Mind the Gap

Progress has been made, but more needs to be done to achieve equality in the workplace

25th February 2019

The gender pay gap (GPG) and pay discrimination are a reality for many all over the world. These are two different problems; pay discrimination occurs when male and female employees doing the same job don’t receive their legal right to equal pay, whereas the GPG is the difference in average pay between male and female employees, which considers a number of different factors. For example, women often earn less because they’re less likely to be promoted to higher positions or run their own business, and more likely to work in areas that pay less, to have part-time jobs and to stay home and be carers, all of which lend themselves to increasing the GPG.

Global Gender Gap

Statistics don’t excite everyone, but there’s no better way to understand the issue. The scale and complexity depends on each country’s political, economic and cultural context, but the parameters are the same. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, issued by the World Economic Forum, the United Kingdom does well in terms of political representation for women but is still not doing enough to close the GPG. The organisation further believes “progress is still too slow for realising the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes. At the current rate of change, and given the widening economic gender gap since last year, it will not be closed for another 170 years”.

Many believe this issue doesn’t affect developed countries, but this is demonstrably false. In Europe, men hold 89% of executive committee jobs at the top 100 companies, meaning they earn a lot more money. Western Europe records a GPG of 25%, and the figures are 28% in North America, 29% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and 29.8% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The East Asia and the Pacific region ranks ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a remaining GPG of 31.7% and 32.4%, respectively, and South Asia, with a gap of 34%.

Young Women’s Trust

Young Women’s Trust (YWT) has made fighting for equality in the workplace its mission. The charity offers support to women between the ages of 16 and 30 who live on low or no income, both in terms of jobs and financial security. The organisation’s belief is that everybody should be able to access jobs, regardless of their starting point, and get paid enough to live. It published a report titled It’s (still) a rich man’s world, which describes the situation young people, particularly women, face when it comes to job stability and their work environment.

It doesn’t paint a very reassuring picture. “This year’s survey once again shows young women remain more likely than young men to be affected by job insecurity, money worries, and debt. Significant numbers have also experienced sexual harassment, discrimination and low confidence at work.” Just 4% of young people are currently debt free, and many believe they will never be free of their debt because they can’t find a job that lets them earn enough to save money, in a vicious cycle.

In the UK, under the National Living Wage, workers legally must be paid at least £7.38 an hour, unless you are under 25 — as if living costs weren’t the same for everyone. So if you’re a woman and under 25-years-old, there are many obstacles in Europe even if you don’t expect them. This doesn’t even take into account people who do not get to access higher education, which makes getting a job and paid enough even harder.

📸 Nick Efford

Responding to the Low Pay Commission report on wages, YWT chief executive Dr. Easton said: “The government should go further than adopting the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations and extend the ‘national living wage’ to all workers. Allowing employers to pay young people lower wages for no other reason than their age, as the government is doing, is out-and-out discrimination.”

Some categories are more at risk than others, but it has emerged from an analysis conducted by YWT of Understanding Society data, that having a degree doesn’t automatically rule you out of the risk of becoming economically inactive (EI). In fact, young women who hold degrees have the same chance of entering the category as young men who have left school with no qualifications. Despite this imbalance, there’s definitely hope that the situation can improve. That’s YWT’s aim at the end of the day.

As part of this, YWT fights to end the “salary question” policy, and has a dedicated campaign called #SayWhatYouPay. When applying for a job, many people are asked to tell the company what their previous earnings were before they make a salary offer. Asking “the salary question” means that women who were underpaid in their previous job are more likely to be underpaid in their next position as well, which makes the fight to close the GPG even tougher. “Giving young people a brighter future also means significantly increasing the apprentice minimum wage, so young people can afford to train and meet our economy’s needs. This would benefit young people, businesses and the economy,” says Dr. Easton.

Women at work?

It’s also a sad truth that getting pregnant and maintaining a job, or trying to build a career, is one of the biggest challenges women face, mainly because of issues with parental leave. Employers have been known to decide that once you have a baby there’s no way you’ll ever recover professionally, and will stop giving you promotions and big projects, sometimes even sack you. Pardon, “offer you a settlement to leave”.

It’s a no-brainer that if you’re making decisions on behalf of others you should at least be reflective of who those people are

Those are the main reasons why the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign was funded. At first, it was a UK-only proposition, but after a while it expanded to the US, Sweden and Spain as well. Their aim is to expose motherhood discrimination in the workplace and try to tackle a systemic issue that goes beyond personal experience. They offer free legal advice for women who have had workplace issues due to pregnancy, and their forum is full of stories written by women who have experienced discrimination simply because they decided to start a family and wanted to keep their job.

Their campaign also focuses on political representation as a way of changing the system from the inside. Laura McWilliams, council representative in Lincoln, East Midlands, shared her story on Pregnant Then Screwed. Laura believes having women and mothers as representatives will contribute to driving the change in the system from within, because they are aware of what the actual issues are and are willing to make a difference.

Laura tells The Overtake: “It’s a no-brainer that if you’re making decisions on behalf of others you should at least be reflective of who those people are. As a councillor, I have supported a colleague who successfully implemented a motion for maternity leave for councillors. This will open up politics and make it much more accessible for those that follow us.”

Gender discrimination in the workplace is part of a wider cultural problem that puts women in certain boxes and expects them to behave in a certain way. Laura says she has gone for jobs she was overqualified for in the past, but ended up not getting them after being asked about her plans for childcare.

“You are held back quite simply because you may be viewed as not being as dedicated to the role,” she says. “My fiance has never once been asked about childcare or how he feels leaving his daughter. Even if as a woman you may have made the decision to not have children, if you are of a certain age you will be seen as a ‘risk’ in case you get pregnant or married. This does not happen to our male counterparts.”

One in fourteen young women (7%) said they have been treated less well in their job, or while looking for work, because they have rejected sexual advances

Knowing this might even make mothers hold themselves back from applying for the higher ranking jobs in the first place. You could be be ruled out for having a child, or you’re afraid the workload will be too much for you to keep up with because there simply isn’t enough time. The idea that being a mother and having a career is science fiction still persists, despite societal expectations on women to have children. In Laura’s words: “People take the simple approach that the GPG is solely down to what someone is paid, when actually it is the culture of the workplace that needs the real focus for change.”

Furthermore, the workplace is often an unsafe environment, but many are not able to speak out about discrimination or harassment for the same reason: fear they will lose the job they fought hard to get. Reporting sexual harassment is often an isolating experience, and many fear being blamed or not believed. Sometimes victims will be asked to keep their mouth shut, or even paid to do so, or their future opportunities are threatened. It is illegal to discriminate against someone for their gender (or age), yet, “One in fourteen young women (7%) said they have been treated less well in their job, or while looking for work, because they have rejected sexual advances.”

We still have a long way to go, there is absolutely no doubt about it. But raising awareness on the issue, just like any other, can be the first step. To mind the gap. No pun intended.

25th February 2019