We have to start paying attention to the increasing gender gap in the UK.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) placed the UK in 26th position in the world this year for gender equality, down from 18th just last year.
Things are not looking great for the gender pay gap too, as the Fawcett Society’s report found that “a woman working full-time now earns, on average, £5,000 less a year than a man.”
The statistics show that there is a real issue with gender inequality today, even after two centuries worth of campaigning for women’s rights.
Although the situation is definitely not as distressing as it was in the 19th century, with women given more rights than ever before; it is still a fact that the basic right of equal pay and work opportunities between men and women have not been achieved.
The WEF have revealed that it would take at least 81 years for women across the world to receive the same pay as men.
However, these are average findings, and many argue that they do not fully take into consideration factors such as, differences between part-time and full-time work, job positions women hold and the variations between industries.
Some industries in the UK may be seen as providing equal pay to both men and women with the same job titles, but the underlying reality is that women do not get the same opportunities as men to secure senior job positions.
Holly Attrill, 23, has been working in the advertising industry for just over a year, after what she describes as “an intense 18 months of internships at over 11 advertising agencies” following her graduation from university with an advertising degree.
She says: “It doesn’t surprise me that gender equality isn’t as progressive in the UK as it should be. In my career path in particular, the senior role of Creative Director is only three per cent female. I presume this is similar for many other industries, with so few females in senior management positions, women can’t be heard.”
Attrill adds that as well as the issues of pay and gender discrimination that women have to face, some even experience sexual harassment in male dominated workplaces.
“No one wants to be harassed in the workplace, but who do they turn to when all senior management are men? Especially for young members of staff, you’re just incredibly grateful that you got a job in the first place,” says Attrill.
Male domination in the workplace is seen across the field, as according to the latest Kantar Media Survey, the advertising, communications, marketing and media sectors are made up of just under two thirds of men.
The same can be said in IT, as in the top eight tech companies, only 20 out of the 102 senior managers are women. Even with their top positions, the latest National Management Salary Survey, published by the Chartered Management Institute, found that the pay gap between male and female managers of all ages stands at £9,069 for an average salary.
The political field is no exception, as the Democratic Audit of the UK found that following the formation of the coalition government, the proportion of women in cabinet decreased to about one-sixth, and the number of ministerial posts held by women has dropped to less than 20 per cent for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Some argue that the reason behind a much larger concentration of men being hired in senior roles than women is an economic one.
Employers may favour a man over a woman with the same qualifications as some still take into account factors such as maternity leave, and even the domestic role of women taking care of children.
Feminist writer and social commentator Beatrix Campbell, author of the book, End of Equality, says the gender division of labour of our society plays a big role in increasing this gap.
She said: “Our society goes on redistributing in favour of men…and by the time your generation get to be parents, then the real chasm between men and women’s earnings become really apparent.”
However, others see this as a political problem that is not being addressed by those in power as they continue to allow the gender gap to expand.
“In a world where it’s difficult to see equality as an economic goal, sadly no party talks like that anymore”
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Gloria De Piero, has said about the WEF report findings, “this is a damning indictment of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s record for women.
Their policies have meant that women’s wages are lower this year than last year and the gender pay gap is back on the rise”.
She stated that a Labour Government would increase “the minimum wage to £8 and take action on equal pay by requiring big companies to publish their pay gap”.
On opportunities and inclusivity for women in politics she said that the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, “has said that for the first time in Britain’s history he wants a cabinet of 50 per cent women.”
Government policy, if dedicated to setting out solid mandates to help women gain employment in the private sector, or reinforcing a non-discrimination clause in hiring practises specifically in terms of gender, could pave the way for a fairer society.
Campbell says sceptically, “In a world where it’s difficult to see equality as an economic goal, sadly no party talks like that anymore.”
At the start of this month, the government announced a £2 million fund to help close the gender pay gap.
Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan has said: “The measures will help to tackle the pay gap head-on. We will support women to move out of low paid, low skilled work, into high paid, high skilled work, through providing better training and mentoring.”
Jo Swinson, Minister for Women and Equalities and Business has also said: “Companies must take action and be sure they are rewarding their staff fairly rather than waiting for their female staff to complain.”
It is difficult to see that without solid legislation and stricter plans set out by the government that are enforced on both the public and private sector, such a change cannot happen.
The government is seen to be making steps forward in addressing the issue, but as Campbell says, “no institution that I’m aware of, that studies pay, thinks that there will be any significant shift towards equal pay in the foreseeable future.”
The statistics are appalling, and with more than 40 years on from the Equal Pay Act, still not seeing a close in the gap is alarming.
On the findings that it will take 81 years to reach gender equality, Campbell says, “that’s assuming that there is a rate of progress, and I don’t think we’re in conditions that will produce progress. My guess is that actually, the trajectory is absolutely still, it’s not really going to get any better.”
No country in the world has achieved complete gender equality. We can, however, learn from the countries that are nearly there, such as Iceland, who occupy first place on the list.
Economic participation is their key to a high ranking. The UK has more girls than boys in education, and so we have no reason for fewer women to be in the workforce.
If, and when society gets rid of the sexist attitudes which see women discouraged from entering male dominated fields such as business or politics or media in fear of harassment, and instead encouraged to aim for senior roles in IT and marketing, then maybe we will start to see positive steps towards a fairer, more equal world.
Featured photo courtesy of European Parliament
Other photos courtesy of European Commission