Breaking the gender barrier

Feb 28 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The British government's Women and Work commission has warned that the concentration of women in low-paid occupations and barriers to women working in occupations traditionally done by men could be losing the economy between £15 billion £23 billion a year.

However the report's widely-quoted headline –that women in full-time employment earn on average 17 per cent less than their male counterparts – does not imply that women are paid less than men for doing the same jobs. Rather, women's average pay is lower because they tend to be employed in low-paid, traditionally female occupations.

Yet last year's National Management Salary Survey found that while women make up a third of management ranks, they are still paid less than their male colleagues despite enjoying faster pay growth.

The survey of 20,989 individuals employed in over 200 organisations showed that at £36,712, these female managers are earning £2,674 less than their male counterparts. At director level, the pay gap was even more pronounced, at £22,144.

Nevertheless, the EOC's Shaping a Fairer Future report said that employers were not responsible for the inequality.

Instead, it blamed "young girls' choices in schools and the fact that our careers education system completely fails to make them realise that the choices they make will determine what they earn."

The report found that only a sixth of young people received any advice or information on work experience in a sector with a workforce currently dominated by the opposite sex.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of women didn't know when they chose their career, about the often lower pay for work mostly done by women and of these, two thirds of young women said they would have considered a wider range of career options had they known.

The report made 40 recommendations in total, including the setting up of programmes to improve vocational training, work-taster days for primary school children and more help for mothers who wanted to return to work after giving birth.

But the report called for medium and large employers to appoint equality representatives to monitor levels of pay, it rejected calls from trade unions and the Equal Opportunities Commission to make pay audits mandatory.

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry and one of the Women and Work commissioners, said that women's childcare responsibilities was the key cause of this so-called pay gap.

"Employers welcome the report's recommendations to ensure that part-time work is not seen as a second class option and to give women returners the training they need to access better paid jobs," he said

"Girls out-perform boys at school and university, but too many choose lower paid occupations in caring and clerical professions. The report's recommendations to overcome occupational segregation - a major cause of the pay gap - will require educators and employers to work together to revolutionise careers advice and work experience.

"Old stereotypes will be broken by work experience placements in occupations not traditionally taken up by young women, "taster days" for pupils in primary school and the promotion of apprenticeships in occupations usually dominated by men."