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Image Source: The Telegraph

Despite the progress women have made since World War II to mark not only their importance, but their capabilities in professional capacities, the way women are treated as managers as well as under-links echoes the idea that the world of work is essentially male territory. Though efforts to break the barriers preventing us from closing the gender pay gap reached a high with Equal Pay Day earlier this month, and recent legislation requiring companies to publicly disclose their gender pay gaps, an article published by the Independent illustrates that we still have a long way to go in shattering this ceiling.

Following legislation which gives employers of over 250 staff 12 months to publish their their gender pay gaps, companies have highlighted differences of up to 36% between the earnings of men and women, with London being the leading city in such disparity. Whilst public disclosure of such figures is argued to increase transparency and accountability of the long-standing issue, critics such as Sophie Walker (Leader of the Women’s Equality Party) and Sam Smethers (Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society) argue the legislation will fail to tackle the greater inequalities of women in the workplace that the gender pay gap is a symptom of.

What exactly are these greater inequalities the pay gap is a symptom of?

The disparity lies in the ‘social cost of negotiation’ where women recognise they will be creating a socially difficult situation in self-advocating for higher pay.  As Nicki Minaj has highlighted, when a female in a position of power puts her foot down, or asks to be paid more, she is referred to as a ‘Bitch’ – a dragon who is difficult to work with; but when men do the same thing, they are respected for their authority. Similarly, recent studies show that male MBA graduates are four times more likely to negotiate their job offers than female MBA graduates. These issues range from economic to social to political, as highlighted by the Fawcett Society, where four interlinked categories contributing to the pay gap, and wider poor treatment of women at work are explained.

First, unequal gendered caring responsibilities, where women are more likely than men to undertake part-time positions to allow for greater time to care for ageing family members or children. These positions are not only paid lower than similar full-time positions, but often lead to discrimination if women return to full-time positions once they are no longer undertaking such responsibility. For example, women who return from maternity leave are more likely to experience poor treatment at work, (such as male colleagues being promoted ahead of them, or male colleagues being paid more for the same role), resulting in earlier resignation than they had intended.

The gender divided nature of the labour market is also a contributor for sectors dominated by women tend to be less valued and less well paid despite their contributions to society: ‘80% of those working in the low paid care and leisure sector are women’. Local authorities employ women in every three of four positions, and women are the group which benefit most from the services these authorities provide – ranging from employment to domestic violence support – meaning cuts to this sector affect women more than any other group. Furthermore, almost as a result of the above categories combined, men are more likely to be appointed to the most senior roles: ‘Out of the FTSE 100 Chief Executives, women make up just five’.

Where do we go from here?

In a post-Brexit Britain, the need for gender pay gaps to be on the policy agenda is more than pressing. Whilst membership of the European Union was vital in securing a regional standard for equal pay; improving the treatment of women on maternity leave and mitigating spaces for sexual harassment, details of how policies will now be shaped now hang with the next government. With an upcoming election in a time of increased marginal seats pushing for a more local focus, there couldn’t be a greater time to demand action from public officials in the following ways:

  1. Whilst the current legislation will provide greater transparency from the bigger employers, the measure needs to be inclusive of smaller ones, too; Walker suggests an extension of the policy from employers of 250+ staff to employers of 50+ staff.
  2. Pressing MPs about joint working with local authorities in their constituencies to combat issues affecting women, including pressuring the government to prevent further cuts to local tiers
  3. Raising awareness of women’s equal value in the workplace by taking part in Equal Pay campaigns, such as that of the Fawcett society’s by using #EqualValue when sharing personal experiences of why closing the gap is important
  4. Emphasising the wider implications of a lack of microcosmic representation of women and girls in leading positions in the workplace (details coming soon in separate blog post)

If we have learned anything of the capabilities of women in the workforce, it is that creating a society where women don’t have to ‘mind the gap’ is not only something we should do, but something that we must do, and in the words of Millar, is something that we can do.

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Image Source: J. Howard Millar



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