Expert women’s organisations call for action on the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work committee gender pay gap inquiry
Close the Gap has co-ordinated a joint response from gender equality organisations in Scotland to the recent Scottish Parliament Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee inquiry report into the gender pay gap.
Close the Gap, Equate Scotland, Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid and Zero Tolerance have welcomed the committee’s report, which reinforces the economic imperative of closing the gender pay gap. Research by Close the Gap last year identified that closing the gender gap in employment could add up to £17bn to Scotland’s economy.
The pay gap is a cause of women’s economic inequality, and women’s financial independence. The link between women’s economic inequality, and violence against women is explicitly acknowledged in Equally Safe, Scotland’s violence against women strategy, and this analysis underpins the strategy’s primary prevention approach.
Expert women’s organisations are calling for action on 12 of the committee’s recommendations as priorities. Read the joint response here.
The eagerly awaited report of the Taylor review of modern working practices was published last week, proudly declaring that “many of this review’s recommendations on quality work will directly benefit women”. However, a close read of this report reveals a staggering lack of gender analysis. This complacency, and the assumption that gender equality is implicit, sees women repeatedly left behind by policy making, and despite its assertions the Taylor review is no different. The report runs to 116 pages, is rather verbose, and includes extremely long and unclear recommendations. We’ve written this extended post as a handy guide to the review’s recommendations and themes, and what they mean for women and work.
The lack of gender analysis means this review has missed many opportunities. The report assumes the gender neutrality of its central focus, self-employment and temporary work – including agency work and Zero Hours Contracts (ZHCs) – and completely fails to acknowledge the barriers faced by women in accessing work on a level playing field with men. There is much importance placed on the ability of people to “choose” work that “suits their individual lifestyles and preferences”, which sounds suspiciously like the age-old adage that women “choose” to work in low-paid jobs.
In talking up the gig economy and self-employment as a path to work-life balance and greater fulfilment it is assuming all people are time-rich and have no other responsibilities that will get in the way of starting a business. The reality is low-paid women will be the least likely to benefit; there is no evidence to show the gig economy or self-employment is enabling women to earn more and lift themselves out of poverty.
Perhaps the most problematic starting position taken, however, is the framing of women as “atypical” workers. This is a huge missed opportunity to look behind women’s working patterns, ask why they are different, and to shape the recommendations to ensure women’s labour market inequality is not further entrenched. From the outset it is clear this report sees men as the default position, and women as “other”.
There are seven recommendations all of which have particular implications for women, but women are invisible throughout.
1. Good work for all
This recommendation suggests a national strategy to provide good work for all "for which government needs to be held accountable", and seeks to define what “good work” is using the principles of the QuInnE model of job quality, which looks at indicators of quality work including wages; employment quality; education and training; and, work life balance.
The gendered aspects of these factors is however completely ignored: a job could fit the “good work” requirement of having good development opportunities and progression pathways, but a lack of transparency in how these opportunities are accessed, and the time when development is scheduled, often sees women lose out.
The report also states that “quality work takes different forms for different people at different stages in their lives – we know, for example, returning new mothers tend to “trade” work below their capability level for flexibility.” This is a dangerous assumption to begin from: that it’s absolutely fine to expect women to work below their skill level in return for flexibility. From this standpoint, gender inequality is inbuilt, and the review’s aim of “good work” will not extend to women.
This recommendation also touches on the UK’s weak productivity growth, and ties this to improving the work of those on low pay. It does not ask what work is low paid, who does it, and why (answers: ‘women’s work’, women, and, because it’s done by women). We have long known the links between occupational segregation and low productivity. In failing to recognise this the review misses yet another opportunity.
2. Worker status
The report suggests people who work for platform-based companies, such as Deliveroo and Uber, be classed as “dependent contractors” to better reflect the employment relationship. The standpoint of this recommendation retains an overtly positive view of working in the gig economy, and in self-employment, and does not acknowledge the extent of the difficulties faced by many people in these forms of employment.
The rise in women’s self-employment has coincided with a rise in low-paid self-employment. There is a high number of women in very low paying occupations, with elementary cleaning occupations the most frequent occupation for self-employed women. A lack of quality part-time and flexible work also sees parents and carers, most often women, forced into agency/casual work, ZHCs or self-employment because they need flexibility and cannot find it elsewhere in the labour market. A significant proportion of the increase in women’s self-employment is because they’ve been forced out of the labour market by discrimination and inequality. Changing their employment status will do little for these women.
