In 2014, scientists achieved an incredible feat when the Rosetta Mission successfully landed the Philae probe on a comet. Philae had been travelling for a decade to reach its destination, for 4 billion miles. When this amazing event succeeded, the twittersphere exploded with an important hashtag that made me laugh and think, it was #wecanlandonacometbutwecan't [fill in with hilarious comment]. I'm reminded of this hashtag, because it seems #wecanlandonacometbutwestillcan'tachievepayequality
The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) released a report last Monday on the gender pay gap post-childbirth. On average, women in paid work receive about 18% less per hour than men. The IFS research shows that the wage gap is smaller when comparing young women - before they become mothers - with their male counterparts. The gap then widens consistently for 12 years after the first child is born by which point women receive 33% less pay per hour than men.
So here are four very important actions we (individuals, companies, government) can take to accelerate this desperately needed change:
Remind everyone that every gender identity has the capacity to look after children
No matter what anyone may tell you, we can all nurture children. There isn't some special gene for "being able to put a nappy on". Truly.
Looking after children is hard and scary, and joyful and exciting. And as with all things, we get better with practise.
A 2014 ILM study reported that 25% of fathers take zero paternity leave at all. This stat tells me that we all have work to do in re-conceptualising the relationship between masculinity and nurturing. Being kind and attentive to others' needs is necessary to look after children and is not incongruent with masculinity. We (and in particular, men) need to enable men to feel comfortable engaging in these acts and expressing these emotions.
But when there is generally a gender pay gap in favour of men it makes forsaking that salary that much harder. This is compounded by the fact that paternity leave packages often don't mirror the more generous maternity packages. Companies genuinely committed to creating an equal world need to institute substantial parental leave packages for employees irrespective of their gender identity. This would no doubt incentivise fathers to take leave and invest their time in raising the next generation in the ways that their female counterparts have for much of history.
We need affordable childcare, obvs
Whilst mothers continue to, on the whole, do the important work of childcare for free, they are effectively giving a tax subsidy to the government and wider society; and it could be as large as c.£300bn annually. That they're also simultaneously forgoing wage progression is a double hit.
There are many women who would opt back into the labour market who simply cannot afford the financial penalty of expensive childcare. It must end. The current government policy is free childcare for 30 hours a week that kicks in when the child is three years old. This isn't good enough: we need the government to provide high quality, well paid childcare that is affordable and accessible immediately so that parents can make the choices that are right for them and their families, as soon as they need or want to.
Employers, value all your employees
The IFS study reports a widening of the hourly wage gap after childbirth, but not because women see an immediate cut in hourly pay when they reduce their hours. Instead, it's that women who work half-time lose out on subsequent wage progression; the sort you might get from promotions. The result: the hourly wages of men (and of women in full-time work) pull further and further ahead.
I refuse to entertain that working fewer hours means you're less less effective or talented during the hours you are at work. As such, the only explanation for this pattern must be in the eye of the beholder, where employers perceive part-time employees as less committed.
Despite the world looking significantly different today than 100 years ago, the old paradigms for work, where it has historically been structured to be delivered by someone who has no caring obligations (whether for children or elderly parents) is the one that dominates. For all the "innovation" business claims to lead, this rather simple innovation, that sees every employee's work as valuable and productive when it gets the job done well, seems to have eluded many employers.
Finally, when work produced by a worker in part-time hours is as highly lauded as it's full-time hours counterpart, we may encourage everyone to consider part-time hours as a valid option for them, thereby re-engaging men - in particular - in conversations about their contributions to raising a family without negating their opportunities in the workplace.
Challenge the underpinning norms about what work we value
Currently only c.10% of men are nurses (though there is a pay gap in favour of male nurses in the profession!) and only 13% of those in STEM fields are women. The pay achievable for a person is informed by whether or not the sector they enter or the role they do (even when accounting for skill) is perceived as 'masculine' or 'feminine'. In a world that doesn't value women's contributions and achievements as it does men's (from our curricula to our public service), there is no surprise that "feminine" professions are paid less. What's more, a recent study in the US found that as women enter male-dominated fields, the pay falls. But let me be clear: men can be effective early years teachers and childcare practitioners. And we can all be astronauts and inventors. All these jobs are extremely valuable irrespective of the gender of the person doing it.
We can land on a comet! So let's internalise the focus and determination it look to achieve that feat and make it our personal Rosetta Missions to close the gender pay gap. We can and we must and it starts with us challenging ourselves and everyone around us. Onwards!
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