How do we address the gender pay gap? A report from the Office for National Statistics last week shows the gap between men and women remains at 19.2%.
Why is there a gap? There are many reasons. Women-dominated industries tend to be lower paid, such as caring work while male-dominated ones, such as law, technology or engineering tend to be better paid. The roles women do in industry tend to be more in areas such as HR and communications, rather than those such as finance. Interestingly, although there has been a rise in women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, some 95% of Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officers – considered the most powerful jobs – in the FTSE 350 are men.
The gap widens significantly once women enter their 30s and 40s and that is linked to the impact on women’s careers of having children. Not only do some take a career break and have to return on a lower rung, but there is still a lack of availability of quality part-time jobs. Maybe women with young children want to take a step back in their career or stay standing still. Often women end up effectively doing full-time jobs for part-time wages to get some flexibility. They may be willing to accept lower pay to have a flexible job nearer home.
The ONS figures show the gender gap between men and women who work full time has decreased to 9.4%, from 9.6% in 2014. However, when part-time workers are included, where women dominate [41% work part time compared with 11% of men], we get the 19.2% figure. The ONS says this latter figure has barely moved in recent years.
What a lot of this boils down to is that women are still seen as the main caregiver and therefore the one who takes the career hit. Meanwhile, men’s pay rises after they become dads because they are still seen as the main breadwinner for the family and often have to work more hours if their partner is being paid less.
Sometimes, of course, the gender pay gap is just down to bog standard sexism – women get paid less even when they do the same work as men. You can say that it is because they don’t ask for more pay in the same way men do, and that may be a factor too, but that feeling of your own value is often something you absorb unconsciously from the environment you work in.
The gender pay gap problem is many layered and so difficult to tackle in any one way so what can we do about it? Despite the complexity, surely it’s impossible to tackle it if we don’t know its full extent. That’s where pay transparency is important. We know there is a problem, but until there is transparency we won’t know the full extent of it. Moreover, if people feel there is some sort of fair system then they are more likely to be motivated to work harder. Many women are becoming disillusioned with a system that sees them face a lot of discrimination, particularly after getting pregnant or having children, and a growing number are voting with their feet and setting up their own businesses.
The other issue is encouraging women’s progression up the career ladder, ensuring they get the skills they need to progress and that they are not siloed if they reduce hours or work differently when their children are young. But for any significant change to occur more needs to be done to encourage men to take their role in childcare because what we have currently is an uneven playing field where women fall behind after having children and find it nigh on impossible to catch up. Men want to be more involved, according to all the research.
They want some life back in the work life equation, but they are stuck in a system which makes it difficult to ask for ask for longer time off when their children are born or to work reduced hours, even for a temporary period. The gender pay gap is a multi-layered problem, but we will make significant progress if men and women face similar challenges with regards to balancing work and family life.