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We're hiring!

Close the Gap is hiring for two new positions! The first is for the role of Research and Evaluation Officer to support the delivery of our innovative Equally Safe at Work employer accreditation programme. The second is for the role of Communications and Administration Assistant, to assist with expanding our communications work and the smooth running of the organisation. You can find more information for both roles, and details of how to apply, below.

Close the Gap values diversity in our workforce and encourages applications from all sectors of the community. Flexible working options are available for both of these roles. Close the Gap is a Living Wage accredited employer.

Research and Evaluation Officer

Hours: 34 hours per week
Salary: £29,646
Pension: 10% employer contribution
Location: 166 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 2LW (homeworking while Covid-19 restrictions are in place)

Responsible to: The Executive Director

The post is fixed term, funded until 30 September 2023, with potential extension depending on funding.

Purpose

To support the delivery of Close the Gap’s employer accreditation programme, Equally Safe at Work, by monitoring and evaluating its implementation in a range of sectors. Equally Safe at Work supports employers to develop gender-sensitive employment practice to advance gender equality at work and prevent violence against women. To work closely with the Programme Manager, contributing to the development and delivery of the evaluation plan, and to design and deliver data gathering processes for Equally Safe at Work and related Close the Gap work. To gather and analyse data from employers and employees to support monitoring and evaluation.

Role

We’re looking for someone with knowledge and experience of quantitative and qualitative research methods to join our team to support the delivery of Equally Safe at Work, Close the Gap’s employer accreditation programme. Committed to women’s labour market equality, and with experience of evaluating policy or programmes, you’ll be working closely with Equally Safe at Work colleagues to evaluate the accreditation programme in local government, NHS boards, third sector employers and Scottish Government. You’ll be implementing an evaluation plan and gathering quantitative and qualitative data from employers and employees. You’ll also be writing research and evaluation reports and developing case studies.

Organisation profile

Close the Gap is Scotland’s policy advocacy organisation working on women’s labour market participation. We work strategically with policymakers, employers and unions to address the causes of women’s inequality at work.

Application notes

Electronic applications must be submitted using our online application form which you can find on our website at https://www.closethegap.org.uk/jobs/. If you are unable to use an online application process, please contact us at info@closethegap.org.uk. Please do not submit a CV as it will not be read, and will not be used for shortlisting.

The deadline for applications is 20th February 2022.

You will be notified by 2nd March 2022 if you have been selected for interview.

It is anticipated that the interviews will take place remotely during the week commencing 7th March 2022.

Communications and Administration Assistant

Hours: 28 hours per week
Salary: £17,738 (FTE £22,172)
Pension: 10% employer contribution
Location: 166 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, G1 2LW (homeworking while Covid-19 measures are in place)

Responsible to: Policy & Development Manager

The post is fixed term, funded until 30 September 2024, with potential extension depending on funding.

Purpose

To co-ordinate Close the Gap social media channels and websites, and support wider communications work. To contribute to the work of Close the Gap by providing administrative support.

Role

We’re looking for an enthusiastic person with professional social media experience and strong communication skills to contribute to the delivery of Close the Gap’s work. Committed to women’s labour market equality, you'll provide administrative support, contributing to the effective running of the organisation. You'll also be working within our small, busy team to assist with the development of communications, events and publications.

Organisation profile

Close the Gap is Scotland’s expert policy advocacy organisation working on women’s labour market participation. We work strategically with policymakers, employers and unions to address the causes of women’s inequality at work.

Application notes

Electronic applications must be submitted using our online application form which you can find on our website at https://www.closethegap.org.uk/jobs/. If you are unable to use an online application process please contact us at info@closethegap.org.uk. Please do not submit a CV as it will not be read, and will not be used for shortlisting.

The deadline for applications is 11.59pm on Sunday 20th February 2022.

You will be notified by Monday 7th March 2022 if you have been selected for interview.

It is anticipated that the interviews will take place remotely during the week commencing Monday 14th March 2022.

 

Close the Gap (SCIO) (known as Close the Gap) is a Scottish charity, no SC046842.

The pandemic hasn’t drastically changed the flexible working landscape, we still need regulatory and cultural change

The lack of quality flexible working opportunities in the UK labour market remains a key cause of the gender pay gap. The lack of flexibility sustains women’s concentration in low-paid, low-skilled work. This also results in women’s under-representation at management level and in senior grades. Improving access to flexible working is thus critical to addressing women’s low pay, tackling women’s poverty and child poverty, and closing the gender pay gap.

