Equal Pay Day and the Gender Pay Gap

Today’s guest blog is from Jackie Longworth, from Bristol Women’s Commission’s
Economy Task Force and Chair of Fair Play South West.

Today – 18 September 2021 – is International Equal Pay Day. It’s a day on which we take stock of where we are in terms of the gender pay gap here in Bristol, and shine a light on what more is needed to achieve gender equality.

Bristol Women’s Commission was set up eight years ago to deliver on the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. Without equal pay, we will never achieve this. Last year, the UN predicted it would take 250 years to achieve equal pay between women and men globally. Bristol One City has an ambitious goal of 2040 – which, of course, we are all hoping to deliver even sooner.

We know that the pandemic has hit women harder than men. Last year, our Economy Task Group produced Delivering an Inclusive Economy Post-Covid-19, a report which outlined many of the ways in which women have been disproportionately affected; from taking on more unpaid care duties to being more likely to be furloughed or made redundant.

Equal pay for equal work

Equal pay means that a woman is paid the same per hour as a man for doing either the same work or work assessed as of equal value. It is a legal requirement in the UK and a woman can take an employer to tribunal to have it enforced. However, failures to comply with equal pay laws are not common enough to explain the ‘Gender Pay Gap’; most of the gap is due to the different jobs which tend to be done by women and men and whether they are full-time or part-time.

Gender pay gap refers the average hourly pay of a group of women employees compared with that of a group of men employees. There are many different gender pay gaps that can be calculated: relative to geography or other identifying factors, salary range/pay grade and different work patterns. Most measure the average based on the median: the mid-point at which half earn less, and half earn more. 

In Bristol in 2019 (later data is confused by the pandemic), the gap in median pay between full-time women and full-time men was 6.3%. However, nearly half (41%) of employed women work part-time compared with only 16% of men and there is a big hourly pay penalty for working part-time (27% for women, 37% for men). In terms of weekly pay, women have the double disadvantage of both lower pay per hour and fewer hours of work, which is why women tend to rely more on social security such as Universal Credit than men do. 

Impact of caring duties

The main reason more women than men work part-time is that they are unable to access high quality, local, affordable childcare, particularly for enough hours to enable them to work full-time. In Bristol, resolving this problem is a priority and we are working with partners to find innovative ways of supporting the childcare sector at the same time as joining with nationwide campaigners to seek improvements in Government policy. As well as childcare, more women than men care for disabled, sick or elderly relatives, a situation which will persist until there is better provision of publicly-funded social care.

The jobs available for part-time working tend to be in low paid sectors such as caring, cleaning, retail and hospitality. Many of these jobs are essential, skilled and undervalued and these very low pay rates need to be increased. Bristol is encouraging employers to pay all workers at least the Real Living Wage which would be a start. 

Gender Pay Gap reporting

Employers are required by law to report their internal pay gaps and encouraged to have action plans to reduce them. This could reduce the extent to which they illegally pay part-time workers less per hour than full-time workers in equivalent jobs. Despite the requirement to report these being suspended during the pandemic, Bristol City Council has voluntarily published figures for 2020 and is encouraging other employers to do the same.

Reduction in the part-time hourly pay penalty requires employers also to ensure that higher paid jobs are available for part-time working. The data show that many young full-time women move to lower paid part-time jobs in their thirties – often coinciding with becoming mothers. This is reflected in the gender pay gap between all women and men, which increases at age 30 and never recovers.

Bristol Women in Business Charter

Bristol Women’s Commission set up the Bristol Women in Business Charter to try and help address the gender pay gap here in Bristol. We have seen real progress since then, with signatories pledging to take steps to close the gender pay gap – including by supporting women into more senior leadership positions but more work is needed to close the gap completely. Has your employer signed up to the Charter yet?