Pay gap report calls for action

// 26 February 2006

Government should take urgent action to close the gender pay gap, a report published tomorrow will say.

The Sunday papers are already mulling over advanced copies of the Women and Work Commission’s report.

From the Independent:

Tomorrow a report of the Women and Work Commission will expose the extent of the gap. The commission, set up by Tony Blair in the autumn of 2004 to look into sexism at work, finds that while girls outperform boys at school, their advantage swiftly disappears when they get a job. Not only is there still a glass ceiling, but young women are routinely steered into low-paid jobs, such as childcare.

This isn’t news, really, but any report that reinforces the message that women are earning less and something needs to be done about it is more than welcome. It also points out that the economy is losing out to the tune of £15-23 billion a year because women’s skills are underexploited.

The report also has high-level support. As well as being initiated by Blair, it has received the close attention of Gordon Brown who reportedly saw it a week ago. He is likely to use the budget to introduce some of the measures it recommends.

And what does it recommend? For the details, we turn to the Times, which picks out the “sensationalist” point that Baroness Prosser proposes soap operas show women in traditionally-male dominated jobs. Or, as the paper dubiously puts it: “TV ‘should put more women in men’s roles'”.

The point, David Cracknell and David Smith, is that they are not “men’s” roles. More seriously:

The commission will call for better vocational training and work experience for girls, to steer them towards the traditional male bastions of the job market. It also wants to highlight "exemplar" companies, which have achieved business success by promoting women.

The report also recommends working with firms to increase the range of jobs that can be done on a part-time or flexible basis, and adapting childcare and employment programmes to help women returning to work after having children.

Other positives will include the introduction of “class action” lawsuits (see North Country!) Common in the US, these allow a small, representative group of women to sue for discrimination on behalf of the rest of the workforce.

But more worryingly, the report will stop short of pushing for compulsory pay audits. A measure recommended by the Equal Opportunities Commission (regular readers will know I’m a great fan of the EOC!), these audits would have forced companies to lay bare their pay rolls to the same level of scrutiny as their financial machinations.

And why not? If women are being paid less for the same job, any honest company should be keen to have the fact exposed so they can rectify an illegal and unfair situation. Cries of excess red-tape from the business lobby carry little weight – it is only the status quo resisting something that would forever banish secret pay deals and the old boy’s club.

The commission\x92s report was delayed by several months because of wrangling between trade union and business representatives on the body. Its report will spare firms draconian new legislation introducing mandatory pay audits, but the commission favours companies with more than 50 employees appointing "equality representatives" to monitor differences in pay between the sexes.

It should come as no surprise that it is in the financial sector that the pay gap is often most extreme.

From the Independent again:

In the world of finance, for example, the pay gap between men and women can be as high as 41 per cent. In manufacturing, women earn on average 19 per cent less than men.

Without seeing the full report, my preliminary conclusions are that it proposes some solid measures that will help to close the pay gap. But Baroness Prosser has not had the “balls” (should that be ovaries?) to stick with the one proposal that would have sparked a real, profound change in Britain’s corporate culture.

But good news from Jamaica

Which has just elected its first female prime minister. Portia Simpson Miller has been selected by the National People’s Party to replace the current prime minister when he steps down in a few weeks.

“She is seen as someone who has really risen through the ranks of the party, coming from a very, very poor section of Jamaica… to the top post,” Radio Jamaica’s Kathy Barrett told the BBC.

“She’s a women who’s very determined, a firebrand type of politician who has really hit home when it comes to the majority of people – especially women, the poor and the unemployed.”

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