Last year, businesses of all shapes and sizes across the UK filed their pay comparison data.
The results were shocking - it was revealed that women’s median hour rate was 9.7% less than their male colleagues.
Twelve months on and the numbers are in again. Has the gender wage gap improved? Let’s take a look.
A Long Way to Go
We’d love to tell you that significant progress has been made in terms of equal pay over the past year. Unfortunately, the figures for 2019 paint a different story. According to the BBC, the median pay gap in favour of men has lowered by a measly 0.1% (9.7% last year to 9.6% this year).
Also, across 45% of firms, the discrepancy in pay has increased in favour of men while 7% of firms saw no difference.
Overall, 78% of companies had a pay gap in favour of men, 14% favoured women and the rest reported no difference.
It’s clear that a lot of companies need to take decisive action to ignite substantial change. However, not all businesses are sitting on their hands. To really assess if we’ve progressed over the past year, we need to take other factors into account.
Are The Numbers Skewed?
In our last article on the gender wage gap, we revealed how Ryanair was one of the worst offenders in 2018 with a 71.8% pay gap. However, it was also found that just eight of Ryanair’s 554 highly-paid pilots were women.
The airliner explained how: “Our gender pay in the UK is materially affected by the relatively low numbers of female pilots in the aviation industry.” In other words, the gap was always going to be huge.
This taught us that businesses need to look deeper into the reasons WHY the numbers are so shocking. Only then can real solutions be found to fix the problem. As MP Rachel Reeves puts it:
“Too few businesses simply file the stats and then carry on as usual, failing to examine why they aren’t attracting female talent, why these pay gaps exist in their firms, and what they need to do to change it.”
Has the Number of Highly-Paid Female Employees Increased?
At the beginning of 2019, the BBC reported that 5% of airline pilots are women. This has increased from 4.77% ... which is something, at least.
In other industries typically dominated by men, the numbers are a bit more impressive.
The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) found that in 2017 just 15% of the people working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles across the UK are female.
This has now risen to 22% - around 900,000 women in the UK have core STEM occupations and an estimated 200,000 women with STEM qualifications will
reach working age within the next 2 years.
Companies like Costain, Network Rail, EDF Energy, and BAM Nuttall are leading the way for positive change in this regard: they have been actively promoting STEM to girls and women to boost the numbers. Thanks to their efforts and other initiatives, the UK is now on target to reach 1 million women in STEM by 2020, says Wise. We call that a result!
More Generous Maternity and Paternity Leave
Another reason why there are more men in highly-paid roles than women is the fact that many new mothers leave their jobs after maternity leave. They don't have access to sufficient childcare or flexible working opportunities and consequently don't climb the ladder.
The amount of paternity leave a new father gets is also a contributing factor. The less time he has to support his family, the more responsibility the mother takes on (making it difficult for new mothers to return to work).
If more businesses improved their maternity and paternity leave packages, we can encourage women to build their careers to level the playing field. We talked about this last year - has the situation improved?
As slow as positive change may be, things are looking up for new parents. For example, earlier in the year a consultation was launched by the government proposing that: “legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave should be extended to six months after they return to work.”
If this is put into effect, “employers will have to continue to put women who have returned from maternity leave ahead of all others when it comes to offering a suitable alternative role in a redundancy situation,” according to Business Advice.
Also, many more organisations are leading by example. Marks and Spencers, Atkins, Unilever, Sainsbury’s and First Direct are but a few of the companies that are actively improving their working conditions for new parents. By following in their footsteps, we can help women manage the demands of parenthood without sacrificing their careers.
If you’re a small business and need further guidance on maternity and paternity leave, check out this guide.
Moving in the Right Direction
Despite the disappointing numbers, improving the gender wage gap isn't a fantasy. It's simply going to take time.
Also, we CAN control the speed of improvement. By digging deeper into the reasons why the gap exists within our own businesses, we can discover exactly what needs to be done to close the gap.
Is there something we’ve missed? Send us your thoughts on Twitter - we’d love to hear what you have to say on the gender wage gap.