Could business need drive change in organisations instead of government interventions?
The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee has produced a damning report on the government’s measures to address the gender pay gap, calling for increased action to reduce the penalty associated with motherhood in employment and for a society where unpaid caring is shared on an equal basis between men and women.
So far the debate on closing the gender pay gap has focused on the role employers should play. The committee’s report shifts the onus back to the government to provide a range of legislative interventions, in addition to suggesting enhancements to current policy measures.
For example, the report recommends that:
The committee points out that a duty to report is not the same as a duty to act and offers a variety of solutions to deal with the multiplicity of factors causing gender pay gaps, including a move away from part-time to flexible, or agile, working where work is measured in terms of outputs rather than ‘presenteeism’. Part-time working, it says, is seen as the equivalent of ‘career death’, and notes that it is almost unknown in Finland, for example, as the state provides universal childcare at a low (or even no) cost to families. Although UK employees have a right to request flexible working if they have 26 weeks’ service, there is no requirement for new roles to be advertised as available for flexible working.
Three quarters of mothers currently have primary childcare responsibility. Moves to balance caring by introducing shared parental leave have not, and will not, be effective until the poor take-up rates are improved, according to the committee. UK paternity pay is currently lower than the UK average weekly wage and below the minimum wage. The report recommends:
- increasing paternity pay to 90 per cent of salary for the first two weeks
- offering fathers and partners an additional three months’ non-transferable ‘paternal’ leave, paid for four weeks at 90 per cent of salary and then at the same rate as shared parental leave.
More also needs to be done to support employees caring for elderly relatives or disabled children, the report says. It recommends introducing a right to six weeks’ carers’ leave.
Currently 2.3 million women are not in paid employment, at a time of national skills shortages. The report recommends encouraging more women back into work after periods of absence, highlighting the benefits of ‘returnships’ currently used by various organisations. These are “higher level internships for experienced professionals which create a supported bridge back to senior roles,” it says. The report concludes that a national Pathways to Work scheme is necessary to harness the skills and experience of women over 40. In addition, it suggests that apprenticeships could be targeted and rebranded to appeal to women returners.
According to the report, too much focus has been paid to professional women at the expense of millions of low paid female workers. The UK care sector has 1.2 million female employees, and there is a strong focus in the report on the low wages in this sector and the fact that caring has long been undervalued as a profession. The committee recommends an industrial strategy for the care sector as a starting point, before tackling other low paid sectors where women workers are prevalent.
The question with reports like this is whether the recommendations will ever see the light of day. It is highly unlikely that three months’ paid leave will be provided for fathers during the course of this Parliament but the introduction of the National Living Wage will certainly assist women in low paid feminised sectors. With regard to eradicating part-time working, many employers are already adopting agile working practices, as can be seen from the growth of organisations like the Agile Futures Forum, without the need for government intervention.
Graham Paul is a partner and Val Dougan a professional support lawyer at CMS
This article was first published in CIPD on 1 April 2016