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Connecting women and opportunity

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Connecting women and opportunity

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Tackling the gender pay gap through the WAVE programme by taking action to improve gender equality for 24,000 employees in Wales – Dr. Alison Parken of Cardiff Business School

Women Adding Value in the Economy

Dr. Alison Parken is a Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University. She’s involved in research to help build an evidence base for promoting equality through policy-making and changes in organisational practices. Between 2012 and 2015, Alison has directed the research strand (Strand 1) of the £4m, three-year, EU-funded WAVE project (Women Adding Value to the Economy), working alongside project partners the University of South Wales and The Women’s Workshop.

Dr Alison Parken
Dr. Alison Parken

“…The WAVE action plans are being sustained because the actions needed just make good sense. The changes have become about more than closing gender pay gaps in isolation…”

Overview of the WAVE programme – tackling the gender pay inequality in Wales

Gender pay inequalities arise from complex causes but occupational segregation is a significant contributor (Parken, Rees, and Baumgardt, 2009). The uneven distribution of men and women between sectors, occupations, grades, contract types (permanent / temporary, fixed term / casual), and by full or part time working patterns, combine to create the gender pay disparities.

Following a research and policy review of equality duties in Europe that promote equal pay practices, the Welsh Government introduced a requirement for public sector employers to undertake employment and pay analysis annually, identify gender pay gaps, the reasons for them, and act to close them.

Working with employers to change the way women are valued at work

The aim of the WAVE programme was to help employers meet these goals. We obtained funding through the European Social Funds so that WAVE at Cardiff University could assist collaborating employers with an employment and pay data analysis. We then interpreted the findings, and offered practical change management resources to increase employers’ capacity to prevent gender pay inequalities being reproduced through combinations of occupational segregation, progression issues, and the ways in which ‘women’s work’ is often undervalued.

WAVE worked with over 20 employers, and carried out in-depth employment and pay analysis and change management work with three large collaborating public sector employers. The resulting change management actions have impacted on 24,000 employees.

Changes the employers have made as a result of the WAVE programme include:

  • Removing the full time / part time labels from contract descriptions, so that over time, the demeaning label ‘part timer’ might lose its currency. Employees will be known for what they do, not their working pattern.
  • Low earning work can be viewed as ‘women’s work’ and offered on a part time basis by default. To address this, employers are undertaking staff surveys to understand where an active choice to work part time is present, and where having only part time work on offer constrains choice.
  • The WAVE employers are holding individual conversations with casual, bank and agency staff, who may also have multiple jobs, regarding their desire for more permanent work.
  • Training their line managers to enable them to discuss any anxieties that their low paid staff may have that working some additional hours or gaining a promotion may not compensate for any associated loss of household welfare transfers through Working Tax Credits or Universal Credit.
  • Providing early notice to temporary, fixed term and casual staff of permanent vacancies that will arise in the near future.
  • Creating more generic jobs roles, encompassing many of the skills and competencies that men and women currently demonstrate in otherwise gender stereotyped jobs, and recruiting to these jobs on values based assessments rather than on experience of carrying out the tasks.
  • Job swapping – consider skills and competencies in closely associated jobs that are currently gender segregated – what additional training may enable a move to jobs otherwise dominated by one gender? Movement from administration to IT departments are a good example.
  • Creating ‘ready for promotion’ schemes, so that employees and line managers recognise when promotion criteria have been met. This should trigger a Promotions Board with access to coaching and mentoring.
  • Undertaking internal consultations to better understand the role that formal and informal networking can have on progression.

For more information and case study reports click here.

Giving evidence at the Women and Equalities Select Committee Gender Pay Gap enquiry

The WAVE research has been very timely as there has been considerable interest in tackling gender pay gaps, and our methods and findings, since the Government announced the introduction of a requirement for private sector employers to report their gender pay gaps.

As a result of the WAVE research and the employer’s tremendous investment of time, resource and enthusiasm in change management work and particularly the innovative approaches they’ve adopted, I was asked to give evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee Gender Pay Gap Inquiry.

