Women still paying a high price for motherhood

Ridiculous as it seems thirty-eight years after the Equal Pay Act was first introduced, women in employment are still earning considerably less than their male counterparts. According to a report (“Closing the Gender Pay Gap”) published this week by the TUC, adult females in every age group are earning less than men of the same age. While female school-leavers going into full-time jobs earn 9.7% more than their male contemporaries, this positive difference is swiftly over-turned. By the time these same young women are in their twenties, their salary will be on average 3.3% lower than men in full-time employment, the gap rising to 11.2% in their thirties and a shocking 22.8% in their forties.

According to the TUC, this undervaluing of women in the workplace can in part be attributed to a “motherhood penalty”. With UK workers expected to work longer and longer hours (see our last blog) to meet the demands of their bosses and their task lists, many women are simply not seeking promotions into senior, better-paid positions for which they are qualified. To compound the problem, so-called soft skills that are traditionally seen as female, are rarely taken into consideration when it comes to pay and grading scales.

For those women who try to balance work and family by moving into part-time roles, the inequality is even greater with part-time female workers in their 20s earning an hourly rate 23.4% lower than their male contemporaries. For those in their 40s, the gaps is 41.2%.

As TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber puts it, “We all expect our wages to increase as our careers progress. But women’s wages start to stagnate as early as their 30s and many are paying an unacceptable penalty simply for having children. Despite girls outperforming boys at school and at university, too many employers are still failing to make use of women’s skills. This waste of talent isn’t just hurting their take home pay, it’s harming the UK economy too.”

Kat Banyard, Campaigns officer at the Fawcett Society, is more blunt, “The gender pay gap is a national scandal. At every level in UK workplaces women are being paid less than men. The paucity of senior flexible roles and long working hours culture shuts women out of the boardroom and forces then into lower paid, lower status jobs when they have children.”

But, while government is dragging its heels over the introduction of measures to tackle the problem, such as the requirement of private sector companies to undertake equal pay audits, it seems that many women are taking the issue into their own hands. More than 1 million women are now running their own businesses, an increase of 17% since 2000.

As Jo Causon, Director of Marketing and Corporate Affairs for the Chartered Management Institute says, “The TUC is absolutely right that under-utilisation of women’s skills is an anomaly. However, female resignations cannot necessarily be blamed on the “intensity of senior positions”. Evidence suggests women are withdrawing from corporate life to set up their own organisations because of the greater degree of flexibility and control this offers, something that corporates need to reflect upon.

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