This is a first for me. I am writing the same post for my blog (very political, very left-wing, unforgiving in its views) and for LinkedIn (my professional self, steady, don’t rock the boat, nothing too contentious). The reason for this is that there is a subject I feel so passionately about that crosses into every area of our lives. That is gender equality in the UK and the fact that we are STILL so far away from it in so many respects. And, in my view, we are applying the wrong initial mindset to every really do anything about it.
This has come up (again) this week because of a new report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (you can find the full report here https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8428 ). Sadly, the report is really nothing new. The messages remain the same as they ever were. Men earn more than women. The gap is seen at all occupational or social levels (so we aren’t educating our way out of it). Generally, the pay gap increases once women have taken time off to raise children. If we really needed a report to tell us this, we simply aren’t paying attention.
It does make me wonder – did the Equal Pay act happen 46 years ago, or was that just a myth (http://www.inbrief.co.uk/employees/equal-pay/)? In a country which has over that period had 2 female Prime Ministers we still languish behind most other developed countries in terms of ridding ourselves of the gender pay gap. Certainly, when compared to Scandinavian countries who are in many ways near neighbours to us we are nowhere close to their understanding.
I am not going to say this isn’t an important subject. But I do wonder, are we actually framing this in the right way to achieve equality for men and women. Let me give you an example – TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was quoted as saying “It is scandalous that millions of women still suffer a motherhood pay penalty. Many are forced to leave better-paid jobs due to the pressure of caring responsibilities and the lack of flexible working” ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37156178 ). I think part of the problem lay in that statement. It could be put another way – “many men face a taking time-off penalty because of the expectation on them to provide for the family”.
I think we need to reframe the conversation. Instead of the IFS report focussing solely on “The Gender Wage Gap” perhaps it should look at both sides of the problem – “The Gender Wage and Caring Responsibilities Gap”. If we take a look back at how this conversation has been framed, since the Equal Pay Act, the language has been chosen by the patriarchal view of our society – that the important thing is Pay, how much we earn, how much we provide.
This has an impact on both men and women. It can not be right that our society forces us to think that the only measure we should focus on is pay – and then thrust the next generation into trying to win a game where the rules are stacked against them. This is a complex problem, and there are lots of remedies that need to be considered to address it. But are we really open to considering all of them whilst we focus on equal pay only? Whilst the recent legislation in the UK to provide Shared Parental Leave (https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview) is a step in the right direction, many men (including myself) are priced out of using it because it didn’t include equal access to Company Maternity Pay.
There are some obvious things that need to happen. Firstly, men and women need to be paid similarly from the outset. That is a no-brainer and large companies will soon be forced to report much more in-depth information to make this harder to get away with. I am certainly not saying we should stop the fight for equal pay for equal work irrespective of gender. But until we can move the conversation on, and talk about work-life balance, sharing our parenting / caring responsibilities as part of the gender pay gap, are we really trying to break out of the patriarchal view that keeps women at home and men in the workplace? We need to push towards a culture that sees raising children and supporting a family financially as the responsibilities of all parents. Until we reframe the questions, I worry we will ever reach it.