There’s a lot of talk this week about the #GenderPayGap and the refuseniks are lining up. I already see female spokespeople being fielded to tell us it’s all nonsense. I hear BBC Journalists using some very outdated language and questions & interruptions that you can hear them blowing the dust off …
Why am I still hearing on our national broadcasters “best person for the job?” Are we still as a culture fixated on the idea that the best person for the job is the white-guy-in-the-pin-stripe? Or for clerical or customer facing work, a neatly groomed (whatever that means) – “bubbly” girl in uncomfortable shoes?
There are so many questions wrapped up in the gender pay gap reporting that this is going to take a while to unpick, so today just a few thoughts.
I am puzzled – why should equal pay be so contentious? The principle of equal pay for work of equal value has been with us for 45 years and counting in UK. And everyone gets it – but our problem is that we’ve no idea how to value people or the way they contribute. The systemic way in which women and minorities have been prevented by our structures from advancing, shows us that the people who have made the rules don’t understand and don’t value the work that makes the corporate world possible.
A quick google reveals that car mechanics earn on average £28K a year, child care workers £21K (and falling) and care assistants £18K. Which means that even your basic set of wheels is valued more highly than your children or your ageing relative. If you were asked to put in rank order what you valued more highly – your Grannie, your children or your car…. love, instinct, social pressure and conditioned response probably tell us one thing, but financial reckoning something completely different.
Another way in which we’re valuing the wrong things:
There’s an airline with a big pay gap (I suspect there will be others) and their explanation is that they don’t have many women pilots – so that’s alright then! No. Train and recruit women to be pilots. Pilots do not need to be tall, tanned and look good in a suit. They need to be able to be to fly an aeroplane. Train, recruit more men to your customer service desks. We don’t need a woman in make-up and heels checking passport, tickets and bags. We need someone who is competent, empathetic, assertive if they need to be, preferably in several languages. (For me, the make up and heels are optional in either role irrespective of your gender). This is true of every job, every where and yes, even – no especially – in child care.
Why should it be so agonisingly painful for businesses to correct the injustice done to 51% of the population and also the injustice done to people of colour, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, people of certain faiths and older people? There are at least two laws that should make this impossible. It is an injustice – it is an injustice not to recognise and promote people of talent and potential because of a conscious or unconscious bias. Not just because their bank balance suffers (but right now that’s a big thing for a lot of people) but because it holds back life chances in all kinds of other subtle and important ways, in family life, self-worth, mental health. Our inability to recognise each other’s worth feeds into all the social ills – from affordable housing to street and domestic violence – that plague our communities and keep us living in our silos of mistrust and blame. Seems to me this gender pay gap is emblematic of so many other things (and is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of pay inequalities), and it is no longer acceptable to shrug and say “it’s the way of the world.”
This reporting only applies to businesses with more than 250 employees. There is still plenty more to do in smaller and micro businesses. We have to recognise that these companies will need greater support and will be more dependent on other societal influences such as equal education and training opportunities to shift gender stereotyping. The world of work is changing more broadly and to help new businesses thrive, it is essential that we all learn the value of a diverse workforce. There is a strong business case for it quite apart from the social justice elements.
I rejoice in the fact that I live in one of the few boroughs where the local Council staff’s gender pay gap currently tilts in favour of women and not because I want the men to be suffering – far from it – but just to show that it’s possible.
But that glorious statistic doesn’t compensate for the other challenges still alive and well here in Lewisham. Our women are more likely to be low wage earners, they are more likely than other women and girls to be the victims of and/or witnesses to domestic violence and abuse. Our children are not excelling in schools in the way that other London children are. I don’t believe those children are less talented, imaginative or ambitious than other of London’s young people. Today’s gender pay gap news which comes as a surprise to no-one should spur us on and make us aware or our responsibility to that next generation.
The Women’s Equality Party’s equal pay objective dovetails with our universal child care policy of 40 hours from the age of 9 months to 3 years, allowing parents to continue their career (if they choose). The costs are paid for from a universal pension relief rate that benefits lower paid workers and incentivises women to save for a pension. WE propose flexible working entitlement from day 1 of employment and we are urging government to follow up this gender pay gap reporting with reporting on pay gaps for all minority groups and the intersections. This is just a first step.
The gender pay gap reporting opens the door to action. As a local Councillor for the Women’s Equality Party, I will be supporting and urging the societal shift – from the local through to the national level – that will be needed to succeed in closing the gap for everyone.
Women’s Equality Party – because equality is good for everyone
I am standing for election as the first-ever Women’s Equality Party candidate for Ladywell. We are a new collaborative force in UK politics and we want to see new perspectives and greater scrutiny on Lewisham Council.