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Glass ceilings & gender pay gaps – workplace challenges we still face this International Women’s Day

March 8th will see nations across the globe celebrate International Women’s Day. A day devoted to recognising the achievements of women, highlighting gender disparity and aiming to accelerate gender equality. What a great time to blog about the employment issues that affect women here in the UK and Ireland and cheer some significant successes for equality over the last year.

If we told you that forty five years after the Equal Pay Act was introduced, we would still have a gender pay gap, would you believe us?

The statistics, facts and figures tell us that it’s true (see our last blog for an in depth breakdown of the gender pay gap.) For every pound that a man earns in the UK, a woman earns 80p. Gender pay gap reporting aims to lead the government’s stated intention to close that gap ‘within a generation’. If you have fewer than 250 employees this won’t affect you. If you do have greater than that number, be prepared to publish details that will shine a spotlight on any gender pay gap within your business.

Is it that women are paid less for doing the same job? Yes, in some cases that is undoubtedly and embarrassingly true. There are complicating factors though. Women are predominantly the main carers of dependants such as children and older relatives, impacting on the hours they can work and often limiting their career progression. A recent survey by mumsnet.com found that over half of British mums think their children prevent them from getting a better job.

Lots of women therefore seek out flexible working options; exposing them to lower paid roles with limited scope for career development. Many employers have an archaic attitude when it comes to granting their staff flexible working.

Shared Parental Leave has been introduced in the UK to give an option for partners to share the task of caring for new babies or adopted children, giving women more opportunity to get back into work sooner. Grandparental leave (to be introduced) may also help here. However, this may adversely impact women later in life if their role as a carer (i.e. grandmother) is extended in their later years.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination have a major impact on women in the workplace. It’s definitely not something employers want to be taken to tribunal for! Clearly this is not reining in bad bosses’ behaviour! A recent report stated that 54,000 women suffer pregnancy discrimination every year with dismissals, compulsory redundancies and bullying pushing pregnant women out of their jobs. Those who go through this often lose their confidence in the workplace and face a career stall upon their return to working life.

There are some employers who are thinking outside of the box – pledging to give their female staff time off whilst menstruating. It’s worth pointing out that there are lots of simpler policies that employers can enact, to ensure that they have women and family friendly workplaces.

At the top, the glass ceiling refers to women having limited opportunities to secure higher paid positions. We are starting (slowly!) to see a few cracks. The boardrooms of the FTSE 100 are a good example of your typical glass ceiling. Male dominated, testosterone-fuelled and intimidating boardrooms often had not one female within them. There has been a glimmer of hope and progress. The recently published Davies report announced that now, not a single boardroom of the FTSE 100 can be classified as ‘all male’. The government are targeting 33% female representation at board level by 2020.

Female talent is also breaking down boundaries in once typically male sectors. Finally! 50% of junior doctors are now women. Prominent female role models continue to inspire more and more young women down traditionally male career paths such as IT and engineering. Take Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook for example. She is constantly encouraging women to ‘lean forward’ in these sectors.

Every year we say that we have made some (snail like) progress on equality at work and in the wider world, but every year we say we still have so far to go. In another forty years will we still be saying the same when it comes to women, glass ceilings and pay gaps?