14th November is Equal Pay Day. Today marks the point in the year when women start working for free. It’s not the case for some employers, I’m pretty sure my wife’s company pay her the same as any male at her grade, but she has suffered ‘pass overs’ for promotion as she doesn’t work full time since becoming a working mum. She’s OK with that as she believes if you want to climb up the corporate ladder you must be fully committed to your employer. That may have been the case when we started working in the late 80’s but fortunately we now see organisations bringing in flexible working and family friendly policies so both parents can work part time so they can spend more time raising their own children rather than paying for childcare.
What does really concern me though, as a father of two teenage daughters is that despite the pay difference declining in the EU from 16.2% to 16%, my daughters are still likely to earn less than their male colleagues when they enter the workplace. This seems particularly unfair when you consider that women in 2009/2010 overtook men in terms of education levels in UK and have now been in the workplace for 10 years. This may contribute to the fact that in some professions women in their early thirties are earning more than their male counterparts, but generally women are getting a raw deal.
Back in 2017 the Think Tank ‘The Resolution Foundation’ said women entering the workplace in 2017 would still earn significantly less than their male counterparts over their careers, despite the an improvement in pay differences during the first ten years of their career, around 5% for those born between 1981 and 2000, the millennial generation. However, in 2016 a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that the pay gap widened consistently over the 12 years after a first child was born to leave women earning 33% less per hour than men.
But what if it isn’t just a men v women thing, but a time served thing, i.e. the longer you forge out your career in the first half of your working life, the more chance you have of gaining parity and recognition with you longer term workers, mainly men when we are looking at 20+ years full time working.
Fertility inequality after the age of 30 could be a major contributing factor to pay inequality between men and women. That’s why in America where fertility is less of a taboo in the workplace, more organisations are talking about fertility care to unlock the enormous economic potential of pay parity, because equal pay is more difficult without equal access to fertility benefits.
Businesses in the UK are doing more for gender equality by improving job opportunities, addressing pay inequality and providing access to more affordable childcare. However, more could be done to help women to start a family when they are ready. Although women up to the age of 42 have access to fertility treatment on the NHS is can still be bit of a post code lottery.
If a woman decides to focus on their career, their employer could do more to help them at age 35+ or when they are younger. For those younger women who are unsure where their future may take them, be that a career, finding the right partner, more could be done to help them preserve their fertility by using the improving vitrification technology for egg freezing.
So, does the gender equality issue require some rethinking considering women are receiving mixed messages, i.e. they can have a fulfilling career with the same pay as your male colleagues, but you may want to start a family as early as possible. Some women delay motherhood because they have not found the right partner yet, or they may want to go it alone but don’t have the financial income or support to do so. Some women, in or out of steady relationships, will also want to focus on their career delaying motherhood because they worry having a child may have an adverse effect on their career. Some women may simply be undecided about becoming a mother but would like to keep their options open. With these matters in mind, especially today, employers could be more pro-active about early education in the workplace to protect fertility and in turn reduce pay inequality.