Scope of the inquiry and key challenges

The inquiry is centred particularly on pay gaps for women over 40 years old who are working on a full time basis, as this is where pay gaps are largest for full time workers at around 10%. I discussed regional differences in gender pay gaps and pay gaps for men and women from ethnic minorities, and organisational progression issues for women over 40 with the committee.

However, I was keen that the issues of part time work and the gendering of employment structures and career-age stage norms, were also discussed. These contribute to maintaining the overall gender pay gap at 19%.

Men dominate in full time employment

Men continue to hold a much larger share of the stock of full time jobs in the economy (Parken, 2014), and of the higher skilled occupations associated with higher pay (associate professional and technical, and skilled trades) (ONS, 2013, p. 10).

Female graduates more likely to work in jobs below their qualification level

Despite more women attaining good quality degrees than men (first or 2:1) a higher proportion of women graduates work in jobs with knowledge or skills requirements below their qualifications level (ONS, 2013). UK labour market analysis shows that 46% of women are employed in low, lower-middle skilled jobs (such administration, caring and leisure and sales), compared to 24% of men (ONS, 2013).

75% of women’s part time jobs are in low paid work

At 41%, the proportion of women who work on a part time basis is little changed since the 1970s (Manning 2010). Three quarters of women’s part time jobs are situated in low paid work (Parken et al. 2014), women often work in the same part time jobs for 10 or more years (Doogan, 2005), and there are few training opportunities in such jobs (Felstead et al. 2013).

Women trapped in low paid part time work

Women who start out in part-time work, perhaps because on average more than 40% of such jobs are offered on a part time basis (Parken, 2014), can find themselves ‘stuck to the floor’ of the employment structure over their working lives. When so much of ‘women’s work’ is only available on a part time basis, the choice to work on a full time basis is constrained, and working full time is correlated to higher grades, pay and progression.

Continuing to work with employers through WAVE to embed change and close gender pay gaps

We continue to work with the three large employers who are continuing to invest in the long term changes needed to Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiffchallenge the deep seated causes of gender pay gaps. These employers recently held a network event sharing their current successes and long term plans. The WAVE action plans are being sustained because the actions needed just make good sense. The changes have become about more than closing gender pay gaps in isolation. They are now embedded in workforce planning and organisational development.

WAVE at Cardiff University is bidding for further structural funds – having developed analysis methods and strategic interventions, we are keen to support our strong employer network and new employers discovering why they employment and pay disparities and what they can do to close them.

We’ve learnt a huge amount through the first strand of the WAVE programme, and the team are keen to share this knowledge with more employers to help more women realise their true professional potential.


Doogan, K. (2005) ‘Long-term Employment and the Restructuring of the Labour Market in Europe’, Time and Society,  14/65 pp.65-87

Felstead, A., Davies, R., and Jones, S. (2013) Skills and the quality of work in Wales 2006-2012, Main Report, report for the UK Employment and Skills Council, Cardiff: WISERD

Manning, A., (2010) ‘Forty Years After the Equal Pay Act, What Prospects for Gender Equality?’ presentation to conference, Royal Statistical Society, London, 16th November

Office for National Statistics (2013) Full Report – Women in the Labour Market, Newport, Office for National Statistics

Parken, A. (2015) Research Review: Employer Case Studies, Research Report for the WAVE Programme, ESF funded through the Welsh Government, Cardiff: Cardiff University

Parken, A., Pocher, E. and Davies, R. (2014) Working Patterns in Wales: Gender, Occupations and Pay, Research Report for the WAVE programme, ESF funded through the Welsh Government, Cardiff: Cardiff University

Parken, A., Rees, T., and Baumgardt, A. (2009) Options for an Equal Pay Duty in Wales, Research Report for the Welsh Assembly Government, Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government


UK Government Gender Pay Gap Reporting Update

Following on from the Government Equalities Office consultation, which took place between July and November last year, the Government will publish new regulations shortly which will mean that organisations in the private and voluntary sector with over 250 employees will have to report on gender pay gaps and bonus payment details.

These must be brought into legislation by April 2016. Sign up for the Government Equalities Office Women’s Engagement Newsletter and follow for further announcements.

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