50 years on from the beginning of the feminist movement and you’d be excused for thinking that something is amiss.
Donald Trump’s first day in the Oval Office saw him signing a ban on federal money going to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions; two women a week are killed as a result of domestic violence; Advertising Agencies still think it acceptable to deface London’s Underground with ‘Are you beach body ready?’ and Khloe Kardashian ‘body shaming’ adverts; and pop culture, media and entertainment continue to publish photoshopped images of women linked to high levels of anxiety and depression suffered by teenage girls. And if all that’s not bad enough women can still expect to earn significantly less than men over the lifetime of their careers.
With The Guardian revealing last month that Knitting clubs are all the rage, along with gin cocktails and ballroom dancing you’d be forgiven for questioning whether the last 50 years actually happened at all!
Of course inroads have been made over the years to level the playing field with the government implementing various legislation – The Equal Pay Act of 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, the Equality Act 2010 – but with limited results. The fact remains that due to differences in caring responsibilities, clustering in low skilled and low paid work, the qualifications and skills women acquire, and outright discrimination, the gender pay gap is alive and well and living in Britain.
Yet despite all this, for possibly the first time in British history, it’s women who reign supreme.
Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Cressida Dick, Amber Rudd… Queen Elizabeth II, all simultaneously occupying Britain’s highest seats of power. But what do these remarkable achievements mean for women of today – everyday women who want to work but also want the peace of mind that they can enjoy a work-life balance? Has progress, illustrated by high-flying female achievers, been embodied across the social and ethnic spectrum or is the glass ceiling only breakable for some?
Women’s representation in the labour force is steadily increasing. Today, over two-thirds of women aged 16-64 are employed and women represent just under half of the total labour force in the UK. The majority of mothers work – in 2014, almost as many women with children participated in the labour force as women with no children. So it’s good news – almost.
It’s true that there are many opportunities now available for women looking to work – flexible working, the gig economy, the advantages presented by digital technology – all this is definitely a boon BUT the fact remains that among the top 10% of earners, the majority are men and women are only more likely to be among the top earners when they are under or close to age 30 (the average age of women at childbirth).
Women continue to play a greater role in caring for children, as well as for sick or elderly relatives. As a result more women work part time, and these jobs are typically lower paid with fewer progression opportunities.
The statistics are less favourable still for women who migrate from Asian countries. They face significantly lower employment rates than migrant male or UK-born women workers.
That’s why, as an organisation that is committed to helping women into work and with projects specialising in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women, Belina is supporting International Women’s Day 2017 on Wednesday 8 March in their #BeboldForChange campaign to accelerate gender parity. We call on our colleagues in the employability industry, employers, influencers and partners to help women advance and unleash the limitless potential offered to economies the world over.
The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. This is too long to wait.
Our experience is in supporting women furthest from the labour market and, in particular, lone parents, has helped us develop an in-depth understanding of the challenges many women face when looking to enter or re-enter the workforce. The first steps are often in confidence building and motivation but there are many opportunities for employers to improve the situation. The Fawcett Society raise some very good points regarding the gender pay gap and we back their call for employers and government to take action.
We ask employers to #BeBoldForChange and:
- Advertise jobs at all levels in their organisation as flexible, part-time or a job share unless there is a strong business case not to
- Unblock the pipeline. Support women to progress to higher paid jobs. Tackle unconscious bias and use targets to measure progress and focus minds.
- Become a living wage employer – over 60% of those earning less that the living wage are women.
And we ask the government to:
- build on the extension of free childcare by investing in our childcare infrastructure so that we have affordable, flexible and high quality care for children, enabling more families to balance work and care.