How can women break the pay glass ceiling?

What can be done to break the glass ceiling and get more women off the sticky floor?

What can be done to break the glass ceiling and get more women off the sticky floor?

New analysis carried out by the Trade Union Congress to mark equal pay day shows that men are more than twice as likely as women to earn a salary of over £50,000 a year when working full-time.

That’s one in seven full-time men compared to one in 15 full-time women. The average pay for women in roles which pay around this level-solicitors, business and financial project managers and school heads, college principals and other senior educational professionals,  still lags some way behind their male peers.

At the other end of the labour market we find millions of women affected by poverty pay. One in four women working full time earns less than the living wage , and a shocking two in five women working part time earns less than this amount.

Today is equal pay day. It represents the day on which the average woman working full-time effectively stops earning because of the pay gap between her and the average full-time man. It has come a few days earlier than last year as the pay gap has widened by nearly one percentage point.

There has been the usual flurry of media coverage and debate about why women, more than forty years after the Equal Pay Act, are still on average earning less than men.

Having taken part in some of this debate today I have heard the view that the gender pay gap is just a ‘myth’ – the reason women earn less on average is because they take time out to care for children and that’s just nature. One regional news presenter even implied that women in jobs like police officers should earn less because they don’t have the physical strength to wrestle a burly 6’4 assailant to the ground!

Thankfully, though, the prevailing view seemed to be that women should be able to access work that properly reflects their skill, qualifications and experience and should be rewarded fairly for that work.

So what can be done to break the glass ceiling and get more women off the sticky floor?

First, we need more employers to audit their pay rates and check that women are receiving equal pay to men in equal work. It often surprises employers to find patterns of women earning less than men when they do carry out such audits.

This is often the case when pay decisions are the outcome of individual negotiations between managers and staff and there is little transparency about who earns what in an organisation.

Second, far more needs to be done to create more decently paid, part time or flexible work opportunities. Too often, women find that once they are juggling paid work with raising children, they are forced to take a step down and work below their qualification and skill level.

This is the only way that they can work shorter hours or work more flexibly to accommodate their needs of their children.

Finally, men need to be incentivised to take time out and play a more equal role in parenting. International evidence shows that better paid leave, available to fathers on a ‘use it or lose it’ rather than a shared basis, results in more dads taking breaks from work to care for babies and this leads to more equal parenting generally.

If fathers and mothers were equally likely to be called by a school or nursery when a child was ill, then we could start to overcome the entrenched bias against ‘women of childbearing age’ and the ‘unreliability’ of mothers in the workplace.

Sally Brett is senior equality policy officer at the TUC

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