As part of the ongoing Work and Wages series Emily Ball, Policy and Advocacy Officer from Oxfam, and Mike Booth, Regional Organiser for Unison North West, write about structural causes of the gender pay gap, and what employers can do to close the gap.
The Gender pay gap is the measure of the difference in pay between men and women – in the UK, women workers’ wages are 18% less than those of male workers.
The causes of the gender pay gap are complex and varied. There are certain critical moments within a woman’s life which set in motion and reinforce the gendered pay gap. This can begin in school and university by the types of subjects studied (female students are less likely to study STEM subjects including science, technology, engineering or mathematics), then the type of career chosen (there are less women in highly paid roles such as information and communication industries) and then whether a woman chooses to start a family or takes on other caring responsibilities. In fact, caring responsibilities are mainly carried out by women. This work is often unpaid and not acknowledged (or compensated) as a valid contribution to society. Employers can discriminate against women due to maternity pay costs and the disruption of women having dual priorities rather than focusing on their career full time.
Due to time constraints caused by caring responsibilities, women often need jobs that incorporate flexibility and are part-time. In fact women sometimes go back to jobs that are below their skill level after having children. Women more than men, (both with and without caring responsibilities) tend to be in low paid employment sectors including retail, administration, hospitality and social care all of which operate on models that advocate precarious and low-paid work and insecure working conditions. As a result, women generally do not have the same continuity of employment or career opportunities as men due to having career breaks, not having opportunities for progression and/or having to go part-time. Consequently, women are less likely to be financially secure or to have opportunities for in-work progression or to reach managerial positions.
In addition, women are more likely to face discrimination based on their age.
There are policy measures and other steps that could be taken to reduce or eliminate the gender pay gap. These include improving equal opportunities both at work and in education, job recruitment, training and promotion at work. One example is to encourage women into STEM jobs that mostly male-dominated with high wages.
The Government is making laws to require public authorities and large private companies to publish their pay data to show if and where there is a gender pay gap. This is welcomed, but on its own, it is just a statistical analysis.
There are actions that can be taken by companies, public authorities and Unions in order to tackle the gap, after all there is a cost to the whole economy if employers do not take action. If the pay gap can be closed, this will help increase women’s participation in the region’s labour market, generating increased income to women and families – more spending power in their local communities – in tandem with increased productivity, outputs and profits for employers.
Suggested Actions for Employers:
- Ensure transparency in pay rates for male- and female- dominated jobs and publish gender pay reports;
- Analyse where the pay gaps are;
- Agree workplace action plans for addressing the gender pay gap: to include better paid
part-time work; better paid shared parental leave so that fathers and partners can afford to take time off to look after their children; improved workplace training and promotion plans;
- Review these practises and outcomes at regular intervals, in consultation with workers and their trade unions;
Suggested Actions for Decision-Makers:
The upcoming election is also a timely opportunity for the devolution of powers to the Mayor, to ensure that challenging the gender pay gap is at the heart of the candidate’s agenda. By adopting a leadership role, the Mayor should put pressure on employers to incorporate this example of good working practice into their business procedures.