International Women’s Day 2011

Last 8 March 2011 marked the International Women’s Day and despite latest figures reveal advances in workplace equality, the gender pay gap persists in most of UK industries. More than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, the gap remains widest in the skilled trades sector and in leadership positions like financial managers or chief executives, where women are still paid substantially less than men.

Latest data published by the Office for National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) show the gender pay gap – or ‘percentage difference between all women’s earnings and all men’s earnings per hour’ – has narrowed from 12.2% to 10.2% between 2009 and 2010. The figures based on the median full-time measure – and excluding overtime – also reflect women’s median hourly earnings rose twice faster than men’s over the year – 0.3% for men, while women’s earnings rose by 2.6% -. These data, according to ONS statistician Mark Williams, suggest a change of pattern compared to previous years.

2011_03_11_International Women’s Day 2011_Image_NBU
Image: NBU

This year’s results continue the pattern we’ve seen in recent years of the gender pay gap tending to get narrower. In 1997 the gender pay gap in median earnings for full-timers was around 17%, and it’s now dropped to around 10%.”

This is the biggest fall since the measure started in 1997, and since all this indicates the gender inequality in the workplace is shrinking, in most of the jobs in the UK women still earn substantially less than their male colleagues. Figures reveal the highest gap is in the skilled trades sector, where male workers earn nearly 50% more than their female colleagues and in jobs like carpenters and joiners, men are hourly-paid over 24.18% than women.

Researcher in the cultural role of the 19th century railway in offering new opportunities to women Di Drummond believes the reasons for the gender pay gap in the skilled trades industry are men’s and women’s different work histories.

The ‘Skilled Trades’ have traditionally been those forms of very long-established manual work that have employed men and have excluded women. Only a few skilled trades have employed women and often these are seen to be less demanding than male skilled trades – and as a result of that argument, pay lower wages -. Even after refusing women employment in these ‘male skill trades’ ended, this being against both British and EU law since the 1990s, social tradition and association means that it is still difficult for women to enter this better paid ‘male employment’.”

In high level financial positions female directors and chief executives of major organisations earn an average annual salary 30.4% lower than men, while for female managers and chartered secretaries the difference rises to 33.9%.

The role of ‘financial manager/chief executive’ has also been seen to be a ‘male’ profession until recently. As a result the role is usually more highly paid and women were generally excluded. Women have begun to enter this level of professional life in the last twenty years or so, but often they have gained that role either in businesses that are less traditional and heavily industrialised etc – so in education and health, service industries such as catering, retail etc-. These areas of the economic sector might be seen to be more ‘feminine’ in that they cater for the ‘female market’.

As in the case of ‘the skilled trades’, these more ‘feminized’ markets and the firms that supply and serve them, often do not pay their executives as well as the established industries with male executives both because of this ‘tradition’ and the vision that these sectors and their products/services are of lesser status and worth less. In education and health women have been until recently confined to specific roles and positions e.g. nursing as opposed to be doctors in medicine. In education until fairly recently (1950s-60s) women tended to be teachers in schools, especially primary schools, rather than lecturers in colleges and universities (there are still far more men than women in the latter section). Again, this has tended to create a gendered differentiation of pay within the education sector.

2011_03_11_International Women’s Day 2011_Image_Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

The findings of a research report commissioned by the Government Equalities Office to evaluate the causes of the gender pay gap during the period 2004-7 suggest that the gap is ‘insignificant at school-leaving age, becomes significantly positive at age 27 and then rises to a peak at age 45. While the pay gap is on average 28% of men’s wages at age 45 it declines after that.’

The report, which used data from British Household Panel Survey, concludes the key factor affecting the gender gap is men’s and women’s education and work experience. Sectoral employment patterns and occupational segregation explain the 10% of the UK’s overall pay gap, but there is still a significant 36% of the gap that remains unexplained.

The coalition government implemented the new Equality Act on 1 October 2010, which protect ‘against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in services and public functions.’ The law also tackles the gender pay gap as it makes pay secrecy clauses – which allow to businesses to cover up the difference in pay for female and male staff- unenforceable.

Di believes the problem not only lies in the legislation but in societal and economic factors.

Clearly British governments of all political parties have not done enough to address the gendered pay gap. The problem lies in the legislation and the nature of the British Equal Pay Act of 1975, but also in societal factors and the economic structure of Britain. This law is no longer the case but the problem now is societal (although less so as time goes on) and economic. The long established tradition of seeing women’s work as being of a lesser status and value than men’s means that British law defined women’s work as being lesser than men’s and therefore there not worthy of equal pay. Again women are often employed in the economic sectors that are less prestigious than others, and therefore are accorded lower pay (e.g. catering, childcare).

It is certain that the gender pay gap is tending to get narrower and data suggest the pattern is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Although the implementation of the new law has provided a new legislative framework to address the gender pay gap, there is still a long way to go in terms of changing traditional women roles and stereotypes.


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