Today is the deadline for relevant organisations to file their gender pay audits. There has been an awful lot written about the audits over the last few weeks, much of it over the bank holiday weekend when many will have been otherwise occupied. Much of it seems to conflate the gender pay gap with equal pay. While the two overlap, the gender pay gap requires a much more multi-layered approach. It is not so much that women are not being paid the same as men doing the same or equivalent jobs – the focus of equal pay legislation – but that women are overwhelmingly concentrated in the sectors and at the levels where pay is lowest. This affects not just their lives, but their families’ lives, particularly those who are headed by single parents, and it affects women’s post-work future.
Why are women found more in sectors such as health and education rather than, say, finance or law and why are they less likely to be at the top of the organisations they find themselves in? There are so many different reasons, from the fact that they still carry the burden of caring responsibilities and therefore require more flexible working [and are willing to take lower pay to get it] to the careers girls are encouraged into, the culture they find in more male-dominated sectors and so forth. Many of these are social and political issues. Many require a wider social response – a broader discussion about the jobs women and men do, the pay differential between those at the bottom of an organisation and those at the middle or top, the minimum wage, childcare costs, the sharing of parenting and other caring roles and much more. Moreover, if we are talking about equal pay for equal work, say, comparing caring work with similar work mainly done by men, we need to ensure there is sufficient funding to cover raising women’s wages. This is about political priorities. Having more women in Parliament is therefore hugely important.
It is not enough to just tackle one of these issues. All contribute to the gender pay gap and all must be tackled together if any significant change is to be made. This is not an easy-fix situation. You can’t just hashtag it and expect instant change. To get true, lasting change requires a much deeper shift and an ongoing debate. In the whirlwind of news today, we are always latching on to the next big thing, but we need to have the patience to persevere. There will be backlashes. People will suggest it is all pointless. They already have. They will say women don’t want the senior positions. Perhaps many don’t. Perhaps many men don’t either. But the playing field is certainly not in any way an even one now.
The momentum must be kept up, but it is not enough to be in it for the short term. It is also not enough that it is just about women. It is about how we organise society and what and who we value.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.