Women & Employment – The State Of The Gender Pay Gap In The UK

With general elections in the United Kingdom fast approaching, the various political parties are doing the rounds, trying to convince us all that they are the best choice when it comes to running the nation. Each party will have their own spin on a variety of situations including the state of the economy, levels of employment and pay and conditions. Although there is a coalition government right now, made up of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives will no doubt be keen to highlight the economic success of the United Kingdom under the Tories and will be trying to demonstrate how they intend to continue with Britain’s economic recovery.

Following the recession, compared to other European countries, Britain’s economic recovery has been swift and, according to government figures, the jobs market is buoyant and is forecast to continue improving with more full time, permanent jobs set to become available throughout 2015. Back in December 2014, I wrote about 2015 employment and recruitment strategies and mentioned Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke’s statement that there are now more opportunities out there for those wanting to work full time and, in fact, there are now more full time opportunities than part time jobs out there.

On the surface, this is all great news for both employers and employees. School leavers and graduates looking for full time jobs and careers should, in theory, have a better chance of landing the roles they are looking for and employers, meanwhile, should have more job vacancies as their businesses grow. It’s a case of tweaking recruitment strategies to make sure the best young talent is found and developed in the best ways.

The United Kingdom And The Employment Gender Gap

So, the picture that is painted by the Conservatives is that everything is going swimmingly for the United Kingdom economy and the jobs are out there for the people who want them. But, what about females in employment? For many years, the position and treatment of women in employment has been a hot topic of discussion and, unfortunately, that does not look set to change any time soon; certainly in 2015, at least.

As an employer, how many women do you have working for your company? The nature of your company could well be a factor in the ratio of male to female workers, for example. Are the women who are working for you in full time or part time positions, and what are their roles within your company structure? When considering recruitment strategies and employing the best staff, asking these types of questions coıld prove both revealing and valuable.

Despite the government saying there are now more women in employment, other sources argue that this fact is almost irrelevant because those women are often in part time roles and poorly paid jobs that are not well valued. These same sources also argue that as a nation, Britain needs to act to reverse this trend if the economy is going to truly improve so that Britain can remain competitive in the future.

In fact, some argue that because Britain is not addressing the gender pay gap and the role of women in employment, it is actually slipping behind the rest of the world and the World Economic Forum Report appears to show this with its recent results.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) Report

When it comes to women in employment, the statistics displayed in the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) Report, for example, paint a pretty bleak picture of the situation in Britain. Not only is Britain failing to bridge the gap between male and female pay, the situation is getting worse and the nation has fallen down the rankings rather than climbed.

According to this report in The Guardian about the World Economic Forum rankings, Britain fell to 26th place in the Global Gender Gap Report rankings. 26th position is Britain’s lowest ever position and overall score since 2008 and it means Britain is no longer amongst the top 20 countries in the world. When the World Economic Forum rankings were first launched in 2006, the United Kingdom was in 9th position but it has shown a decline each year and now, in the most recent WEF report, Britain is behind countries such as Nicaragua, the Philippines and Rwanda. Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are in the top four places and this was the case last year, too.

What Is The World Economic Forum (WEF) Report?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) Report is broken down into four categories of:

  • Economy
  • Education
  • Health
  • Politics

Although some critics of the report’s findings say the United Kingdom’s position in the rankings is low because of how child care and other areas are funded, the fact is that the nation still failed to achieve a top 20 position in any of the above categories. Employers, firms and the government can work together to improve the positions of women in the workplace in companies throughout Britain.

For example, Britain only managed a low score in ‘economic participation.’ Economic participation assesses the areas of women in the nation’s workforce; how many women there are in the workforce, are they paid the same wage or a similar wage as their male counterparts who are doing a similar role, and also, how many women there are in senior roles within companies. And this topic is seen by many as a serious problem for Britain because, with so few women in top roles, the nation is not making full use of the talent that is out there to drive the economy.

This recent article in The Guardian about why women are still missing out despite the rise in United Kingdom employment figures highlights the fact that although more women are in work, many of these women are in low paid jobs such as social care and nursing. Also, as they start families, a lot of women choose to return to work but on a part time basis. This means their pay is lower and often, they miss out on the training they might have had the opportunity to receive if they had been working full time.

In the legal profession for example, the majority of the members are women but yet, less than one third of those women are in roles at the top level. Also of the companies in the FTSE 100 index, only five company chief executives are women. In academia also, women outnumber men but they only make up 20% of professorships and fewer make it to the position of head of department.

Possible Reasons For The Gender Pay Gap

More women do jobs that don’t tend to be valued –

As an employer, maybe you are aware of these types of scenarios in your company or maybe your company or business bucks this trend and you have many women in top roles or highly skilled jobs. Whatever the case, there are can be a number of reasons for the gender pay gap. As mentioned above, many women tend to be in low paid jobs – they could be working part time after starting a family, they might be doing temporary work or are working in jobs with zero hour contracts. More women tend to do this type of work. Perhaps the government’s claim that there are now more full time permanent roles available than part time can start to speed up the narrowing of the gender pay gap.

Also, due to maternity leave or career breaks for whatever reason, women who are choosing to continue in their full time careers are finding it harder to reach the top.

A lack of drive and ambition –

The lack of drive and ambition by women to get to these top spots is considered to be one of the problems. Could this be the situation in your company with your graduate recruits or school leavers?

