Ireland and the Gender Pay-Gap:  Education and continuous learning is the key to pay parity

8th August 2023

Posted In: In Your Opinion

In 1994, at 25 years old, I was promoted to my first managerial position in a small-to-medium multinational organisation.

Words: Fiona Levie

Thrilled at my career progression, I launched into my new role with the enthusiasm and energy of a newly minted manager.

I soon discovered to my dismay, that despite my significant experience,

I was earning between 30 and 40 percent less than my male counterparts who had a similar professional background to myself.

As was the norm in the sector, there were no women in senior positions in the organisation.

This was not an unusual scenario in the early years of Celtic Tiger Ireland. In fact, it was the accepted norm. We were only twenty years past the ‘Marriage Bar’ which required women working in the civil service and wider public and semi-state sectors to resign once married. When the “bar” was lifted, only in 1973, men were receiving 73 percent more money than their female counterparts in weekly earnings.

However, more recent developments in female education have contributed to a positive societal shift in the country. Ireland is now one of just 25 countries worldwide with 100 percent parity in educational attainment and in 2021, the Economic and Social Research Institute reported that 57 percent of women aged 25-64 years had completed third-level education in Ireland.

This figure is significantly higher than the EU average of 36 percent and on this metric, Ireland was the best performing Member State.[1]

We were one of the most progressive countries globally when it came to pay parity.

Then why, despite all this progress, are we seeing some regression in Ireland’s gender-pay gap?

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s latest Global Gender Gap Report, released in June of this year, Ireland has slipped from ninth to eleventh place. The WEF benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

The WEF makes a strong economic and business case for pay parity and emphasises the importance of closing the gender gap to ensure inclusive and sustainable long-term national economic growth.

As education brought us to impressive heights with regards to gender pay parity, I also believe it is the answer to closing this elusive gap.

With more and more women graduating from undergraduate and master’s degrees than ever before, the secret is definitely in continuous learning and upskilling.

Take AI for example. The revolution is coming – in technology, education, professional services and financial services. As women in business, we should embrace the opportunities ahead, but there is still a significant employment gap in this area.

For example, only 11 percent of AI publications published in 2022 were exclusively by women and women represent only 18 percent of C-suite leaders in AI companies and top start-ups. Similarly, female professionals with AI skills represent just a small proportion of workers – less than 2 percent in most countries.[2]

The WEF Report acknowledges that by fostering female participation in the AI workforce, there is massive potential to reduce gender disparity, produce optimal solutions in innovation and ensure that women’s perspectives and insights are included to reduce inevitable gender bias in algorithms and technologies.

There is no doubting the transformative impact that upskilling women across all sectors can have, not only on the individual woman but also on her family and the broader community. Women in the workplace should be looking to their employers and encouraging them to work with establishments like UCD Professional Academy and avail of the resources and expertise available for their employees.

From my experience, I have been able to see the transformative powers of upskilling for women in the workplace and how it is one of the key solutions to managing the gender-based disparity in Ireland.

We should also acknowledge and celebrate the role played by business support agencies like Skillnet Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland. But we aren’t there yet, and the WEF notes that “collective, coordinated and bold action by private and public sector leaders will be instrumental in accelerating progress on gender parity and igniting renewed growth and greater resilience”.

I hope to see women across all professions and at all levels engaging in professional development, not only for their own career progression, but to support those who will come after them to ensure we have workplace equality in Ireland.

About the Author:

Fiona Levie is a consultant & lecturer with expertise in change management, project management, knowledge management, leadership, strategy, design-thinking & enterprise innovation.  She has a strong record of accomplishment in building lasting, positive client and key stakeholder relationships in both multi-national organisations and SMEs in Ireland, Italy and Spain.

Her passion is Women in Leadership – the focus of her thesis for her 2nd Masters to be completed in Autumn 2023.  Apart from running her own consultancy, Levie Consulting, Fiona lectures on Change Management at UCD Professional Academy; Project Management at University of Limerick and she is an Education Consultant and Academic Lead at Tangent, Trinity’s Ideas Workspace.

About UCD Professional Academy

UCD Professional Academy was founded to address workforce upskilling through short form lifelong learning: Working professionals were looking for trustworthy career-oriented education, accessible on their terms; employers were seeking cost-effective training with high impact and learner engagement.  The Professional Academy adds to the range of high-quality options available to learners to best suit their upskilling need. You can find out more about the courses run at UCD Professional Academy here>>


[1] Barrett, Michelle, Karina Doorley, Paul Redmond, and Barra Roantree (2022) ‘How Has the Gender Earnings Gap in Ireland Changed in Thirty Years?’ Social Sciences 11, pp 367.

[2] Artificially Inequitable? AI and closing the gender gap – OECD.AI