Women in the workplace

It is 45 years since the Equal Pay Act came into force, but there is still a massive inequality between men’s and women’s pay. There is a 14.9% gap between men’s and women’s combined hourly rates, and a shocking 32.2% gap when you compare women’s part-time hourly rate to men’s full-time hourly rate. Over a lifetime, this means that the average working woman will earn over £500,000 less than her male counterpart.

These headline figures represent a lifetime of pay inequality for women, and it is vital that trade unions take action to tackle this for their members.

What's behind the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap has received higher levels of coverage over the last few years, both in the media and in political discourse, but the pay gap itself is only a headline measure and cannot cover the complexities of women’s labour market inequality. Often when the gender pay gap is discussed it is in the context of equal pay for equal work; however there are numerous issues comprised under this headline figure including occupational segregation, rigid gender roles, and the undervaluing of women’s skills and work.

Gender stereotyping begins from birth, shaping girls’ and boys’ early experiences of development and education. Young people are faced with gendered assumptions about their capabilities and preferences, which pushes young women and men towards particular subject choices. This ultimately results in patterns of occupational segregation across all sectors of the labour market. Gendered assumptions also influence the disproportionate share of unpaid domestic labour which is shouldered by women.

These multiple factors combine to see women clustered into a small number of low-paid, undervalued occupations such as admin, retail and care.

The causes of women’s workplace inequality are complex and numerous, and interact in many ways. Action is required by all stakeholders at all levels to address it.

A workplace issue

The trade union movement has been at the forefront of the campaign for equal pay for its members, and for women’s equality. It is vital that this commitment to the issues affecting women’s participation in the labour market is reflected in workplace reps’ bargaining strategies.

You can find out more about the issues you and your members might face in the workplace, and how to tackle them, in our section Roles for reps.

Related publications

Conducting an Equal Pay Review: the role of union repsConducting an Equal Pay Review: the role of union reps This briefing will give trade union reps an understanding of the role that they should play in taking forward an equal pay review.

CTG Working Paper 6: Invisible women, employment data collection in Scottish local governmentCTG Working Paper 6: Invisible women, employment data collection in Scottish local government As part of a joint initiative with the STUC Women's Committee, Close the Gap conducted research which was intended to assess the impact of current public spending cuts on women's employment in local government in Scotland, and to determine whether the anecdotal evidence is indicative of a shifting pattern of employment practice.

Equal pay and pensionsEqual pay and pensions This briefing highlights some of the key areas where women lose out in the UK pensions system.

Older Women in the Workplace: Balancing work with care This briefing covers some of the issues affecting older working women with caring responsibilities.

Older Women in the Workplace: Equal pay and pensions: women's inequality in retirement This publication highlights some of the key areas where women are disadvantaged in the UK pensions system.

Older Women in the Workplace: Health and safety issues This briefing covers some of the health and safety issues affecting older working women.

Older Women in the Workplace: The benefit of experience: older women's access to skills development and training This briefing covers some of the development and training issues affecting older working women.

Public sector equality duty:  A toolkit for trade union repsPublic sector equality duty: A toolkit for trade union reps This toolkit is designed to give trade union reps an understanding of the public sector equality duty as it relates to gender and employment.

Shifting the Balance: Exploring the trade union responses to tackling gendered occupational segregationShifting the Balance: Exploring the trade union responses to tackling gendered occupational segregation This resource outlines the causes of occupational segregation and the impact that it has on women in the labour market and in education and training.

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