The Women and Equalities Committee of MPs published its report on the Gender Pay Gap in March 2016 and the government has now responded to its recommendations for government action to accelerate change. In a nutshell the government response appears to reject the recommendations for policy change and emphasises the anticipated impact of new mandatory pay gap reporting in prompting large organisations to deal with any gaps they might find.
This is particularly interesting to me because the pay gap bites hard for mothers and professionals who work part-time.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published analysis that implicates motherhood in the gradual widening of the 10% gender pay gap to the gaping 33% - yes 33% - 12 years after the first child is born. The root cause is not about having children per se, but about the job moves that are made as a result. Women pursue flexibility in working hours so they are better able to reconcile their work and family responsibilities. For professionals becoming mothers in the UK, moves into less well-rewarded and marginal part-time jobs are common, which the IFS says diminishes their ability to accumulate the skills and experience that lead to promotion. The UK's position in the latest Women in Work Index points to the highest paying sectors being particularly inhospitable places for women, providing few quality part-time professional opportunities and the widest pay gaps - a staggering 34% in financial services.
I recently researched the lives and experiences of 30 professional women who are pioneering part-time and flexible working in the kinds of quality jobs that the Committee recommended should be opened up to flexibility. They are also mothers of infants, toddlers and teenagers and most carry the bulk of the domestic and emotional responsibility within their families. Recording over 100 hours of women's deeply personal stories explains how flexible working works in practice for lawyers, management consultants, bankers, doctors, civil servants, operations and sales directors, programme managers and general managers. The findings have profound implications for all those who work and for those who have a stake in women’s work - politicians, experts, employers and employees alike.
This research reveals a hidden truth behind the gender pay gap statistics and it is shattering.
Professional women converting their previously held full-time jobs into part-time jobs typically retain full-time outputs. In other words, they accept less pay for producing the same outputs as their full-time time (and mostly male) counterparts. Instead of viewed as discriminatory, most women in this study felt it was the price they were expected to pay in their work cultures for more personal control over their working hours.
This is a hidden insight. It lies behind the statistical analysis of hourly rates of pay between women and men. It points to a policy-into-practice gap that slows the advancement of women at work and sustains rather than closes the gender pay gap. It signals a need for action.
Seeing as government has declined to mandate that all jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate a business case against doing so, what to do? First of all, encourage the government to reconsider by getting involved in the Committee's questioning here, deadline12 April 2017.
Leaders of employing organisations can decide to do things anyway, but there is a significant risk that they may not and that progress will be grindingly slow. The challenge then becomes one of convincing business leaders that it is important, and guide them to the best ways of closing pay gaps, optimising flexibility, and maximising the contribution that women can make.
Working for organisations that value being good at flexibility will be beneficial to men as well as women. For organisations minded to change the defaults and normalise flexibility for all employees, I offer five ideas for action to strengthen their organisation's capabilities to implement, manage and sustain flexible working:
Photo credit: Ian Johnston