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War on the Gender Wage Gap

Transparency Approved but is Discrimination a Factor?

A positive step in the bid to eradicate the gender wage gap in the UK occurred just before Christmas. On the 16th December Labour’s Sarah Champion MP introduced a 10 minute Rule Bill to implement section 78 of the Equality Act (2010). Section 78 was designed to ensure pay transparency from large employers (>250 staff) by making it a requirement for them to publish their own gender pay gap yearly in their annual report but this was dropped by the Collation on entering Government.

The bill was passed with 258 to 8 MPs voting for implementation. It had a great deal of support from various companies including PricewaterhouseCoopers (1 of just 5 companies who are known to voluntarily publish their gender pay gap) and women’s magazine Grazia. Grazia worked closely with Unite to organise a rally in Parliament during the Rule Bill to support the vote. Attendees included Gloria De Piero (MP for Ashfield and GMTV’s Political Editor) the women from the original Ford Dagenham strike and cast members of the musical ‘Made in Dagenham’ including Gemma Arterton of James Bond ‘Quantum of Solace’ fame. Grazia had also been encouraging its readers to contact their local MP to support the bill leading up to the vote.

With women still earning an average of 81p for every pound earned by men, transparency will obviously highlight the scale of the problem and may even expose some organisations where an ‘old boys’ club’ mentally still exists, but generally speaking do we still believe there is discrimination in the workplace based on gender or are other factors at play?

If discrimination plays a role at all surely this is generational and is on its way to extinction. Any leaders currently within companies who believe that women can’t justify the same salary as men are not going to be in the workplace for very much longer. The fact that the Gender Wage Gap is less than 6% for under 34 year olds and then jumps to 18.5% for 35 to 44 year olds and 25% for over 45 year olds (Eurostats from 2012) suggests that there are other factors that need to be addressed, but what are they?

Career breaks: A break in career to raise a family is certainly the biggest factor in why the gender pay gap occurs and why women have less presence within senior positions. In order for this to change better legislation needs to be brought in around parental leave and flexible working to allow both parents to take on joint responsibility for raising a family. And although mind-sets have changed, social attitudes to flexible working and stay at home fathers need to improve further to allow families to manage the home and work life of both parents to the best of their abilities.

Government attitude: As the UK Pay Gender Gap is still higher than in most other EU countries the British Government must do more to encourage flexible working and joint parental leave as above and do so by looking to our European counterparts for inspiration such as Italy, Malta and Slovenia where the Gender Wage Gap is less than 10%.

Nature: It has often been sighted that a factor of the gender wage gap is that women are generally more modest and are less likely to blow their own trumpet. Whether you believe this or not this could be resolved by more measured, target driven approaches to salary increases within businesses. Also the private sector can learn from the public sector where the gender wage gap is less of an issue due to collective pay agreements and other arrangements being in place.

Skilled workers: Women must be encouraged and trained to enter skilled well paid sectors which are historically male dominated such as Engineering where only 6% of the workforce is currently female.

So although the passing of the Section 78 bill is a positive step in the right direction, discrimination isn’t necessarily the only thing we should be focussing on to make the closure of the gender wage gap a reality. The second reading for the bill is on 27th February.

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