7 min read | 18 August, 2021 By Laura Sands
Despite the equal pay act of 1970, it’s clear that most workplaces are a long way from achieving true gender equality. Shockingly, research from Samsung shows that under a fifth of workers believed their workplaces were gender equal. The same research also found that 42% of women felt barred from opportunities compared to 35% of men.
Even without opinion surveys, we know the facts. Women are paid less, promoted less often and tend to work in different sectors to men. In addition to unequal opportunities, women are more likely to be subject to discrimination and sexual harassment at work and are taken less seriously.
The causes of gender inequality are numerous and interrelated. Many are related to our society while other factors may be related to individual organisations. Some of the biggest causes of gender inequality are:
The gender pay gap is the difference between the average earnings for men and women. In contrast, unequal pay would be a difference in earnings between men and women for exactly the same job.
The 2020 gender pay gap stands at 15.5%, down from 17.4% in 2019. That means for every £100 a man earns, a woman earns £84.50. Or to put it another way, in a 40 hour working week, women pretty much work for free on Fridays. It’s not pretty, whichever way you look at it. The question however is; if unequal pay is illegal, how does the gender pay gap exist?
Much of the reason comes down to the structure and norms within organisations. Perhaps women are routinely overlooked for promotion or most of the lower paid roles are given to women while men occupy higher paid roles. In this case it would stand to reason that there will be a difference in the average pay between men and women.
Other factors contributing towards a gender pay gap include:
It’s easy to assume that gender inequality is only a societal problem and not one which damages the workplace. After all, if talented individuals are filling vacant roles, does it really matter what the gender balance is?
The answer is a resounding yes, it does matter.
Repeated studies by McKinsey have found that companies with a balanced split between genders are more likely to outperform less balanced companies. Incidentally, this is also the case for workplaces with a strong ethnic and cultural diversity.
Organisations that allow gender inequality build a self-perpetuating situation where talented women leave for greater opportunities in other businesses. These businesses limit themselves to just 50% of the available talent in the employee market. What’s more, limited diversity can cause groupthink, a situation where consensus becomes more important than a full evaluation of the consequences. This can stifle creativity and individuality and result in poorer business results over time.
The press is full of examples of companies and industries that have fallen foul of gender inequality.
Asda fell foul of the equal pay act when store staff claimed they were entitled to pay that was equal to their colleagues at Asda’s distribution centres. The store workers argued that they were historically paid less than distribution workers because of their gender division. Most store workers are female, most distribution workers are male. Distribution workers received between £1.50 and £3.00 more per hour than their store-based counterparts. The supreme court agreed with the store staff’s claim and Asda lost a subsequent appeal against the judgement.
EasyJet has one of the worst gender pay gaps at 45.5% - a result of the fact that 94% of their pilots (accounting for a quarter of the workforce) are male. However, rather than argue the case, EasyJet took action and launched an initiative to target increasing the number of female cadet pilots. With this in place, they’ve taken the proportion of women among their new pilots to 13%.
The BBC has come under fire for unequal pay since it was forced to publish details of employees earning over £150,000. Women were revealed to have made up only a third of the top earners. Since then, several high-profile women have come forward and either quit (as in the case of Carrie Grace, the former China editor) or gone to an employment tribunal (as with TV presenter Samira Ahmed).
There are many ways in which employers can address a gender imbalance in their workplace. Here are a few places to start.
A safer, fairer workplace
Opportunity for all
Gender equality at work doesn’t need to be an impossible dream, but it will take work. A strong company culture is one way to start to address gender inequality. You can find out more about the Breathe Culture Pledge here.
18 August, 2021 by Laura Sands