“Why are we so complacent about the pay gap?” asks Lauren Laverne in an article for the Guardian.
It is a valid question and Laverne rightly highlights the complacency that can arise when surrounded by a general consensus that something isn’t right. The themes discussed are not new, the stats unsurprising to anyone with even the vaguest interest in gender equality and the benefits of equal pay (for everyone) yet again outlined clearly. The article was good and I liked the tone of a, ‘call to action’. The comments afterwards, as always, struck me as worrying and got me thinking.
There were the ‘pay gap’ deniers (those who feel the need to refute hard facts, perhaps finding it easier to deny the issue than be honest and claim they don’t think it is an issue?) At times the same old, “well you had time off, what do you expect?” argument came out.
You know because all women come back with less ambition, because we all have these easy ‘choices’, because working flexibly is not about doing the same standard of work but in a different way… I found another article, ‘5 retorts to help debunk the gender pay deniers‘ which does the job rather nicely so I’ll not dwell here (warning: be prepared to feel the frustration all over again if you scroll down to the comments).
So back to this point of complacency and the “collective misassumption that it has been dealt with…noting your feelings on a subject isn’t actually doing something about it. An “unlike” is not a change in the status quo…”
This point made me reflect on my own experiences.
I can be pretty certain that in past jobs I have been underpaid because I have lacked the confidence to challenge it and I have definitely fallen into the trap of being a bit too ‘grateful’ for being allowed to work part time. I have always mentored other women returning to work but did I do enough to actively ‘champion’ flexibility?
Stats show that the differences in pay largely start during ‘child bearing years’ and on this topic there are fundamental things that we know need to change, for a start:
– Affordable, accessible and quality childcare
– Employers truly embracing & encouraging a culture of flexible working for both sexes
– Employers promoting fairly and job sizing appropriately – part time is not squeezing full time into 3 days
However, for me the most important and also most challenging is to change the way we view ‘child care responsibilities’ culturally. I have harped on about this before and will no doubt do so again – it is not just a woman’s job to bring up children. It would certainly do no harm to force employers to publish pay scales. The Government’s plans to allow parents 50 weeks of shared paternity leave in 2015 is definitely a step in the right direction. But whilst such strong stereotypes exist and the current % of men taking additional paternity leave is so tiny, the cynic in me worries that the underlying cultural problem won’t have been solved (if interested read this report which demonstrates my concerns).
Brigid Shulte writes in ‘The Overwhelm’ (a great book, review to follow soon) about 3 key barriers:
1. The ‘ideal mother’
2. The ‘ideal worker’
3. The ‘breadwinner father’
The latter is a very real issue and won’t be solved even by improvements in legislation if a culture of equality doesn’t exist and flexible working for all isn’t embraced. I am not niave to the challenges that this gives to business, I have spent my career in HR and appreciate that any new legislation can be tricky to implement. However, I am also well aware of the benefits. In a CIPD survey of more than 1,000 employers, more than three-quarters believed that implementing flexible working practices had a positive impact on staff retention (read more).
So what can be done and where to start?
1. We need to stop thinking and talking about this as a ‘womens’ issue’. Within this site we recognise that both men and women require support in returning to the workplace after time off for family. Yes for now we mostly work with women (since currently stats dictate this) but men who have taken time off also face issues around confidence / deciding what next etc.
2. We (ourselves, employers, decison makers) can start addressing the ‘whole picture’ (self, home/family and work). Research shows that this is key to well-being and happiness and fundamentally such an approach embraces the idea of shared decisions.
3. Where there are examples of men ‘leading the way’ with working flexibly or being ‘stay at home’ parents we need to celebrate this and provide support because it can be tough all round to be a trailblazer. This applies to women who have successfully made it work too. We can all benefit from positive, honest role models and mentors who have been there.
4. Finally, with Yellow Hello I believe we can make a difference by making it harder for employers to turn down flexible working requests where they are perfectly reasonable, building confidence in women to have those conversations that feel uncomfortable about pay, challenging the stereotypes that women can’t (or shouldn’t) be assertive, mentoring parents through their return to work so, for example, if a promotion is up for grabs they are first in line and ensure we are asking the right questions of ourselves and others.
Want to join the collective? Register now for updates and general information on getting involved and see the links below to what is currently available:
– Want personal advice and support through your transition back to work? Look at the mentoring page for more details. Have you been through it and now feel passionately that it should be better for others? We are currently looking for mentors…
– Could the story of your return benefit others going through it? Have you made a flexible working arrangement work? Please get in touch and share your thoughts…
– Within the Resources page we have listed some of the main websites around the complex topic of maternity rights and flexible working, if you know of any other useful information please let us know so we can add it on…