Comment | Gender wage gap as prevalent as ever

The gender wage gap is a question that should have been answered years ago. It is amazing that we can claim to be upholding the precious Human Rights Act when 51 percent of our population gets paid less than the other 49 percent to do exactly the same jobs. After many years of slow progress and some fantastic success stories for women, the gender wage gap has once again begun to widen, and women are being forced to climb a much steeper slope than their male counterparts.

The latest surveys suggest that a woman can expect to earn £423,000 less than a man during her career, and are also at a disadvantage when it comes to deciding who receives the biggest bonuses. These figures should act as a wake-up call, and it’s now painfully evident that we have failed to tackle gender inequalities within our working environments.

It is still the case that, in the eyes of many employers, women are perceived to have less economic value than men, predominantly because they may want to have children at some point during their career. There have been several attempts to tackle this increasingly difficult issue. The current government have attempted to reform the concerning attitudes towards female employment by allowing both partners to share maternity and paternity leave. It is widely accepted however, that this policy has ultimately been a failure, and all things considered, there is still plenty of evidence that suggests women are discriminated against for wanting to have a family. This unmistakable prejudice within our society means that for women who want to get ahead, full maternity leave is no longer a real option. By law, women should be able to take a full year’s paid maternity leave and return to their job within a position of equal status, but according to the National Childbirth Trust, 43 percent of British mothers are unlikely to take their full maternity leave due to increasing worries about job security.

The unfortunate reality for many professionals is that a year out of work means a year’s worth of contacts lost, a year’s worth of new development and a year’s worth of new recruits to compete with. The financial markets will not stop for each new mother, and the complexities of the business world present significant obstacles to the success of any new legislation in this area. As a consequence of this uncertain job security, a majority of women are now taking around 12 to 15 weeks of maternity leave, rather than the recommended 52. The situation is becoming so dire that around four percent of women now only take two weeks leave, out of fear of being left behind by their employers.

The Fawcett Society, who campaign for equal working rights for women, have argued that, “news that the gap has begun to widen is a damming indictment of the Government’s record when it comes to women’s standing in the economy.” Ceri Goddard, Fawcett’s chief executive maintains that ‘business as usual’ is failing and new policies need to be implemented if we are to eradicate the outdated stereotypes placed on professional women. Naming and shaming companies may be a tried and tested way to embarrass CEOs and improve transparency, but it does not begin to tackle the root causes of the problem. In fact it has barely scratched the surface.

Rebecca Gray

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