David Cameron has announced a “really big move”. As of early next year, every company with more than 250 employees will have to publicly state the difference in the amount they pay male and female employees. In a statement demonstrating a level of ambition best described as lacklustre, Nicky Morgan – the minister for women and equalities – claims this transparency will end the gender pay gap within “a generation”. Great news for all of us who will be collecting our (gender biased) pension before that happens.
Section 78 of the Equal Pay Act, calling for public transparency around employee earnings, actually became mandatory pre-election, triggering a considerable backlash from businesses and some sections of the Tory party. However, if Cameron really believes that enforcing it is enough to guarantee equality for women in the workplace, he’s either badly advised or completely deluded.
We’re currently celebrating the fact that 25% of FTSE100 boards are now made up of women. What this figure completely ignores is that those 25% are nearly all non-executive directors, people brought onto the board to advise and direct but with little involvement in the day to day running of the company. The number of women at executive board level, the level at which decisions are actually made,has remained almost static during this time. So while we should definitely celebrate the number of women in NED roles, we’re not even at the beginning of the end yet.
If Cameron and his government really want to ensure gender equality in the workplace then there are a few things they can do, as well as ensure pay transparency:
- Stop talking about ending this “within a generation”. I am all for a deadline but losing yet another generation of talented women from the workplace because we’re too scared of making life difficult for a few businesses is madness. Recent research from EY showed that even if we did nothing the gender pay gap would probably resolve itself within 80 years. When that research was published it was generally agreed that this was far too long. If it’s not an acceptable timeframe for business, then it absolutely shouldn’t be an acceptable timeframe for the government.
- Bring in quotas for women on boards. I know, I know, we all hate the word quotas. But let’s face it, we’ve been happily talking about targets for the last three years and a target is little more than rebranded quota without the teeth. Instead of fearing quotas we should be embracing them. By publically declaring that 40% of senior management would be female by 2020, Lloyds has essentially given itself a quota and it’s now working its socks off to fulfill that. If it doesn’t hit it, it won’t be penalised by the government but it will be publically embarrassed. If we want increased numbers of women on boards beyond the FTSE100 then we need to get tougher about increasing representation of women at all levels, and we need enforcement behind this.
- Stop hiding behind non-executive directors and start addressing the issues that stop women making it to executive level. Most companies would like to blame this on babies, but the reality is that women who have children return to work. The issue is that when they return, they find themselves sidelined, kept out of the interesting projects and not given the opportunities they had before children. So they decide the trade off isn’t worth it and leave. If we want parents, not just mothers, to stay in the workplace then we need to stop believing that children and work don’t mix and instead help everyone achieve a more harmonious blend.
- On that note, let’s look at shared parental leave. Nice idea, but it doesn’t go far enough. When Sweden introduced something similar they found they had to offer a “use it or lose it” extra month specifically for men. In short, they had to bribe them. Men might want to take more paternity leave but it’s just not embedded in our culture. Having seen what happens to women in the workplace when they take time off for childcare, men are naturally reticent about the same happening to them. So it’s offered but they don’t take it. We need to make paternity leave not just a right but an expectation. We might have to bribe men to begin with, but if that normalises paternity leave, it will be worth it.
- And finally, childcare. The extension of free childcare to 30 hours a week is good news but it doesn’t kick in soon enough. Once you’ve been out of the workplace for three years, trying to convince an employer that you’re worth taking a shot on becomes an uphill task. Women find themselves having to take more junior positions or even restart their career. Either we need to find ways to convince employers that a career break doesn’t make you unemployable, or we need to offer free childcare earlier. Better still, let’s do both. Then maybe we’d improve the workplace for women within this generation, rather than the next.
Blogged by Carol Ann Whitehead