Scotland can’t become a fair work nation without realising fair work for women

As a result of women’s pre-existing inequality in the labour market, women’s employment has been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 job disruption. This means that the pandemic has significantly increased the challenges to realising gender equality at work. Other labour market changes, such as automation and the threat to employment rights that Brexit presents, also create risks to women’s equality at work.

Scottish Government’s commitment to improving the quality of work in Scotland, through its flagship policy of fair work, therefore remains pivotal. However, fair work must mean fair work for women, too. Fair work policy development must be better gendered if it is to create change for women in Scotland.

Women’s employment remains characterised by undervaluation, low pay, discrimination, and insufficient and unreliable working hours. This is particularly true for young women, disabled women and Black and minoritised women. Single parents. 91% of whom are women, also face multiple and specific barriers to good quality employment. As a result, generic approaches to labour market policymaking sustain the structural barriers that women face at work.

Close the Gap recently responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on becoming a fair work nation. This is an important opportunity for Scottish Government to assess how gender can be better integrated into fair work policymaking. Our response to the consultation highlights that the current fair work policy framework and supporting tools do not afford sufficient attention to women’s experiences of employment and there is a lack of specific actions designed to achieve fair work for women.

While there have been some improvements, including the addition of a specific gender pay gap element to Fair Work First criteria, fair work policy is not well-gendered. The Fair Work Convention’s fair work framework, described by Scottish Government as setting out the strategic ambitions for Scotland becoming a fair work nation, does not sufficiently engage with women’s labour market experiences. The fair work action plan, designed to implement the framework, is also not gendered. The plan fails to recognise the gendered nature of care and the actions do not mention gender. Accompanying reports and tools, such as the Fair Work Convention’s Fair Work in Scotland report and the fair work employer support tool, replicate this approach.

Fair work policy is also not intersectional, and as such fails to meet the needs of marginalised women. The current policy framework is therefore unlikely to create the transformational change needed to tackle the causes of the gender pay gap or enable employers to operationalise fair work for women.

Employer complacency remains a critical challenge to addressing women’s labour market equality. This is despite a clear business case for promoting equality, with employers able to recruit from a wider talent pool, address skills gaps, and see their businesses become more productive, more innovative, and more profitable. This complacency is compounded by a regulatory context which does not drive action on the causes of women’s inequality in the workplace.

The absence of women’s experiences from fair work policy, measurement tools, and employer resources will mean that fair work is not delivered for women. Scotland can’t become a fair work nation without realising fair work for women.

The solution is to build intersectional gender competence among those developing and delivering fair work policy and programmes. The articulation of fair work should also be refreshed so that gender is integrated, and employers understand precisely the action they should take to deliver fair work for both women and men.

Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities that women face in the labour market. Scotland’s economic recovery needs to be one that works for women. Action on barriers women face at work must be central to policy development if gender equality is to realised. That means integrating gender into the National Care Service, the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, reform of the public sector equality duty and the next Child Poverty Delivery Plan. Scottish Government need to prioritise action on women’s low pay, rising job insecurity in female-dominated sectors, the undervaluation of women’s work, and pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Without such action, ongoing labour market shifts will worsen women’s unemployment, reinforce women’s labour market inequality and intensify women’s financial insecurity, adding to a rising tide of child poverty. Now is the time for bold action to tackle gendered inequalities in the labour market.

You can read Close the Gap’s full response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on becoming a fair work nation here.

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