This is about the many women who are not reaching the top because of a lack of encouragement in the workplace and also because of a lack of role models that they can aspire to. If more women were doing these top roles, then there would be more incentive for females in less senior roles to feel that they can take exactly the same route and also work in those top positions themselves. It’s a knock on effect and companies can address this issue by looking at their recruitment strategies and also staff development programmes so that all staff are not only given the opportunity to progress but positively encouraged to progress. In some cases, with regards to staff development, maybe different strategies are required for males and females. That could depend on the nature of your company and the field you work in.

A lack of interest for certain professions –

And the previous point leads nicely onto this point. Some highly skilled careers which are well paid – such as engineering positions, for example – are traditionally seen as a male-orientated domain. Many young women don’t enter university to do degrees and other courses in these types of subjects. Nor do they apply for roles like this in high numbers. Obviously, this is not just a task for employers to tackle alone but employers in these types of fields can look at their recruitment strategies and, if need be, change them to make these jobs more attractive to females so that they are encourage to apply. By women not entering certain professions in high numbers, the British economy is losing out by ignoring the talent of a significant proportion of the population.

Is The Gender Pay Gap Greater When Women Reach Top Positions?

Although the government can point to the fact that the UK has indeed had faster economic development than other countries, Anne Francke, chief executive of the trade body, The Chartered Management Institute, says a United Kingdom economy where women benefit less than men in unsustainable. As well as stating the fact that women tend to work in lower positions during their work life, she says that those women who manage to make it to the top roles within their profession are still earning much less than their male counterparts in similar positions. The gender pay gap in these top roles, she says, is ‘alarmingly large.’

Research has shown that up until the age of 34, the difference between earnings in men and women is not a significant one. However, by the age of 40, the gender pay gap sees women earning 30% less than men and, in management roles, women over 40 years of age are earning 35% less than their male counterparts. Obviously, this is a situation which needs to be addressed.

It’s not all bad news for women in the workplace

The gender pay gap is starting to narrow, slowly, in some industries, but there needs to be a continued concerted effort to make sure this narrowing continues; and continues across all professions. One reason, offered for the narrowing of the gap, by lecturer and researcher in Organisational Psychology at City University, London, Ruth Sealy, is the reporting of figures showing the numbers of women (or lack of) in top posts in the workplace. This continual push for transparency, she says, is leading to the number of women on boards growing and is also seeing an increase in the number of female chief executives.

Saadia Zahidi, the lead author of the World Economic Forum Report says that more women are entering the workplace and the narrowing of the gender gap is a result of women entering the workforce and politics in countries all over the world. In effect, transparency in the reporting of figures and more visible high profile women, encourages others to feel they can likewise. And Nicky Morgan, Minister for Women argues that women are now making huge strides in the workplace and they should never have to choose between family and career. The extension of the right to ask for flexible working from next year, so that both parents can share the leave, she argues, will continue to benefit Britain and help to narrow the gender pay gap.

This increase of women in the workplace can be good for your own company’s school leavers and graduate recruits if they see a higher proportion of women in top jobs; especially roles that are traditionally seen as male orientated. And if more of your female staff feel motivated to apply for more of your top posts, this means you have a better chance of finding the best talent because you will have more applicants to choose from when positions become vacant.

What employers can do to encourage women into top jobs

It’s probably fair to say that some employers will have a more challenging task on their hands than others to encourage more females into their top positions. As mentioned above, there is a certain group of professions – and preceding qualifications that are needed to enter that group of professions – that tend to attract far more males than females. As well as engineering fields, these types of roles include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Natural Resources
  • Tech Intensive Roles

In these types of industries, the problem is not just getting females into top roles within their field of expertise but, first of all, creating a climate where women aspire to be in those top roles and, indeed, feel inclined to enter these types of careers in the first place. The projected image of the profession to young school leavers and graduates and, later, the culture within the workplace is all important. At E4S, we focus on offering advice and employment for students, graduates and school leavers and if employers can project a positive image of women working in what is seen as more traditionally male roles to young people, this can make all the difference.

Whatever type of industry you work in, how does your company utilise its recruitment strategies and staff development programmes to make sure young females feel encouraged to apply for top roles and move through the firm. Are there already policies in place or is it something that could be addressed within your company?

Obviously, encouraging more young women to aspire to work in top roles within your firm is not just down to you as an employer. These days, government initiatives are in place (and others will no doubt be developed) that companies can make use of so that young women are attracted to the types of roles you have on offer.

On top of graduate programmes for those looking for graduate jobs, more and more employers are getting involved with School Leaver Programmes and Apprenticeships and these types of schemes can be a great way to leverage the encouragement of young females into roles where they can have structured career development so that they eventually reach the top of the career ladder. For more information about why employers are benefiting from the implementation of apprenticeships and school leaver programmes within their staff development programmes, take a look at this previous blog post on apprenticeships and school leaver programmes.

Another way to encourage inexperienced young school leavers to take their first steps on the career ladder and get experience of the workplace is to offer traineeships for those who perhaps are not ready to commit to apprenticeships. Employers who offer traineeships could make strides in really encouraging young women into roles they might not have considered in the past. If your company isn’t currently offering this type of short programme and you would like more information about them, you can read more here about what traineeships are and why they can be beneficial for employers.

In 2015, it is unfortunate that Britain is still faced with a gender pay gap but hopefully, the not-too-distant future will see this pay gap erased and young school leavers and graduates will feel encouraged to progress to the top of their respective career ladders, and earn equal salaries while doing so, regardless of gender.

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