Regardless of changes in legislation, research into expectations and attitudes shows there is still a sizeable gap between the salaries earned by men and women. This does not appear to be the result of women taking time out to have children, as is commonly assumed, but more to do with females being less likely to secure promotion and the resultant pay rises.
It is nearly 50 years since equal pay legislation officially outlawed gender-related pay rates in employment and six since this was reviewed and confirmed by the Equality Act 2010, yet current research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows men still earn 18% more per hour on average than women.
While this figure may be an improvement on the 28% difference recorded in 1993 and the 23% in 2003, it is still a long way from being equal. Understanding and addressing this difference is a priority for newly-elected prime minister Theresa May, but what exactly is she facing and is this a situation that can be turned around?
The influence of biology
Most evidence suggests that biology is to blame for the difference between pay rates based on gender, with women who have children being more likely to miss out on both pay rises and opportunities for promotion.
Research carried out on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals that women’s earning start to decline after their first baby is born. When this levels out after 12 years, they bring in around two-thirds of the income a man in a comparable situation would receive.
Part-time does not mean part-skilled
The Foundation’s research suggests that it is dropping to part-time work that triggers lower pay rates for women. While the amount earned is fixed for both genders, mothers in hourly-paid work tend to miss out on the pay rises enjoyed by their full-time colleagues.
According to the Fawcett Society campaign group’s chief executive, Sam Smethers, this situation could be overcome if skilled and experienced part-time workers had the same career path opportunities as full-time employees.
The glass ceiling?
Not all women choose to work part time, of course, but the gendered pay chasm exists at all levels and executives/professionals are not exempt. XpertHR, a leading pay analysis company, claims there is a 23% pay difference between male and female managers in full-time work.
This may be partly explained by the glass ceiling, with statistics compiled by the Chartered Management Institute revealing that women comprise three-quarters of all junior management roles but drop to under half at senior management/director level.
Name and shame?
Despite the government’s plans to force companies to reveal any differences between earnings for men and women – presumably to encourage freedom of choice – and to provide fully-subsidised childcare places and paternity leave, it remains to be seen how much of an impact such efforts have.
At the very least, they reflect a willingness to address what is still a major issue: the earning opportunities of women, and in particular of working mothers, are curtailed by both circumstances and societal/employer attitudes to what constitutes value in the world of employment.
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