3. Employment rights
The report seeks to ensure individuals know and can exercise their rights at work; however agency workers and those on ZHCs are not just unclear on their rights, but afraid to assert them. Raising awareness of rights does nothing to address this, and the report offers no means by which workers will be supported to access justice. Employment law is not enforced by the UK Government: there is no body charged with this task. Justice therefore relies on individuals pursuing their employers through the tribunal courts. There is an acknowledgement that employment tribunal fees are a “significant barrier” to access to justice, but also that the UK Government is unlikely to remove them.
On pregnancy and maternity rights the report recommends that the Government consolidates legislation underpinning these rights in one place (it currently sits in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010), and work with ACAS to “update and promote guidance, targeting the sectors, occupations and types of employers where research suggests there are particular issues”. This has already been done by the EHRC, and by our own Think Business, Think Equality project; furthermore EHRC research didn’t find any sector-specific problems in its analysis, but rather a labour market-wide problem. Since the introduction in 2013 of tribunal fees of up to £1,200, the number of sex discrimination cases has dropped by 76% and pregnancy-related cases fell by 50%. Bringing legislation together in one place will not change the underlying employer attitudes which allow pregnancy and maternity discrimination to continue, or improve access to justice.
4. Good governance
The review has taken a strongly anti-regulation stance, stating that the best way to achieve “good work” is “not national regulation but responsible corporate governance”. This does not align with our experience of action on gender inequality. UK Government’s own research found that employers said only a legal requirement would make them take action to advance gender equality at work. Although “the vast majority of employers understand the value of good employment practice” this does not mean they are delivering it.
We know voluntary measures do not work. The Government’s own Think, Act, Report initiative to encourage private sector employers to publish their gender pay gaps led to just four employers publishing. Although the Davies Review was initially lauded as a success in increasing women’s representation on FTSE 100 boards to 25%, women’s representation on FTSE 350 boards has stalled at 16%, with the number of boards which has no women represented increasing.
Scottish Government’s voluntary initiative, the Scottish Business Pledge has seen very poor progress on companies pledging to take action on gender equality, with only 33 per cent of companies currently signed up to this element, the lowest take-up of all the Pledge components. Furthermore, progress has slowed since the first set of figures were published, and 37 per cent of companies had signed up to this element.
5. Development and training
This recommendation seeks to ensure that individuals are able to develop their skills through "formal and informal learning" as well as "on the job and off the job activities”, and to have these skills recognised. The report does not describe any meaningful way in which this will be achieved. Part-time, low-paid women are the group of workers least likely to be offered training and development opportunities in the workplace, but they are also the most likely to be over-qualified for their job. The skills associated with women’s work are not seen as transferable or valuable, and the skills gained through unpaid care work are entirely invisible. Unless the undervaluation of women’s work, a key cause of occupational segregation, addressed in work emanating from this review we will see women’s inequality further entrenched.
This theme also touches on the impact of increased automation on the future workforce, calling on employers to “think hard about how they are designing jobs that will complement increased automation” and on schools, colleges and universities “to prepare young people for an increasingly diverse career, in roles that do not yet exist.” Research has shown that although job losses arising from increased automation are likely to affect women and men in similar numbers, the jobs that are created will be in STEM fields, and therefore will be male-dominated.
6. Health and wellbeing
This recommendation calls on the Government to “take a proactive approach to workplace health”, and notes that “the shape and content of work and individual health and well-being are strongly related”, but offers little detail as to how this will be achieved in practice. The remit of workplace health is said to include the physical work environment, mental wellbeing at work, fairness, justice, participation, and trust. Women are more exposed to repetitive and monotonous work and to stressful conditions, young women are more likely to be assaulted at work than men and women are more likely than men to experience back strain, skin diseases, headaches and eyestrain. Emotional labour forms a key component of many female-dominated jobs, such as those in the service and care sectors.
The review also fails to acknowledge the impact on wellbeing of having your work valued and being fairly paid.
7. Pay progression
The final recommendation calls on the Government to do more to ensure that people – particularly in low paid sectors – are not stuck at the national living wage minimum (as opposed to the real living wage), but can progress in their current and future work. However, the report makes no meaningful suggestions for achieving this.
This recommendation also focuses on allowing people to “remain and progress in the labour market as their personal circumstances change”, in particular through flexible working practices. The report is optimistic on the extent and availability of flexible working in the UK: “92% of employers say that they have at least one form of flexible working practice available in their workplace; 60% of employees have said they have done some form of flexible working in the last 12 months.” This is not an accurate reflection of the availability of genuinely flexible, or quality flexible, work. Only 20.2% of jobs are advertised with flexible options, and this falls to 8.7% for jobs paid over £20k.
It is positive to see an increased focus on the quality of work through this review, and through Scottish Government’s Fair Work Convention and Oxfam Scotland’s Decent Work campaign. It is however difficult to see how “good work for all” will be achieved through this report’s recommendations, which lack clarity and specificity and will be difficult for employers to operationalise.
