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Friday, 16 September 2011

The solution to gender pay equality?

The problem with the many explanations being put forward today for the lack of pay equality between women and men is the attempts ignore the contribution of the past. This is particularly important for executive pay.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that it will take until 2109 for female executives to catch up to their male counterparts in pay parity. On average male managers are paid £42,441 compared to females in the same role who earn just £31,895, despite woman's salaries having grown by 2.4% and men's by 2.1% in the last year.

Attempts to explain this range from straightforward discrimination, to the effect of maternity leave, to women's lack of ability to negotiate better pay terms. But I would like to suggest that the pay gap at executive levels reflects the situation in higher education 20 years ago being reflected now. And a second piece of (less trumpeted) information released by the Chartered Management Institute seems to back this up.

To explain, allow me to take you back to January 2010, and the visit of Glenda Jackson MP to my politics classroom at my old school. A student had pointed out to her statistics showing that Labour's record on social mobility was poor. She argued that it was impossible to blame Labour for any current social mobility statistics. She then explained that social mobility is measured by whether someone is better off than their parents. Given that the main driver of that will be their education, and it takes 20 years to find out whether someone really has become better off, statistics on social mobility now would reflect the achievements of those educated (like me) in the 1980s, under (she was quick to remind us), Tory mismanagement of public services. She pointed to one of the students, who had had their entire education (from beginning of Primary school to that point, halfway into A-levels) under the Labour Party. "Now, YOU", she said "we will take responsibility for. Let's see where YOU are in 20 years time. THAT will tell you whether Labour achieved social mobility."

When you think about it, she was right. By the time the girl in question is 37, she would be settled in a career and probably at executive level. Or not. She would have come through a system which was truly equal. Where boys and girls had equal chances, equal opportunities to take GCSEs and A-levels, and degrees.

Only 20 years ago, that wasn't so much the case as it is now. Less girls did degrees than boys. Less girls did A-levels than boys. Less girls went on to futher qualifications than boys. Women were still having children at an earlier age, therefore not settling properly into a career and leaving climbing up the ladder until later.

Women do, however, earn more than men when in junior management roles. The CMI found on average junior women managers now earn £21,969, which is £602 more than men at the same level, but the gender pay gap as a whole is greater in 2011 than in 2010. But what that shows is that junior women managers, who are likely to have gone through school and our education system in the same numbers and at the same speed as males and are thus achieving equality. It is quite possible that those junior women managers might grow into the equally paid and promoted executives of the next 20 years.

Except for one problem. I'm going to predict that those junior women managers are in the mid to late-twenties, thus the majority have not gone through bringing up children, which is the time when pay equality really starts to bite. People have been trying for a long time to find a way to solve that problem, which has mainly consisted of maternity legislation. Much of that has been protective over women's pay and conditions, but you hear again and again of employers being wary of hiring women of child-bearing age because of the consequences of that legislation.

But we now have new legislation which could change this.  "Additional Paternity Leave and Pay" gives fathers of babies born on or after April 3rd 2011 the right to take 26 weeks paternity leave from 20 weeks after their child's birth. This could make an interesting difference because suddenly there is little legal excuse for mothers to be staying at home for the full year to take care of their children. If parents want to be at home with their children for the full year allowed, the mother and the father will be able to share it, legally. Yes, if the father is the main breadwinner this could be difficult to do, but in any other situation there is no reason why mothers can't return to work without feeling they are abandoning their children to the childcare system.

As Glenda Jackson might point out, this is going to take about 20 years to work through our system. But I'm willing to bet that if it works like I think it might, and if the changes in equality of education and aspiration that I feel New Labour achieved during their time in power work as I think they will, we might get to equal pay between the genders at executive level a great deal sooner than 2109.

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