A revolution in flexible working?

There is a popular narrative that flexible working has become the workplace norm as a result of the pandemic, with many reports stating that flexibility is officially here to stay.

Certainly, the labour market changes necessitated by the pandemic have demonstrated that many more roles are capable of being done on a flexible basis. In this way, the crisis has challenged the continued cultural assumption against flexible working which existed across many jobs and sectors.

There was also undoubtedly a sharp increase in remote working during the pandemic with welcome benefits for many workers, including disabled women. However, the crisis also served to highlight who has access to homeworking. Less than one in ten of those in the bottom half of earners say they can work from home, compared with 50% of workers in the top half of earners. This pattern is also gendered because the majority of low-paid workers are women. Also, no more than half of the UK workforce was working from home at any point during the pandemic with large numbers of workers continuing to work outside the home, or being furloughed.

During periods of lockdown, many women had to work from home as a result of public health restrictions but were often afforded little or no flexibility by their employer in order to do so. This created real challenges for women in maintaining paid work alongside increased childcare, care and home-schooling responsibilities.

Remote working is only one example of flexible working, and we also need to ensure that workers have access to hours-based flexibility in the aftermath of the pandemic. Indeed, it is different types of flexible working, with a specific focus on quality part-time working, that women with caring responsibilities need in order to access the workplace. Over the pandemic, with the exemption of home working, access to all other forms of flexibility actually declined.

Timewise research also highlights that the recruitment market is not yet mirroring the apparent seismic shift around flexibility. Only 24% of jobs in the Scottish labour market were advertised with flexible options by the end of 2020. This calls into question the extent to which a range of flexible working options have been normalised and adopted by employers.

It is therefore easy to overstate the impact of the pandemic in changing working practices and it cannot be presumed that employers have drastically changed their approach to flexible working as a result of the crisis. An increase in flexibility was ultimately a reactive decision by employers, taken in response to public health restrictions, rather than a strategic business decision. While some employers may have become convinced by the business case for flexible working, it is not pre-determined that any increase in flexibility will be maintained by employers. While 73% of employers are expecting more requests to work from home after the pandemic, only 36% of employers report being more likely to grant them.

Improving the policy framework

The current policy context is not conducive to creating a culture of flexibility. Legal provisions around the right to request flexible working are not fit for purpose. While the statutory right to request was extended to cover all employees in 2014, analysis by Close the Gap found that this has resulted in very little change, with no meaningful increase in women’s access to flexible working. Consequently, there remains an urgent need for legislative change to facilitate a move to a more flexible labour market across the UK.

Earlier this month, Close the Gap responded to the UK Government’s consultation on flexible working. The main policy proposal within the consultation is to make flexible working the default, introducing a day-one right to request flexible working. Close the Gap is supportive of this change, and is in agreement with the Women and Equalities Committee’s that the current 26 weeks service threshold is ‘unhelpful and unnecessary’.

Ensuring that the right to request is extended to all employees from their first day of employment will increase women’s access to the labour market, as well as enabling women to move jobs, potentially allowing women to access more working hours and higher paying roles. At present, the lack of flexibility when taking up employment all too often forces women into insecure work which is associated with low-pay and poor terms and conditions.

We also called for wider regulatory changes including an employee right to submit an unlimited number of flexible working requests, rather than the current limit of one per year. We also supported changes to require employers to outline alternative flexible working arrangements when rejecting a statutory request for flexible working.

At present, the business reasons for refusing a flexible working request are wide-ranging. In practice, this gives employers an almost untethered ability to reject requests, particularly if they are not persuaded of the business benefits of flexible working. Around three in ten requests from employees seeking to access flexible working are turned down by their employer. We therefore support the development of a more specific set of business reasons which would give employers less scope to reject flexible working requests because of negative attitudes to flexibility.

Shifting attitudes on flexibility

These changes have the potential to increase access to flexibility, enabling women to enter and progress within the labour market. However, as we have seen with the introduction of shared parental leave, policy shifts without surrounding cultural change are unlikely to mean transformational change for women’s experience of the labour market.

The UK and Scottish Governments have important roles to play in improving employer attitudes to flexibility. Over half of mothers (51%) who had their flexible working request approved said it resulted in negative consequences as they were treated less favourably as a result. Research conducted in Scotland last year also found that 52% of employers think flexible working creates more work for line managers, and 30% felt that those working flexibly are less committed to their career. The pandemic has not, therefore, drastically altered employer attitudes.