This report has had to deal with a very broad remit in a short space of time, and by its own admission has failed to cover important aspects of “good work”. These constraints do not excuse the complete lack of consideration of gender. This review has failed to consider the different ways in which women and men work, and its recommendations are unlikely to help tackle women’s labour market inequality. “Good work” still seems like a long way off for women.
You can read more about what we think the Taylor review should have considered here.
Yesterday, Close the Gap welcomed the report of the Scottish Parliament Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee inquiry into the gender pay gap. The report No Small Change: The economic potential of closing the pay gap makes 45 recommendations, a number of which are refreshingly bold, to Scottish Government, its agencies, and employers. That the Committee undertook the inquiry is progress itself as the pay gap has hitherto been seen as the purview of equality committees. Increasingly though, the economic case for women's equality is gaining global traction. In 2016, Close the Gap published research which found that equalising men's and women's employment could be worth £17bn to Scotland's economy. The committee led with this figure for the comms around their report.
Perhaps most crucially, the report recognises that to reduce the pay gap, action is required not only in labour market policy, but across a range of policy areas and makes recommendations around education, skills, childcare, procurement, business support and economic development policy and delivery. This is an important acknowledgment because history has shown us that tinkering around the edges of a systemic problem doesn’t create change. That’s why we’ve particularly welcomed the recommendation that Scottish Government develop a national strategy, the key ask from Close the Gap and Engender.
Although a range of committees, commissions and summits have looked at the gender pay gap, and women’s labour market inequality, recommendations have been short-term, fragmented and very often not implemented. The pay gap is a structural problem and yet there's never been a cohesive, strategic response which aims to address the systemic inequality that groups of women experience at work.
Here’s five highlights from the committee's report.
1. The undervaluation of the care sector
The report highlights the systemic undervaluation of the female-dominated care sector and its workers. The undervaluation of women’s work is an economy-wide problem, and a key cause of occupational segregation. The committee notes that the care sector is an “undervalued but growing and central part of Scotland’s economy”, and “recognises the impact that improving pay in child, adult and elderly care would have not only on reducing the gender pay gap but also on recruiting a more balanced workforce”. It recommends increasing wages in care beyond the living wage to more accurately reflect the value of the work undertaken. Furthermore, in order to raise the status of care, the committee recommends that as a first step, Scottish Government should make care a “priority” sector. This is significant because Scotland's current growth sectors are male-dominated, and consequently it's men, and men's jobs that have benefited from investment, and budget allocation.
2. Scottish Business Pledge, and the enterprise agencies
Close the Gap set out in its written and oral evidence its concerns about the Business Pledge, a voluntary initiative which aims to influence businesses to take up a range of progressive workplace practices, including improving gender equality. The critique of the “balanced workforce” indicator offered by Close the Gap, Engender and Equate Scotland (that it ignores occupational segregation, among other things) was accepted by the Committee, and it recommended that the gender element of the Pledge be redesigned in consultation with gender advocates. This is very welcome, particularly as the most recent statistics shows a further drop in the proportion of companies signing up to the gender pledge, now just 33%. The Pledge just isn’t working for women’s equality.
The committee makes a range of recommendations around economic development policy and delivery, and are critical of the inertia of the enterprise agencies around the pay gap. The committee reports that it is “not persuaded the enterprise agencies are as fully committed to promoting the SBP as they might be” and that it “expects to see inclusion of ambitious targets and gender pay measures within future business plans”. The lack of engagement of the enterprise agencies on equalities has long been of concern to Close the Gap, so we’re pleased to see a raft of recommendations in this area. For example:
- All Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise account managed companies to have or produce a gender pay gap report and action plan.
- Businesses who receive significant support, such as Regional Selective Assistance grants, should be asked to have or produce a pay gap report and action plan for their Scottish operations.
- A question on the pay gap should be added to Regional Selective Assistance application forms to align with Invest in Youth conditionality.
- Scottish Government to require enterprise agencies to report on the work they are doing with account managed companies to reduce the pay gap, through their annual reports, and feed into the National Performance Framework indicator.
3. Measuring the pay gap
Scottish Government uses the median full-time figure as the pay gap indicator in the National Performance Framework. Close the Gap has been critical of this because it excludes about 40% of working women, those who work part-time. The committee agreed with Close the Gap on this measure, reporting it was “not persuaded this accurately or conclusively represents the pay gap”. Instead it recommends a suite of indicators to measure the pay gap, and that any National Performance Indicator indicator include part-time workers, who are predominantly women working in undervalued, low-paid jobs.
