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Male and female symbols with coins on a seesaw

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act 1970, the landmark legislation which made equal pay a legal right for all, regardless of gender.

Despite the Act being passed to prevent any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment, and even though things have improved dramatically over the past 50 years, there is still a significant gap in earnings between men and women.

Women, in particular young women and those in lower-paid professions, are some of the hardest hit economically by the Covid-19 crisis. Equal pay is more important now than ever before, so why is there still a gender pay gap, and how do we help close it?

How big is the gap?

According to the 2019 Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) Annual Survey data of Hours and Earnings, the mean pay gap between male and female full-time workers is 13.1%.

Although the gap has narrowed in recent years, gender equality campaigners including the Fawcett Society believe this is not happening fast enough. More to the point, if we keep progressing at this rate, it will take another 60 years to completely eradicate the gender pay gap.

That would be more than 100 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced. I don’t know about you, but we don’t want to be waiting that long!

Where do the issues lie?

There are many complex reasons why the gender pay gap continues. If you have read our previous blogs, we have mentioned why women are not always seen as equal, from childcare responsibilities to cultural perceptions about men and women.  

But when it comes to the gender pay gap, there are a several contributing factors:  

  1. Pay Discrimination. Although this is illegal, 50 years on from the Act, recent high-profile cases show that pay discrimination continues to exist. Related to this is the traditional secrecy around pay that we have in the UK, which enables further inequalityasking a person’s salary is seen as a ‘taboo’ topic for most people. Yet discussing pay with other colleagues, particularly male colleagues, would allow for greater transparency.
  2. The economic undervaluing of work considered ‘women’s work’. Our economy rests on the unpaid domestic labour of women (childcare, household etc.), and yet, this work is not valued by systems of economic measurement. An ONS study put the value of unpaid work done by women in the UK at £1.24tn a year – that’s £19,000 per person. 
  3. Women having more caring responsibilities for children and older relatives. According to the Fawcett Society, this results in women doing more part-time work, which widens the gender pay gap further.
  4. Men continuing to hold the best-paid and most senior jobs.This is a result of companies failing to promote women.
  5. A lack of women entering well-paid careers such as science and engineeringThe Fawcett Society cites this as one of the main factors contributing to the gender pay gap.
  6. Women have systematically lower expectations in payIn her book, ‘Women Don’t Ask,’ Linda Babcock revealed 57% of men will negotiate pay compared to just 7% of women. She argues this is because ‘self-promotion that works for men often backfires on women.’
  7. There is still widespread complacency in reducing the gapDespite the UK Gender Pay Gap reform, which ultimately was presented as the solution to the pay gap, there has not actually been much progress. There is evidence (from ‘Close the Gap’) that many employers have never carried out an equal pay review. Employers do not seem committed to taking action with only 5% of companies actually setting targets to reduce their pay gap. While forcing large companies to reveal their pay gap data was a good first step, the fact that no company is penalised for their unequal pay, results in no progress. Similarly, with gender pay gap reporting suspended this year due to Coronavirus, this takes diversity and inclusion out of the agenda for the time being.

Where do we go from here? Attracting more women into STEM roles

We know that getting more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) roles is one of the ways to close the gender pay gap. But what can we do to help attract more women into STEM related industries, including transport?

  1. Research gender issues: This will help employers better understand their own gender issues and inform the development of diversity and inclusion strategy.
  2. Profile women doing all jobs at all levels in the company: This will provide young people with visible role models and inspire them to consider careers in the sector.
  3. Create ‘toolkits’ and case studies to provide best practice advice to help your senior leaders and colleagues build and develop inclusive teams.
  4. Actively encourage flexible and agile working for all staff. This should be led from the top. Senior leaders, especially male senior leaders, should be seen to work flexibly.
  5. Establish women’s staff networking groups to help women in male-dominated sectors make connections.

As there are many factors contributing to the gender pay gap, further policy change is still needed. But, by taking these steps, employers can inspire more women to join STEM related industries including transport, as well as supporting and developing those women already in transport careers.

Let’s all take action now, otherwise we will still be waiting when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.