47 years ago the Equal Pay Act made it unlawful to discriminate against employees due to their gender.
Let’s be honest, as I write that nearly 50 years later, if it had worked we wouldn’t see the gender disparity that we witnessed yesterday when the BBC revealed their top salaries.
The Act has failed and, as most of us know, equal pay is still something of a myth. The UK national pay gap is currently 9.4% according to the ONS (which means, as women, we effectively work over 1 month for FREE).
So what is responsible for this gender pay gap?
There is evidence that one of the most damaging things to a women’s earning potential is having children and anecdotally I can say this is true.
Returning from maternity leave after my first child, my male boss gave me “new duties” which meant I had to be at work by 7.30am every morning. I was not given a pay rise as I had only been at work for part of the appraisal year. This was despite the fact it was a legal requirement and, looking at my previous appraisals, I would have been entitled to it.
To be honest, I was so knackered from juggling the early starts and running between work and childcare that I didn’t contest it. When he left, and I got a brilliant boss, it was too late. I had already decided that if I wanted to have any sort of work / life balance, I had to leave the career I had worked hard to build.
And I am not alone.
Many of the women I talk to have said the same thing.
I have sat in many meetings where the part-time colleagues I suggested for mid-senior management positions were rejected. The message was clear – they could do the job when their kids grew up but wanting to further their career and raise kids at the same time was out of the question!
Amongst my “mum” friends, the majority are not in the same job (or even career) they were pre-children. They worked across industries from marketing to banking to publishing to TV and the lack of flexibility combined with the cost of childcare meant that many of them didn’t return to their previous jobs.
They have either started up businesses, retrained or are working in new roles part-time.
Of those that did return, the vast majority went back on reduced hours with a negative effect their salary and promotion opportunities, at least in the short term.
Many would argue that this is a choice and that the cost of having the opportunity to work part time or have a break from work is a reduction in wages.
Is this fair?
It depends where you are sitting…
Many women report a loss in confidence after children. Therefore, even in the more forward thinking companies, women are less likely to advance up the ladder as they don’t apply for the jobs and without promotion pay becomes static.
The cost of childcare, if you have more than one child, can be more than your mortgage which means, for all but the top earners, women lose money by returning to work.
The “brain drain” of women aged 30-40 in some professions is staggering. 25% of people leaving teaching are women aged 30-39 and for many of these women it is because they can’t balance their role with raising their own family (which is very ironic).
The thing is that many of the prejudices and actions I have described are not intentional. My ex -boss gave me the new duties because no-one else wanted them and I wasn’t there. I have heard stories of friend’s managers being genuinely surprised that they would like more challenge and promotion opportunities when they work part-time.
I feel like I am one of the lucky ones as I was able to build my business around my kids which has sustained my earning potential, BUT, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Many women don’t, so they stay in jobs that don’t match their skills, talents and experience because of a real or perceived lack of appropriate opportunities. Or they start up businesses which fail and further dent their confidence.
The only way we can really tackle the gender pay gap is by tackling way society values women who have children and the role they play. This may well take a few more generations, however, I know I will keep fighting for it – are you in?
Ruth Kudzi is a qualified Success Coach who works with start ups and new entrepreneurs to develop their businesses.