Gary Cattermole, Director, The Survey Initiative, is an employee engagement specialist, here he ponders why the gender pay gap remains such a gulf.
Just a few weeks ago Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated in her opening speech to the nation that ‘If you’re a woman, you’ll earn less than a man’, well she was definitely spot on, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has just launched its latest findings into the gender wage gap and the results do not make for a comfortable read.
• The hourly wages of female employees are currently about 18% lower than men’s on average, having been 23% lower in 2003 and 28% lower in 1993.
• The gender wage gap has not been falling among graduates or those with A’ levels. Only among the lowest-educated individuals has the gender wage gap continued to shrink over the past two decades.
• The gender wage gap widens significantly from the late 20s and early 30s.
• The arrival of children accounts for the gradual widening of the gender wage gap with age. However there is already a 10% gap before the first child is born. By the time the first child is 12 women’s hourly wages are a third below men’s.
• The gradual nature of the increase in the gender wage gap after the arrival of children suggests that it may be related to the accumulation of labour market experience.
So, why after more than four decades since the Equal Pay Act was introduced are we not treating employees on a level playing field?
Industry has often blamed women for the gender pay gap claiming that they were not so naturally ‘pushy’ or effective at securing a pay increase at their appraisals. But a further study by University of Warwick and Cass Business School has blown this myth into smithereens; they found that there was no difference in the likelihood of asking for a rise between the two sexes, just that males are paid significantly more in the workplace. However, the study also concluded that younger women received raises just as often as younger men – so what happens when women hit 30?
The ‘curse’ of motherhood?
The average age for a woman to give birth for the first time in the UK is 30. I don’t think there’s much doubt about the link between the on-set of motherhood and the decrease of opportunity and reward in the workplace. The government has introduced more free childcare and shared parental leave, this doesn’t seem to be leading to women gaining more opportunity in the workplace, I think we need a cultural shift for new dads to embrace paternity leave without the fear that it could jeopardise their career prospects or what their mates think of them too.
Naturally many women want to work part time following the birth of their child, but this shouldn’t halt progression and opportunities in the workplace. In fact returners to the workplace should be applauded as new parents bring a lot more skills to industry, and it should never be forgotten than diversity is a catalyst for improved decision making and culture in an organisation. Business leaders need to re-think what part time staff can offer to widen the range of opportunities – a ‘part time’ job shouldn’t be synonymous with a job at the local supermarket or a few hours in the office, where career progression is given a back seat.
The way ahead…
I don’t like the term ‘name and shame’ but I do believe that if companies had to publish their gender pay gaps it would help solve the problem as the board would suddenly give the issue its immediate attention. HR teams would have set objectives to meet to reduce their gender pay gaps by significant percentages over a set time period, which would really help women – not just in a pay rise, but in supporting them to realise their full potential, whether that be with extra training opportunities or promotions, job satisfaction etc, all of which are currently passing them by.
Also by making large organisations publish their gender pay gap statistics it gives consumers the chance to create their own opinion on each organisation, and would make a decision on whether we still held them in such regard if their pay gaps were high. As employees they too would know where they stood in the company – it’s very difficult to establish if a colleague on the same level is paid more or less than you, but with increased levels of transparency employees would know whether they were getting a fair deal, and this would help women in negotiating better rates.
We often discuss with our clients what makes people ‘tick’ and what are the main motivators to getting people engaged in the workplace. To many business leaders it’s often a surprise to hear that salary and benefits are not the main drivers for employees to be highly engaged and go the extra mile. However, this only applies as long as staff members are being paid what they should be. It’s not hard to imagine how demoralising it is for a woman to be paid less than a male colleague who is tasked with the same role. For companies that have a large pay gap between the genders they’re sitting on a lot of resentment from females feeling undervalued and unrewarded. Halting opportunity for the part time is incredibly short sighted and is a loss of a massive talent pool. It almost seems crazy that we’re still discussing this issue when equality has supposedly been at the top of business’s agenda for decades.