Last week, companies across the UK were obliged to reveal their gender pay gaps. While making these things more transparent is welcome, it was disheartening if unsurprising to see such a large pay gap at many companies that are household names here in Edinburgh and across the country – and particularly disappointing to see the pay gap in Edinburgh marginally higher than the national average, at 12.9 per cent compared to 12 per cent.
The norm is very much a pay gap in favour of men – and we have to ask why that is, and start to untangle the excuses that many companies make for their pay gaps, such as that women employed by the company work in lower paid roles – because that itself is symptomatic of the inequality facing our society.
Let’s be clear – paying somebody a different amount for the same work is discrimination, and workers can take up an equal pay case to get what they’re owed.
The gender pay gap is more complex, and is related to wider societal issues where women face fewer opportunities to climb the career ladder into highly-paid positions.
A big part of that problem is childcare. Women still take on a disproportionate burden of caring for children, and are more likely to temporarily drop out of the workforce or to drop down to part-time hours than men.
Part of cracking this is improving the availability of childcare – which is why the SNP’s ambitious expansion of free childcare has the potential to be so transformative.
But employers have a duty to fix this too. If dropping to part-time hours stops career progression, then employers need to ask why that’s the case and if they’re failing to get the most from their workers – it’s not in anybody’s interest to have talented women stuck in jobs beneath their ability.
However, childcare is only part of the picture. The pay gap is also a direct result of a culture that systemically values women less, leading to unconscious bias, which in the workplace means less mentoring, training and promotions for female workers, occupational segregation where women are encouraged into low paying jobs and then resulting in vertical segregation in large companies where women are prevalent at the low end and virtually non-existent at the top, still, in 2018.
Within the UK, the SNP is leading the way in tackling the gender pay gap in government, while demanding more action from the UK government at Westminster.
We are increasing transparency around the gender pay gap in the public sector, and will require all public authorities with more than 20 employees to make public their pay gap every two years.
We have doubled funding to support businesses led by women, have passed groundbreaking legislation to ensure there is a 50:50 gender balance in public sector boardrooms in Scotland by 2020, and have established a women returners scheme to support women to regain confidence and skills after career breaks. We are also pushing the Tory government at Westminster to change their gender pay gap legislation to require companies with more than 150 employees to report their gender pay gaps, rather than the current 250.
The Scottish Government is serious about tackling the gender pay gap which continues to shame our society and symbolise deep-seated gender inequality – it’s time for the UK government to match our level of commitment.
Ash Denham is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, a member of theFinance and Constitution Committee and Deputy Convener of the Health and Sport Committee.