Employers should seek to create a workplace culture where flexible and part-time working is valued in the same way as full-time working patterns. This should include mandatory training for line managers on flexible working, developing a formal flexible working policy, highlighting the commitment of senior leaders to flexibility, and gathering data on who has access to flexible working.

A more flexible labour market brings clear gender equality benefits, but there is also a wealth of evidence demonstrating the business case for flexible working. Flexibility is associated with productivity gains, reputational benefits that make the company more attractive to the best candidates, and enhanced employee wellbeing and morale. Employers who offer flexible working are able to recruit from a wider talent pool, address skills gaps, and are more able to retain staff. Improving the availability of flexible working therefore makes good business sense.

A recent TUC survey highlighted that 87% of women want to work more flexibly in the future. Across the UK, we currently remain some distance from meeting that demand, necessitating both regulatory and cultural change. Building a labour market that is characterised by high-quality flexible jobs is essential to realising women’s labour market equality in the aftermath of the pandemic.

You can access Close the Gap’s full response to the UK Government’s consultation on Making Flexible Working the Default here.

The Value of Social Care

The creation of a National Care Service is an opportunity to improve the lives of people who use social care and their families and carers. But whatever form it takes, a reformed social care system must address the undervaluation of its workforce if it’s to succeed in improving the quality and provision of care services in Scotland. To do this, we must acknowledge the reason that care work is so undervalued – because it’s seen as “women’s work”.

Care is profoundly gendered. Women do the bulk of unpaid and informal care, and comprise85% of Scotland’s social care workforce.Social care is vital to women’s lives, as workers and as service users, and to the functioning of Scotland’s economy Investment in the workforce is core to providing high quality personalised care. Despite this, the social care workforce remains underpaid, undervalued and under-protected.

This undervaluation is sustained by gender stereotypes and assumptions about women’s and men’s capabilities and interests. There’s a widespread assumption that caring and other unpaid work done in the home is better suited to women because historically it has been their role. This drives the undervaluation of this work when it’s done in the labour market, with jobs such as cleaning, catering, childcare and social care paid at, or close to, the minimum wage as a result. Additionally, the stereotype that women are intrinsically more caring is used to justify the low pay of care work in the labour market, with perceived job satisfaction a substitute for fair pay. This undervaluation of women’s work underpins occupational segregation, the gender pay gap and women’s poverty.

Rising demand due to demographic change and difficulty recruiting and retaining workers have combined with funding challenges to place huge pressure on the social care system in Scotland. Many care sector employers are already reporting high vacancy rates, a shortage of good quality applicants and high staff turnover. The overall vacancy rate in social care is already twice the Scottish average.

These challenges are primarily driven by the pay and conditions of social care work. Care workers cite low pay and poor conditions as a primary reason for leaving their jobs. Many report not being paid for travel time between appointments or for overnight stays, effectively reducing their hourly pay rate, alongside highly compressed appointment times. Social care workers frequently don’t have enough timeto deliver high quality care to service users. This has a detrimental impact on service users, but also on workers’ mental health and wellbeing because they can’t deliver the standard of dignified and compassionate care they wish to.

These factors are driving social care workers to leave the sector, but they also affect the standards of care it is possible to deliver within the current system. Evidence shows that pay is the primary determinant of care quality. Practices such as not paying for travel time and insufficient appointment times are a major barrier to quality of care. Delivering quality social care requires delivering decent pay and conditions to the social care workforce. It’s impossible to resolve these issues while maintaining low pay in the sector. This means that a National Care Service can only improve care quality and provision if it’s accompanied by the investment needed to raise the pay and conditions of the social care workforce.

Investment in care infrastructure, including in childcare and social care, delivers wider benefits alongside improved care provision. It stimulates job creation, community regeneration, and increased opportunities for under-employed women. Research by the Women’s Budget Group found that investment in care in the UK would produce 2.7 times as many jobs as an equivalent investment in construction.

Care is as essential to our economy as bricks, steel, and fibre optic cable. Social care, along with childcare, is critical infrastructure which enables women’s labour market participation, and is a necessary step in realising women’s wider economic equality. Inclusive growth must mean investing in a care economy, with investment in childcare and care for disabled people and older people considered as necessary infrastructure for a sustainable wellbeing economy and a good society.

The social care workforce is the foundation of the social care system. A National Care Service must value the predominantly female social care workforce if it’s to tackle the longstanding challenges in social care delivery, and create a sustainable system fit for the future.

