Mind the Gap: Women still face gender pay penalties in the job market
Official figures published by the government earlier this week offered a seemingly rare bit of good news: the pay gap between women and men under 40 working full-time has all but disappeared. Data published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport showed younger women in full-time work earned roughly the same amount as their male peers for the first time. Women in their twenties are even slightly out-earning their male contemporaries. Equalities Minister Maria Miller hailed the figures, saying they could signal the “the end of the full-time pay gap between men and women”. Although these figures are welcome, the outlook for the UK’s gender pay equality is far less rosy than they suggest. As ever the devil is in the detail.
Firstly, contrary to some news reports, the DCMS didn’t publish new figures but instead a new analysis of data that was originally published in December 2013 by the ONS. The key difference in December was the figures garnered negative press for the government by revealing the gender gap had actually gone up for the first time in five years. Rather than showing a brightening outlook on gender equality, some equality commentators have expressed concern that a lack of strategic thinking by government is leading to worsening equal pay conditions.
Secondly, the DCMS figures focus exclusively on full-time female workers, ignoring the reality that women are more likely than men to work part-time, typically after they have children. In fact of the 13 million females aged 16 to 64 currently working, a sizeable minority (42%) work part-time. Sure enough, when part-timers and the over 40s are included, the gender pay gap surges to 19.7%. This means women on average earn 19.7 % less than men per hour; £10 to men’s £12.00 average hourly wage. Even more worrying is the fact that, despite the overall downward trend in the pay gap for both full-time and part-time women workers since the 1970s, the part-time pay gap (the difference between what part-time women earn compared to full-time men) has decreased almost twice as slowly.
Women working part-time pay huge penalties in the labour market in terms of reduced pay and career progression. The stubbornly slow progress in the part-time gender gap is a reflection of the lack of high quality, flexible work opportunities. Recently, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found just 3% of job vacancies in London are for part-time roles offering £20,000 or more. This is in sharp contrast to the full-time market, where the majority of roles pay over £20,000. The lack of available quality part-time jobs means that talented, experienced women who choose to work part-time are often forced to trade down their skills to accept jobs paying less money and little chance of promotion. One of the few surveys to question part-time workers about their working conditions found that 3 in 4 respondents have never been promoted since they started working part-time. Too often, employers hold out-dated notions that part-time workers also offer part-time commitment. On the contrary, a survey conducted by social business, the Timewise Foundation, found 90 per cent of part-time workers in senior roles hit their work targets.
The wastage of women’s talent, caused by a lack of flexible working opportunities, is not just bad for them and their families, but also for the economy and wider society. So, of course let’s celebrate that women working full-time are being paid equally to men, but employers and government need to do a lot more before fully equal pay conditions become a reality.