Supporting women on low or no pay means looking beyond the overall gender pay gap and thinking about joined-up policiesby Ryan Shorthouse / January 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
The gender pay gap, understandably, receives a lot of attention. It is a headline-friendly representation of the challenges women still face in the modern workplace. But while important, its limitations should be acknowledged. To support women on low or no pay, which is the new focus for the Government Equalities Office, it is time for politicians and policymakers to look beyond the gender pay gap.
There is a significant scale of misunderstanding about the gender pay gap: 71 per cent of the British public in a recent poll defined it, incorrectly, as “the difference in pay between men and women doing the same job.” The gender pay gap does not show unequal pay, which was made illegal by the Equal Pay Act in 1970. Rather, it measures the difference between average male and female earnings, both at a national and now company level.
The latest UK data shows the gender pay gap for full-time employment across the whole of the economy is 8.6 per cent, down from 10.1 per cent in 2010. The introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting for larger businesses from April last year exposed employment patterns within individual organisations. Some organisations reported pay gaps of over 70 per cent.
However, the latest data shows there is also a small pay gap to women’s advantage among the smaller portion of the workforce who are part-time. Just bashing bad bosses for the gender pay gap, then, is both ignorant and ideological; certainly, there are some, but there are clearly complex causes of gendered employment patterns, where women are concentrated both in lower-paying sectors and lower-paying roles.
Some of this is the product of choices made by individuals, proving that unequal outcomes are not always the product of injustice in a free society. But, alas, choices are shaped to an extent by both the cultural values and material realties of the society in which we live. In other words, the higher proportion of women who choose to work part-time can only be understood in the context of high childcare costs and continuing cultural norms surrounding the division of labour.
The national calculation of the gender pay gap, then, is a helpful spot-check of the extent to which gender still sadly shapes how…