This piece was first published as part of ALLIANCE’s ‘The Future of Social Care’ series. The ALLIANCE is Scotland’s national third sector intermediary for a range of health and social care organisations. Their vision is for a Scotland where people of all ages who are disabled or living with long term conditions, and unpaid carers, have a strong voice and enjoy their right to live well, as equal and active citizens, free from discrimination, with support and services that put them at the centre. You can find out more about their work here: https://www.alliance-scotland.org.uk/

Equal Pay Day 2021: A look at BME women’s inequality at work

From today – Equal Pay Day – women are now effectively working for free until the end of the year. New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that Scotland’s gender pay gap has narrowed slightly from 10.4% to 10.1%, suggesting women’s workplace inequality remains stubbornly entrenched. As with last year, the data comes with reliability warnings due to the impact of COVID on the sample size of employer pay data. Further COVID-related factors such as the recent end of furlough and the impact of labour market shortages also won’t be reflected in gender pay gap data for some time.

Despite a continued lack of clarity as to how the pandemic has impacted the gender pay gap, our analysis has shown that the economic impact of the Covid crisis has been borne by women, with different groups of women affected in different ways due to intersecting inequalities. In particular, Black and minority ethnic (BME) women have faced multiple challenges in employment during the pandemic as a result of their pre-existing inequality in the labour market. Equal Pay Day is much earlier in the year for BME women, and the pandemic is likely to have exacerbated this trend.

BME women are significantly more likely to be in precarious work which has put them at greater risk of job disruption over the course of the crisis. Evidence highlights that those on zero-hour contracts and in temporary employment have suffered greater falls in earnings and hours over the pandemic than those on more secure contracts. In addition, occupational segregation is particularly acute for BME women, who are more likely than women as a whole to be employed in shutdown sectors, including retail and hospitality, which means that BME women were more likely to have been furloughed, often on less than 100% of their already low pay. Ultimately, job disruption will have further threatened BME women’s financial security.

Inequality in employment was a reality for BME women long before the pandemic. BME women still face deeply rooted prejudices and racism in their lives, which create and sustain workplace inequality. For example, being in the minority in a majority-white country means they are passed over for opportunities, as people are more likely to hire or promote someone who they see as ‘like them’, known as ‘affinity bias’. BME women are also over-represented in low-paid, lower status occupations such as social care. For BME women, these inequalities overlap to create an ever larger set of barriers that see them facing racist and sexist attitudes and behaviours, and employment policies and processes that sustain their inequality at work and in the wider world. Close the Gap’s Still Not Visible researchfound that almost three quarters (72%) of BME women in Scotland have faced racism, discrimination, racial prejudice and/or bias in the workplace.

Understanding the causes of BME women’s inequality in employment is critical to finding solutions and to driving change. We cannot do this without good data. Gender pay gap reporting for large private and third sector organisations has been in place since 2018, and employers have just published their third set of gender pay gap data. In late 2018 to early 2019 the UK Government undertook a public consultation on ethnicity pay gap reporting, however this is yet to translate into concrete action. The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities encouraged employers to publish their ethnicity pay gaps, but recommended that this remain voluntary.

We know this doesn’t work. Employers are extremely unlikely to take action on inequality at work unless they are compelled to do so. We echo the joint call made by the TUC, EHRC and CBI for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to make publishing ethnicity pay gaps a requirement of the Public Sector Equality Duty. The Scottish Government also plans to publish a ethnicity pay gap strategy and we’ve called for this to respond adequately to BME women’s inequality in employment.

In addition to improving the range of intersectional gender-disaggregated data, we also need employers to take strong action on inequality in the workplace. We’re currently analysing this year’s gender pay gap reporting data, but we know from previous years that less than a third of employers published actions to tackle their pay gaps, and only 4% had provided evidence of steps they had taken. If pay gap reporting is going to make a difference, it must also be backed by mandatory action plans for employers on both their gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

The causes of the gender pay gap go far beyond the issue of pay. They include a lack of flexible working, women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care, biased and untransparent recruitment, development and progression practices, male-oriented workplace cultures and occupational segregation. These are all mutually reinforcing and are further compounded by discrimination and inequality rooted in racism. They affect all women, but BME women are particularly impacted.

