On average, female employees currently earn about a third less than male employees.
The gender pay gap has long been recognized, but now we have a new study about mothers and their careers.
Women are disadvantaged and discriminated against when they have children. Through pregnancy, maternity leave, loss of promotion or being denied progression. All very subtle and not explicit. This is important, because it is not just about women; all of society benefits as well as the economy of the country, which is recognised by many in the City.
The Select Committee for Women and Equalities, chaired by former Minister for Women, Maria Miller, published their findings recently into pregnancy-related discrimination. They found that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers has doubled to 54,000 since 2005.
Of the findings, Miller said: “The Government’s approach to improving compliance with pregnancy and maternity discrimination law has been confusing. It has stated that it is important to focus on enforcement and yet its main policy focus is awareness raising and persuasion.”
“There are now record numbers of women in work in the UK. The economy will suffer unless employers modernise their workplace practices to ensure effective support and protection for expectant and new mums.”
The Select Committee’s recommendations suggested that all jobs should be made flexible from the outset unless there is a strong, persistent business case against; fathers and second parents should get three months’ well paid, non-transferable leave to support more equal participation in childcare; the government should set up a “national pathways to work” scheme to get women back into employment after time out; and industrial strategies for low-paid jobs done mainly by women such as care, cleaning and retail to increase productivity and drive up wages.
The government should make all jobs flexible and introduce an industrial strategy for low-paid jobs, typically filled by women, to act on its pledge to close the gender pay gap.
Miller said the debate about equal pay had focused too much on professional, well-paid jobs and not enough on “highly feminised”, low-paid work such as care, retail and cleaning. Women hold 59 per cent of minimum wage jobs and female part-time workers occupy 41 per cent of those jobs – almost twice their share of all jobs. This week, another new study shows that carers are being paid half the minimum wage.
Unless the government pushes employers into action, women will fail to fulfill their potential, denying the economy of skills at a cost of £36bn, according to the report.
It is worth taking a look at just two events in the history of equality for women workers. In 1968, female sewing machinists at Ford Dagenham in London went on strike over equal pay. As the stock of car seat covers ran out, the strike eventually resulted in a halt to all car production.
As a direct result of the Ford strike, the Equal Pay Act of 1970 outlawed discrimination on pay and conditions between men and women. However, it is yet to be fully implemented forty years on.
A more recent, but interesting case was when a court in Birmingham ruled that the council had underpaid female workers. The council was facing a bill of over £1 billion, which resulted, in part, to Birmingham having to sell their holding in the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), to cover the largest amount towards the settlement.
Maria Miller was the Minister for Women under former PM David Cameron, but now the gauntlet has been passed to Justine Greening. As Minister for Education and Women, it is highly possible that with the new education white paper and the reinstatement of grammar schools, she will be kept pretty busy. Women will fall into second place again.
It is sometimes easier to start with equalities for women and then see that all kinds of discrimination need attention.
Interestingly in the City and in the business world, many recognise the importance of having more women, and of supporting families.
Adam Marshall, of the British Chamber of Commerce, has said: “Sustained investment in high-quality, affordable childcare provision would be transformational – for the gender pay gap, for parents’ career prospects, for the success of their company, and for the UK’s overall productivity.”
Continuing he said, “Better childcare is the key to creating a competitive, dynamic and successful workforce that includes all of the talent in this country.”
‘Don’t let women pay a price just for having children’
Meanwhile Adrian Bailey, the Chair of the Business Innovation and Skills Select committee, spoke of his desire for workplace equality. He said, “This report urges the government to reconsider its policy in these areas. Four decades since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, the quest for workplace equality continues. To achieve it, the government needs to match its rhetoric with action.”
And on a final note, I will leave you with a comment from the British Chamber of Commerce:
“Childcare, like healthcare, needs to be viewed not as an expensive luxury, but as a crucial part of Britain’s business and social infrastructure.”