Shock Report: Close The Gap Scotland
After 40 years of equal pay legislation, how big is the wage gap between men and women? What are the other barriers Scottish women face in the workplace? Ida Maspero talks to an expert, and working women themselves, about the many faces of gender discrimi
It seems things have never looked brighter for Scottish women at work. With the top jobs in Scottish politics – and the hot seat in Westminster – occupied by the female of the species, it would appear the glass ceiling has finally been shattered. But for ordinary women, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. In so many aspects of working life – remuneration, promotion prospects, work-life balance and attitudes of male bosses and co-workers – there’s firm evidence that many of us face gender barriers and discrimination of one kind or another, often very subtle. Even on the straightforward matter of pay, there is still a huge divide, says Glasgowbased workplace equality initiative Close the Gap. Though the UK’S Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975 (superseded by the Equality Act 2010), there is a 14.8 per cent gap between men’s and women’s combined hourly rates in Scotland, and a 33.5 per cent gap when you compare women’s part-time hourly rate to men’s full-time hourly rate.
Working mums’ choices
Why is it still the case when the legislation is so well established? “One of the major reasons is that women and men remain clustered into different kinds of jobs,” explains Lindsey Millen, Development Officer at Close the Gap. “Men are employed across a whole spectrum of jobs, while women tend to be concentrated in less well-paid occupations with a lower skill level. “This is where most of the part-time or flexible jobs are for women who are having to balance caring for young children or elderly parents,” continues Lindsey. “There’s a real shortage of quality flexible or part-time jobs in the UK, with less than six per cent of jobs paying over £19,500 a year available in this way. “You regularly hear it said that women choose to work part-time after they’ve had children, but quite often it’s because they don’t have affordable childcare. So it’s not a true choice at all, but one made out of necessity. Here the Government can do more to ensure sufficient childcare provision – enough free local authority spaces and more affordable wrap-around childcare.”
When it comes to the arrival of a new baby, anecdotes abound of women being sidelined or overlooked for promotion once pregnant or on maternity leave. Alarmingly, a Uk-wide survey last year by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that three in four mothers (77 per cent) said they’d had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave or on returning from leave. The perception persists that women going off to have babies is a burden to a business. “We still hear employers say that appointing
women of child-bearing age is a risk,” says Lindsey. “That’s extremely short-sighted. The value of having children is largely invisible, but very important to the future of the economy.” New rules on shared parental leave, which came into force last April, promised to give working couples more options, yet recent figures show that less than one per cent of fathers are taking it up, says Lindsey, who believes employers should be more proactive in encouraging men to use it. “We know that businesses with enhanced parental leave policies benefit from better staff retention and morale. So it’s a win-win.” Yet even career-minded women might find they don’t have a choice at all, but are boxed in by stereotypical notions of motherhood – take Anna’s* story, below. She was side-lined and demoted during her pregnancy and told to take a long maternity leave, even though she didn’t want to.
Trouble at the top
For women who’ve achieved success in male-dominated industries or professions, the glass ceiling is still very evident. This is the experience of Sadie*, a senior consultant at a large Scottish property company, where there is not a single woman at boardroom level. “It means that, for a woman like myself in middle management, there’s no voice representing our voice at the boardroom table,” she says. “Whenever I’ve raised this with senior management, it’s laughed off as a non-issue. I’ve seen email threads with gender balance written in inverted commas, as though it’s not a real concept to be taken seriously. Now I and other female colleagues are reluctant to speak up for fear of being viewed as the ‘nagging wife’.” With such a male-centric culture, the company has no evolved maternity policy or flexible working policy, says Sadie, and this has a negative impact on the business. “A conservative dinosaur of a company will not attract bright women or retain them – they’re missing out on a huge pool of talent.” Many employers have a cultural presumption against flexible working at senior level, confirms Lindsey Millen. “They place greater value on time at the desk than productivity, yet research shows that people who work part-time or flexibly are more productive per hour than those who have standard working hours.”
It’s about attitude
Many of us have tales to tell about casually sexist attitudes in the workplace. This subtle and pervasive form of inequality remains a big issue, continues Lindsey Millen of Close The Gap. “It might not be obviously linked to the pay gap, but sexist attitudes and behaviour contribute to an environment in which it is easier to pay women less. “It’s important that employers understand that such attitudes among their male employees are not OK, that’s it’s not OK to treat women differently. Employers have a duty to challenge this behaviour.” The business case for tackling women’s inequality in the labour market is clear, says Lindsey. “Our research paper Gender Equality Pays showed that tackling it can add £17 billion a year to the Scottish economy. There are economic gains for society and businesses – they become more productive and can attract and keep the best talent, rather than overlooking half the candidates.” At the end of the day, true equality in the workplace comes down to having real choice and opportunity. As long as many women face a choice when it comes to balancing work and family, the gap is unlikely to close.
On mat leave and made redundant I earn £20k - half goes on childcare I was demoted after becoming a mum
I’m paid less malethan peers My male boss makes uninvited comments was told to ‘dress like a woman’ Employers reject me because of my age Denied flexible working after childbirth I was passed up for promotion