We need to see decisive action from employers to tackle this. Using the findings of our research and the support of experts working on race equality, we have developed a resource for employers to help them address BME women’s inequality in the workplace. This includes guidance on understanding and improving workplace culture, ensuring equality and diversity are central to recruitment, and dealing with reports of discrimination and harassment. These are supported by tailored resources for people in key roles to enable employers to drive change at all levels. We’ll be launching this in the new year – keep an eye on the blog for more information.

In the coming months, Close the Gap will also be publishing the findings of our assessment of Scottish employers’ gender pay gap reporting and our annual gender pay gap analysis report.

Women are more likely to experience long Covid but, once again, the system of support doesn’t meet their needs

The emergence of long Covid has exposed yet another way in which the pandemic has disproportionately affected women in Scotland. Long Covid describes symptoms that persist four weeks after contracting the virus. A TUC survey found that those with long-term Covid symptoms experienced brain fog (72%), shortness of breath (70%), difficulty concentrating (62%) and memory problems (54%). These symptoms have led to workers having to reduce their working hours, or stop working altogether.

 

Recent analysis found that over two million people in the UK are known to have experienced long Covid and a review of risk factors found consistent evidence for an increased risk amongst women. Among symptomatic people, the persistence of one or more symptoms for 12 weeks or longer was higher in women than men. While acute cases of Covid tend to be mostly male and over 50, long Covid sufferers are both relatively young and overwhelmingly women.

Women’s increased likelihood of having long Covid therefore creates challenges for women’s labour market participation, particularly as employer responses to long Covid have made sustaining paid work particularly difficult. A recent TUC survey found that:

As women are more likely to experience long Covid, inadequate employer responses are threatening women’s labour market participation and financial security. It’s therefore critical that women who have had to leave their job, or reduce their working hours, are able to access financial support.

The rate of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) remains insufficient at £96.35 per week, and has put women with long Covid, and their children, at increased risk of poverty. SSP is only payable for up to 28 weeks, and many women with long Covid are now reaching the end of entitlement, making them reliant on a social security system that doesn’t meet their needs.

Other women will have missed out on SSP entirely. Despite women being more likely to be in jobs with high-exposure to Covid-19, women’s concentration in low-paid and precarious work makes them less likely to be eligible for SSP. Work from the Women’s Budget Group found that women hold 70% of jobs that are not entitled to SSP.

There is therefore a need for strong employer and Government responses to protect the financial security of women experiencing long Covid symptoms.

The TUC have called for the UK Government to urgently recognise long Covid as a disability under the Equality Act, highlighting that many individuals experiencing long Covid already meet the 12-month criteria for a ‘long-term’ condition. This would ensure that employers cannot legally discriminate against workers with long Covid while also putting a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments that remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages workers with long Covid face. Of course, this should be accompanied by financial support for workers who have not yet met the 12-month threshold.

There have also been calls for long Covid to be recognised as an occupational disease to give employees and their dependants access to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while working. This is particularly important for women who make up vast majority (79%) of key workers in Scotland, meaning they have greater exposure to the virus in the workplace. Figures from the HSE covering the period of April to September 2020 found that three-quarters of employer Covid-19 disease reports made in Scotland related to a female employee.

Earlier this year, Close the Gap responded to the consultation on Mark Griffin’s proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill. We highlighted that the current system of Employment Injuries Assistance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) does not meet women’s needs and is ultimately unfit for purpose. Women workers face significant challenges in receiving support through the current system and these issues are likely to come to the fore in the context of long Covid.

This proposed Bill is therefore an important, and timely, intervention. The Bill can have a positive impact on equality through a focus on commissioning research relating to women’s experiences of industrial injury; the development of new mechanisms and definitions which improve women’s access to EIA; and changes to the list of prescribed illness and diseases. At present, only 16% of those claiming IIDB are women.

Historically, less attention has been given to the health and safety needs of women. The pandemic has also highlighted issues with women’s access to suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Only 29% of women report that the PPE they use is specifically designed for women, meaning that it is not fit for purpose. Inappropriate PPE leaves women further exposed to Covid-19, posing a severe risk to the safety of women workers and their families. Female-dominated sectors such as care have also suffered from a lack of PPE during the pandemic.

Women’s experiences of long Covid and the barriers to accessing adequate support have, once again, highlighted the persistence of structural issues around women’s low-paid and precarious work; the inability of the social security system to meet women’s needs; and the need for urgent reform of our employment injuries assistance system.

Employers need to effectively support women workers with long Covid, and the UK Government must urgently introduce measures to ensure women have access to adequate financial support. Without such action, long Covid will further entrench women’s inequality in the labour market.

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