There were no surprises earlier this year when the Fawcett Society announced that there was still a gender pay gap in this country and that so-called “equal pay day” this year would be on 14th November. It’s the day when women finish earning for the year and work for free, while men continue earning money up until the end. Despite equal pay for equal work being the law, there are still a huge number of societal and structural inequalities which mean we earn less, which in turn reinforces the inequalities faced by women.
We feminists are all too well aware of the problem. We track the figures with a sort of dark fascination – has it got better, how much has it improved by this year, what does it mean for our work, what should we focus on now?
In my role as a councillor, I’ve scrutinised the council’s own gender pay gap as an employer in the city of Edinburgh. While the figures look respectable on the surface, dig a little deeper and you can see some structural inequalities which need to be dismantled before the council will be able to close its gender pay gap.
The council is typical of many organisations in having highly gendered role segregation: most of our bin lorries are driven by men, and most of our cleaners are women. So while all cleaners are paid equitably for the work they do, and there is fairness within the cleaner workforce, women aren’t accessing the pay, hours, and other benefits of driving a bin lorry.
The council is also very heavily weighted towards men in the most senior management and executive roles. We know what women need to be able to succeed in senior roles, and it’s up to employers to make the necessary changes. Women need flexibility along with job security, they need support for caring responsibilities which still fall predominantly them, and they need to be backed up with support to apply for and then be successfully retained in senior roles.
These are the kinds of challenges that many other employers face. I’m fortunate to be working in an organisation where I’m able to influence our policy and call for action to close the gender pay gap for our employees. However, there are no formal targets for employers to meet and so less responsible bosses will ignore the systemic discrimination until they are mandated to turn it around.
Reporting the gender pay gap was the first step. It’s an important stepping stone to equal pay, not an end in itself. The next step, which women desperately need, is for employers to be made to eliminate their pay gaps through targeted and mandatory change to their recruitment and retention plans.