By Heather Cameron
Last Thursday was labelled ‘Equal Pay Day’ – the last day of the year women effectively stop earning relative to men – just one day later than the previous year.
According to the Fawcett Society, this means women are in effect ‘working for free’ until the end of the year as a result of the gender pay gap.
Given that it is 46 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced ‘to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’, it is dispiriting that considerable inequalities remain between men and women’s pay.
How much of a gap?
The Fawcett Society has calculated the current gender pay gap for full-time workers at 13.9%.
Recent research by Deloitte suggests that the gender pay gap will not close until 2069 unless action is taken to tackle it now. It shows that the hourly pay gap between men and women is closing at a rate of just 2.5 pence per annum, and in some cases is even widening.
The study also notes that men receive considerably higher average pay even in female-dominated occupations, such as teaching and caring.
And new research from New Policy Institute (NPI) found that, although things have been improving with higher employment rates and increases in earnings, the formal employment rate for women is still lower and female weekly earnings are still less than 70% of male weekly earnings.
The research also highlighted that significant barriers continue to prevent women entering the labour market, particularly when it comes to high-paid, secure, quality jobs.
The overall global situation would appear even worse as the most recent Global gender gap report from the World Economic Forum indicates that the gap could take 170 years to close.
In terms of the economic impact, the gender pay gap has been highlighted as a particular issue in relation to the UK’s low productivity problem.
It has been suggested that equalising women’s productivity could add almost £600 billion to the economy, and that 10% could be added to the size of the economy by 2030 if the millions of women who wanted to work could find suitable jobs.
The gender pay gap has been attributed to four main causes by the Fawcett Society:
- Discrimination – often women are still paid less than men for the same job and unfair treatment remains common, especially around maternity
- Unequal caring responsibilities – women continue to play a greater role in caring for family
- A divided labour market – women are more likely to be in low-paid and low-skilled jobs
- Men in the most senior roles – men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles
Deloitte’s research similarly highlights that women are disproportionately more likely to enter low paid industries or sectors.
However, it emphasises that one contributory factor to the gender pay gap occurs before labour market entry, when boys and girls decide what to study at school and in further education. Three times more boys than girls take computing and 50% more boys than girls study design and technology.
This is significant because the gap in starting salaries between men and women who have studied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and who go on to take jobs in these sectors, was found to be far smaller.
Deloitte’s research therefore suggests that increasing the participation of females in STEM subjects and careers could help reduce the gender pay gap.
Nevertheless, it also notes that as there are several causes, no single measure will be enough to eradicate it.
The government’s policy to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for all large companies employing more than 250 employees has been welcomed as a step forward. But there are concerns this is not enough. The NPI research suggests that it could go further, with extension of the duty to companies employing 50 people.
In addition, encouraging take-up of the voluntary living wage and boosting pay in sectors that have been traditionally low paid and have predominantly employed women are suggested as ways to help speed up the reduction of the gender pay gap.
The NPI report calls for ‘a multi-dimensional policy response, sitting underneath a clear gender focused employment strategy’ to reduce gender inequalities and the subsequent pay gap.
If you enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at some of our other posts on equalities issues
- Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights
- Female entrepreneurship – making it happen!
- The world celebrates women today but when will society catch up?
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