It’s not just the pay gap holding women back

Female business partners
By Justine Riccomini, Head of Taxation (Scottish Taxes, Employment and ICAS Tax Community)

12 July 2017

The IFS’ report into the gender pay gap in the state pension reveals the extent to which ‘WASPI’ women have suffered financially from the government’s decision to raise the state pension age from 60-63.

About 1.1 million fewer women are receiving a state pension as a result of the move. According to the report, the government is providing £4.2 billion less through state pensions and other benefits.  

The report follows regressive industry news stories in the world of work and women such as the much-lauded appointment of Emma Walmsley as Chief Executive to GlaxoSmithKline, which was followed by a backlash of adverse publicity as it was revealed that her reward package had been set at 25% less than that of her male predecessor.  

Adverse publicity and damages to a businesses’ reputation can be sparked by the smallest of changes to a policy, or failing to change a policy and move with the times.  GSK learnt this the hard way.

There is some light on the horizon, however, the Scottish Government has recently published new legislation to increase the number of women on public boards in Scotland. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill sets an objective for public boards that 50% of non-executive members are women by 2022.

Career ‘miss-management’

The 30% Club recently reported that the small number of females in senior positions could be down to failures to handle unconscious bias in mid-career line management, and that men receive more detailed and specific appraisals with greater focus on their careers at that stage – leaving women with no direction and an inability to step up to the plate in senior roles.

In addition to this, the ONS reports that only full-time permanent employment and self-employment are showing any realistic growth – an issue which affects many women who are trying to manage family and career.  

How does this  mix with Brexit? Companies need to maintain agility and talent (the ONS’s latest figures show an already declining influx of skills and talent from the EU) but earnings growth is slowing, leading to real earnings stagnating.

It makes one wonder what are the chances for women to equalise their pay with that of their male counterparts? And how can businesses engage with women to enhance career prospects and productivity?  

High heels and headscarves

Controversy around how to dress at work has hit the headlines recently too, with some significant court judgements.

In Europe (the G4S case), the ECJ upheld the decision of an employer to ban all articles of clothing and jewellery which represented religious symbolism, thereby allowing the employer to continue with its “dress neutrally” policy.  

Meanwhile, in the UK, the House of Commons Women and Equality Committee found it necessary to issue its “High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes” paper in January 2017 following a petition objecting to the dismissal of a female worker who failed to wear high heels to work.  

According to ACAS, a third of all young people entering the world of work now have at least one tattoo. Employers should consider whether this presents an issue for them in terms of their own dress code, or whether they are prepared to ignore it to circumvent the risks of a direct discrimination claim.  

Whilst in Europe the more radical “blanket ban” approach seems to be prevalent, in the UK it is doubtful that too many employers would be willing to remove religious, political or philosophical identifiers from the workplace and seem to be more inclined to celebrate diversity… although there does appear to be a general concern as far as full face veils such as Burkas are concerned.

No power to the Bump?

The Young Women’s Trust states in its “Power to the Bump” campaign that 25% of young mothers (16-24) have experienced discrimination on revealing they are pregnant at work.  

They have concluded that young mothers experience discrimination more frequently than their older counterparts, which tallies with previous research that indicates working mothers under the age of 25 were six times more likely than older mothers to be dismissed after informing their employer of their pregnancy.  

Not only this, but 10% of young mums resigned after facing unresolved Health and Safety issues and twice as many young mums (as compared to mothers of all ages) said they felt pressurised to resign because they were pregnant.  

If young women experience these challenges then the prospects for them in later life seem somewhat diminished, and the chances of being the next GSK boss fade for all but the most determined.


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