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Women deserve better on the gender pay gap

3 min read

For the sake of our economy and society, ministers must prioritise further action to tackle the gender pay gap, writes Baroness Gale

On Wednesday, I will be asking the Government what steps it is taking to require employers to publish action plans on gender pay gaps; including any long-term strategy for monitoring and closing such gaps, publishing the related results, and any necessary enforcement.

In early April, all UK firms and public bodies of over 250 employees were obliged to report their gender pay gap figures. From the data, it is clear that widespread inequality persists in every industry. Almost eight out of ten companies continue to pay men more than women and there has been negligible progress on the previous year. The average gap narrowed a 0.1 percentage point to 9.6%.

The figures also shed light to reveal structural inequalities in the workforce. Slow progress is reflected in the proportion of women getting top paid jobs in UK business. In 2017, women made up 37 per cent of the top quartile of earners, edging up to 38 per cent in 2018.

I am very pleased that Labour party policy not only requires companies to report gender pay gap figures but to also demonstrate through action plans how they will close those gaps. A model similar to that brought in by the government of Iceland, where employers are fined £355 a day if they do not submit their data or adequate plans to close the gap.

Iceland consistently ranks as the number one country for gender equality, with only those organisations able to demonstrate how they are closing the pay gap allowed access to lucrative government contracts.

In the UK, the next Labour government would encourage companies to take steps to address the initial contributing factors to pay gaps. This would include tackling unequal pay and discrimination, improving access to flexible working, increasing the take up of shared parental leave, and ensuring employees have greater work-life balances. We would also better protect the careers of women who take maternity leave.

One of the key drivers of the gender pay gap is that there are fewer women employed in senior and higher paid jobs. So, much more needs to be done by companies to encourage and promote women to top positions and ensure they are paid similar salaries to men. That on its own would certainly go some way to closing the gap.

According to The World Economic Forum’s global gender gap report of December 2018, the pay gap globally is now 51 per cent. At the current slow pace of progress, the Forum predicts it would take 202 years before women can earn the same as men and have equal job opportunities.

Last month, The Financial Times ran a headline Gender Pay Gap: women still short-changed in the UK. Naming and shaming employers has not made men’s and women’s pay packets more equal’. The story cited Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute: “It’s a huge problem”, she said, before highlighting the need for changes in corporate culture – including measures to promote flexible working, fairer hiring and promotions.

I hope the UK government will prioritise further action as women deserve better – not just as individuals, but for the sake of our economy and society.

Baroness Anita Gale is a Labour peer and Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords. Her oral question to the Lords takes place on Wednesday 8th May. 

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