for all triggered by Covid-19 had proven to be a "great leveller"

The founder of the WorkEqual Campaign Sonya Lennon acknowledges that Ireland has made some progress on gender equality in recent years, but says much remains to be done, as women persistently earn less than men. 

"The latest Index from the European Institute for Gender Equality gives us a score of 72.2 out of 100. It shows gender inequalities in Ireland are most pronounced in the domain of power, where we score only 55.8 points," she said. 

Ms Lennon also cites figures showing that while a man's career will generally last for 40 years, the average woman's career lasts just 34 years. 

She welcomes the fact that a wide cross-section of Oireachtas members across almost all political groupings support the campaign to drive gender equality legislation and policies. 

The WorkEqual campaign is being sponsored by the training authority SOLAS, and Permanent TSB, and is organising a series of events this month to highlight problems of pay inequality, and to campaign for measures to reduce the gap. 

SOLAS CEO Andrew Brownlee told today's WorkEqual seminar that his organisation has a 50% female board, 50% female leadership team and 59% female workforce, but research revealed it still had a 13% gender pay gap.

Covid-19 resulted in many more people working from home

He noted that the vast majority of those availing of flexible working and reduced hours options were women, though remote working for all triggered by Covid-19 had proven to be a "great leveller". 

He stressed the importance of persuading men to avail of flexible working, so that it is not just the domain of female employees.

The FET [Further Education and Training] sector is committed to developing the skills for a future workplace that is more gender-balanced," said Mr Brownlee.

In 1975, 90% of Icelandic women went on strike to demonstrate the value of their work 

The President of the Icelandic Federation of State and Municipal Employees Sonya Yr Thrbergsdottir said the turning point in Iceland came in 1975 when 90% of Icelandic women went on strike to demonstrate the value of their work.

However, despite Iceland's strong reputation on equality since then, it still has an average GPG of around 25%.

As with Ireland, factors include part-time work, gender segregation in the labour market, family-work life balance, and issues around power and influence.

However, some measures have been particularly successful in addressing gender inequality.

Ms Thorbergsdottir described as "decisive" the decision to split maternity leave between both parents, with fathers not permitted to transfer their three months' leave to the mother.

"Overnight that changed things," she told the seminar. She described it a "Trojan horse into unpaid work in the home", resulting in fathers taking more responsibility.

She also highlighted that there had been universal access to childcare since 1990 from two years of age, but acknowledged that Iceland still has not met its goal of 40% female representation on boards.

Chambers Ireland Head of Policy and Public Affairs Emma Kerins said that several years ago, member firms reported that they had difficulty retaining women in the workplace due to the lack of affordable childcare.

She told the seminar that Chambers Ireland is now driving policies seeking state investment in childcare and flexible working.

The seminar was chaired by Senator Ivana Bacik who has been piloting legislation on GPG reporting initially for firms with more than 250 employees, but gradually extending to smaller businesses.

Contributors voiced concern about the impact of Covid-19 on gender equality, which may affect the GPG in due course.

Permanent TSB CEO Eamonn Crowley

Several speakers noted that while remote working may be facilitating some women (and men) to create work-life balance, they cited research indicating that the burden of additional caring imposed by the pandemic seemed to be falling disproportionately on women.

They warned this could force some to step back from the workplace, and in turn lead to a wider GPG.

Permanent TSB CEO Eamonn Crowley said his organisation was committed to creating a workplace that embedded equality at every level.

"With the increased challenges from Covid-19, there has never been a more important time for businesses across Ireland to focus on addressing the barriers to women's and men's full and equal participation in the workplace, taking direct and proactive steps to make this a reality across society," he said.

But while progress is being made on closing the GPG, there is a cautionary note.

Despite talking through potential legislative, sociological, commercial and organisational steps that could be taken, no speaker today was prepared to hazard a guess on when the GPG might actually evaporate.