The gender pay gap is rightly making headlines on television and in print. Paying women less than men for doing the same job is not only discriminatory, but narrow-minded and detrimental to a successful, profitable business.
This week saw the deadline for private companies with more than 250 employees to reveal the difference in hourly rate paid to men and women. In the run up to this deadline we have seen that nine out of ten public sector employers pay men more than women, with women paid on average 14% less than male colleagues.
Of those private companies that have filed their figures, 78% pay men more than women, while 13% pay women more. Just 8% said they had no gender pay gap at all, based on the median measure. In some cases the gender pay gap is enormous – rising to more than 70%. These figures are of course unacceptable – and show the huge amount of work still to be done.
In banking and finance, bonus gaps of more than 60% were not uncommon; academy school chains were shown to have some of the worst gender pay gaps in the UK, while in female-dominated workforces such as retail, gender pay gaps were as high as 50%.
These figures are a welcome start, but clearly show there is a huge amount of work still to be done to get pay equality. Indeed, if you look at figures from the World Economic Forum they suggest that far from being another century until the gender pay gap is closed, it could be nearer to two centuries.
WEF researchers have said it would take 217 years for disparities in the pay and employment opportunities of men and women to come to end, much longer than the 170 years they previously calculated no more than a year ago.
That’s why I’m proud to be one of a group of cross-party MPs supporting the #paymetoo campaign, set up to help make sure women don’t get shut down when they ask about the gender pay gap at their workplace. There is a high profile social media campaign, which launched on Monday, and a website that aims to ensure that women know they have the right to address pay issues at work, as well offering advice for what to do next, including working with trade unions and women’s networks.
There is also a survey which I would urge all women to complete and share; we believe real life experiences and input from women will help inform our debates in parliament about how best to address gender pay inequality and to start to drive necessary change.
That probably includes looking at companies with fewer than 250 employees also – I don’t believe it’s only large corporates and the public sector that continue to underpay their female staff.
In Scotland, the SNP Government has a proud track record in equality issues – for example ensuring greater pay transparency, by lowering the threshold for listed public authorities to report their gender pay gap and publish equal pay statements.
And we have also pledged an increase in early learning and childcare provision, from 600 to 1,140 hours a year and funding and playing an active role in the Family Friendly Working Scotland Partnership, as well as working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination. We have taken action to improve women’s representation on boards - for example - through the introduction of the Gender Representation on Public Boards.
Identifying the gender pay gap is a step forward - this must be translated into a real commitment by employers to get rid of this lingering injustice and ensure that every company and workplace has equality. It’s not just good for society it’s also good for business and leads to better decision-making and higher profitability.
The UK government has made a start by auditing the pay gap in larger companies, but auditing isn’t enough, real action must be taken to ensure we are making a difference in those companies, driving change and bringing equality closer every day.
Hannah Bardell is the SNP MP for Livingston