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The Gender Pay Gap Blind Spot

by Brigita Melicherova.


April 2018 is approaching fast and so far just 576 out of an estimated 9,000 UK employers have reported their gender pay gap data.

As you may know, many organisations have reported that women’s hourly rate is lower than men’s. In many of those organisations, gender pay gaps do not exist due to unequal pay for like work, but due to the unequal distribution of women and men across junior and senior roles, with typically more men in senior roles and more women in junior roles.

Reading through many gender pay gap reports and articles regarding gender pay gaps I have noticed that many organisations who have already published their results have decided to commit to certain actions, like reviewing their policies, pay structures and how they recruit and retain talent. Some have come up with programmes to provide support for people coming back to work from maternity/paternity/adoption leaves. Others have even chosen to aim for a specific number of women they want to have in senior roles by a certain date. However, I have seen only a few organisations that would acknowledge one of the main reasons why there are fewer women in senior positions and more in junior:

In the majority of families, women are the main child carers.

Reasons why in most cases women become the main child carers are complex and personal. However, in many companies women and men have different rights when it comes to maternity/paternity leave and pay, with women being eligible for more weeks and pay than men. The disparity of what women and men are eligible for inadvertently forces many couples to follow a stereotypical division of labour with women taking the majority of responsibility for childcare and putting their careers on hold. If men were eligible for the same amount of parental paid leave than women, or at least more than what they are offered now, families would be able to choose who would become the main carer or to equally share caring responsibilities.

It is true that the government tried to create equal rights for women and men and introduced shared parental leave in March 2015. Unfortunately, two years later research shows it has not been successful. The aim was for 8% of new parents to choose it, but in reality, an even smaller proportion of new parents took advantage of the scheme. More specifically 8,700 new parents used the scheme between April 2016 and March 2017, while 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leaves. Reasons for the low take-up are that many fathers are not aware of the scheme and others are not interested. However, for many families the scheme is not a financially viable alternative. Therefore it seems there is a need for other options.

On a more positive note, there are organisations that provide men and women with the same rights. For example, Aviva offers both women and men six months of fully paid parental leave.

Giving women and men similar rights for maternity and paternity leave and pay in combination with other practices (such as offering jobs at all levels on a flexible basis, as flexible working has been identified to be the one of the key factors in enabling female progression at work) could over time lead to lower gender pay gaps.

More importantly, it would create a system where individuals have more equal opportunities and are able to make their own choices.