The committee highlighted the potential to use procurement to lever better employer practice around the pay gap. It recommended that Scottish Government consider amending procurement regulations to require bidders to calculate and submit pay gaps using the formula in the new pay gap reporting regulations.
It further recommended that Government consider the opportunities for new procurement legislation that will be presented post-Brexit.
Close the Gap is currently reviewing public authority work on procurement and gender equality, as part of our assessment work on the public sector equality duty. We're also going to be doing some work in the future to take a closer look at how procurement can advance women's equality. In the meantime, you can read a working paper by Dr Katharina Sarter, formerly of Women in Scotland's Economy research centre at GCU, on public procurement and the public sector equality duty.
5. Occupational segregation: A cradle to the labour market problem
Occupational segregation is a cross-cutting theme of Close the Gap's work, so we welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that “a gendered analysis of education is key to tackling the gender pay gap”. Girls and boys and young men and young women are funnelled into different subjects based on stereotypes and gendered assumptions on their capabilities and interests, which is a major cause of occupational segregation. Our Be What You Want works aims to address this by working with education policymakers, practitioners, and young people to encourage non-traditional subject choices. The committee was clear that changes are needed in the education system, and is going to write to the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee with their findings and ask them to consider the issue further in their future work. We’ll be looking at the inquiry findings around education in more detail on the Be What You Want blog later this week.
That's just some key highlights of what’s in the committee’s report. There are many more covering areas such as women's enterprise, equal pay reviews, Modern Apprenticeships, flexible working, returners programmes, and the new pay gap reporting regulations.
Close the Gap welcomes Holyrood report which finds clear economic gains to closing the pay gap, worth up to £17bn* to Scotland's economy
Close the Gap welcomes the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee report which reinforces the economic imperative of tackling the gender pay gap, and calls for a national strategy.
Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director, said:
“The pay gap is an indicator of women’s persistent labour market inequality, and history has shown us that tinkering around the edges of a systemic problem doesn’t create change. This is why we enthusiastically welcome the call for a national strategy, the key ask from Close the Gap.
“The pay gap is a structural problem which requires a cohesive, strategic response to address its many inter-related causes. It’s time to translate the rhetoric around the pay gap into substantive action, and create meaningful change for women.
“We also welcome the Committee’s findings on the undervaluation of women’s skills, a critical economy-wide problem, and the recommendation that care be a priority sector. Care work is grossly undervalued and low-paid because it’s seen as ‘women’s work’. Scotland needs economic development policy that recognises care as essential infrastructure that enables the economy to function.
“The Committee recognises that the solutions to the pay gap are varied and complex, and requires action from a broad range of stakeholders. Now is the time for Scottish Government to show leadership, and demonstrate its commitment to realising equality for women at work.”
*In 2016, Close the Gap published a research report on the economic case for women's labour market equality, which found that equalising men's and women's employment could add up to £17bn to Scotland's economy. Read the Gender Equality Pays report here.
The Think Business Think Equality tool has been expanded to include a new test on pregnancy and maternity. The free online tool for employers already includes five tests on flexible working, workplace culture, pay and reward, progression and promotion, and the different jobs that men and women tend to do (occupational segregation). The tool enables employers to self-assess their employment practice, and provides tailored advice and guidance on the ways in which their business can benefit from gender diversity.
The new test on pregnancy and maternity, which takes no longer than five minutes to complete, has been developed to support employers to improve pregnancy and maternity policies and practice.
Recent research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigated pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK. Employers who took part reported that it was in their interests to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave, and they agreed that statutory rights relating to pregnancy and maternity are reasonable and easy to implement. The research also found that:
- Around one in nine women (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not;
- One in five women said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and /or colleagues; and,
- 10% of pregnant employees said their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.
The new Think Business Think Equality pregnancy and maternity test and guidance will support employers to better support their employees who become parents.
Delivering workplace equality makes good business sense. Having fair and flexible working practices allows you to attract and retain the best talent, reduce recruitment and training costs, and it makes your business more productive, more innovative, and more profitable.
Our Gender Equality Pays research on the economic case for women’s labour market equality identified evidence that gender equality at work is not just good for women, but is also a critical driver for improved business performance, and a worldwide catalyst for economic growth. The report highlighted the proven business benefits of providing flexible working, and the macroeconomic gains where women's under-used skills are more effectively utilised across the labour market. Crucially, the research showed that closing the gender gap in employment could be worth more than £17bn to the Scottish economy.
Find out how your business can benefit from gender equality. Take the Think Business, Think Equality test at www.thinkbusinessthinkequality.org.uk
You can also download a range of guidance, templates, good practice examples, and find links to other support organisations.