Women work unpaid for 57 days a year

karenbirchbw-245x3001Last month here at the3rdimagazine columnist Jane Pendry wrote that Law Society of Scotland has published a study showing that male solicitors are being paid up to 42% more than female solicitors in the later stage of their careers. This is in comparison to the UK overall pay gap which is 19.1%.

Since then the Chartered Management Institute published the results of a study which involved a total of 72,000 participants. According to the report, women between the ages of 26 to 35 face a six per cent pay gap, while women over the age of 60 can experience a pay gap of up to 38 per cent. Staggeringly the pay gap for professional roles averages some £8,500 per year and rises to an incredible £15,000 for women in managerial roles. In essence this means that women in managerial positions work unpaid for 57 days a year when their pay is compared to that of their male colleagues!

The Equal Pay Act came into law in 1970. Some 45 years ago. For the avoidance of doubt the Act formally prohibits any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment. Yet the gender pay gap persists.

Why?

The issues are cultural and structural.
Despite women outnumbering men in junior managerial positions, less than one in four are on the boards of companies and fewer women are in executive positions. Focusing on women working in management ignores those many, many women working in low-paid jobs, typically at minimum wage and with poor job security and working conditions, such as cleaning, caring, catering, clerical, and retail. The fact that, as a society, we persistently undervalue these workers’ labour is a major cause of gender pay inequality.

Added to this, women are more likely to work part-time than men, largely due to childcare responsibilities, and part-time work typically pays less well than full-time work. To address this, why not insist that employers advertise all jobs as potential job shares, or as part-time roles, unless there was an absolute and unquestionable requirement for the job to be full time?

Setting aside the clear unfairness of the pay gap, unequal pay supports skewed decision making. Take a situation of a relationship where both parties work and one has to give up a position for some reason, having children, relocation etc, the which one gives up work? The logical choice is that it will be the one earning the least. And since men are paid more than women at all levels within companies, they will also have a more lucrative future career. A double whammy in terms of the current and the ongoing pay gap. True, the government introduced shared paternity leave in April but even by its own assessments it appears that only between 2-8% of men were likely to take it up.

And while the government has introduced this piece of legislation which appears to support women in the workplace, another has reduced the ability of individual women to tackle inequality; that is the introduction of increased fees for employment tribunals. Immediately after tribunal fees were introduced there was a 91% decrease in sex discrimination cases. The problem is not only for the individual women who feel unable to bring a case to tribunal but if unlawful practice goes unchallenged it could spread and become ingrained in workplace behaviours. We could find the workplace slipping back into the 1960’s and 70’s with sexist and discriminatory practices commonplace.

Finally the government has concerns about overall productivity within the economy, yet according to the government’s own figures equalising women’s productivity could add almost £600bn to the economy and if the women who wanted to work, some 2.2 million women, could find suitable jobs, 10% could be added to the size of the economy by 2030.

So, while there are real structural and cultural obstacles to be overcome, the benefits to the UK economy of improving gender equality in the workplace are substantial.

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