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Warning: You’re losing money by not being aware of these mega myths about women at work – Fiona Tatton, Womanthology Editor

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Fiona Tatton - Womanthology Founder and Editor
Fiona Tatton

Women – like men, only cheaper?

Hello and welcome to issue 57. When I decided it was time to look at the myths around women at work I thought there were perhaps a handful in circulation. But how wrong was I? I knew there were some people who would treat women as “like men, only cheaper”. What I wasn’t prepared for though were the multi-layered myths swirling around for so long that we don’t even realise they’re out there. Myths are slippery creatures and very often they morph into one another and grow out of all proportion when we’re not looking.

Mega myth one: The gender pay gap and equal pay are one in the same

Nope. The gender pay gap is very real, but it’s different to that of equal pay. The Equality and Human Rights Commission articulates the difference on their website:

Whilst both equal pay and the gender gap deal with the disparity of pay women receive in the workplace, they are two different issues:

  1. Equal pay means that men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay, as set out in the Equality Act 2010.
  2. The gender pay gap is a measure of the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across an organisation or the labour market. It is expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings.

In the Britain, there is an overall gender pay gap of 20% (Is Britain Fairer, Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015). This shows that a woman, on average, earns around 80p for every £1 earned by a man.

Very often the two issues are conflated, which doesn’t help when we’re trying to cut through the myths surrounding them.

For women in the UK to be earning, on average, 20% less than men is a great concern. Contributory factors include the concentration of men in higher paid sectors (like STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the corresponding concentration of women in employment sectors that offer narrower scope for financial reward. But even in the few sectors dominated by women, UKCES figures show that men continue to earn a premium. So, for example in education, where around two thirds of the workforce is female, men continue to earn, on average, £2 more per hour than women.

It starts early too – research from the Young Women’s Trust shows that only 2.7% of apprentices in construction and engineering are women, while in health, social services and children’s care, 86% are women. In STEM only 13% of the workforce is female.

To add insult to injury there is gender skills gap – despite receiving lower pay than men, women are far more likely to have higher qualifications than male workers, with women outperforming men at every level of education.

ONS gender pay gap statistics have been supplemented by the TUC, whose analysis of official statistics shows that the highest paid men are paid, wait for it … a whopping 54.9% more than their female colleagues.

Some sectors are worse offenders than others. In the male dominated financial and insurance sector, women earn almost 40% less than men.

It literally pays to take note and understand the situation in your sector so you can develop a strategy to ensure you get the best deal.

Mega myth two: It’s all about motherhood

Many people will attribute all gender pay gap related woes to women who step out of the workforce to become mothers, Crying-babybut research from Catalyst has showed that lack of advancement for women was not due to having kids, and it was happening equally for women without kids.

This myth also assumes that working mothers are the only people who want flexibility. What about working fathers? What about everybody else? There’s a move towards agility in the workplace that offers the entire workforce flexibility, however, most employers are still far behind the curve. I was shocked to read this research from Timewise which shows that just 6.2% of jobs in Britain are advertised with flexible working options.

The relative proportion of jobs advertised with flexibility, broken down by salary is even more gloomy:

£20,000 – £29,999                6%

£30,000 – £39,999                5%

£40,000 – £49,999                3%

£50,000 -£99,999                 3%

£100,000 – £199,999            2%

This means that essentially, if you have any other meaningful priority in your life other than work, you are penalised in your career. How can this be the case? Yes, it’s important to level the playing field for working mums, but isn’t it better to do this by creating more opportunities for everyone, and normalising flexibility for us all?

When I chatted to Heather Savory from the Office for National Statistics back in January about flexibility at work, I loved her perspective:

“…You can now work remotely at times which suit you and it is much easier now to get your work / life balance right, or as you wish it to be (I don’t think there is a ‘right’ – it’s for each individual) and this is one of the areas where you don’t necessarily have to work nine to five. You don’t necessarily have to work every day.

You can maybe work on a project, and then you can step back and have some free time to travel or to do whatever you want – it’s not necessarily all about family time either…”

Hear, hear.

Mega myth three: Gender equality at work is going to take decades to fix and there’s nothing we can do to change things

Wrong!

Yes, the challenges relating to gender equality in the workplace are huge, mammoth, and gargantuan. It’s a complicated dog’s dinner of a mess of problems that have compounded over the decades. Yes, there’s much work to be done to set this straight, but if you’ve read to the end of this blog, you obviously care about the challenge enough to want to do something meaningful about it.

It’s in all of our interests to get with the programme and understand as much as we can about the challenges. Knowledge is power – power to make the most sensible and informed choices in order to decide how we wish to spend our time at work, and indeed if we want to be at work at all. There are seasons in our lives and our careers, and sometimes we need to take the opportunity to take a step back for family reasons, or personal development or whatever. There is no shame in this.

But in order to progress, I’m a great believer that we all need to open our minds and start challenging our own assumptions in order to think differently. There is absolutely no need for us to go round and round in circles rehashing the same old diversity and inclusion debates over and over.

Work life balance / blend, call is what you will, is vital for us all. Simple. If you’re unhappy at work, the chances are this spills over into the rest of your life. It’s too important to skirt around. And if women are held back in their careers, we all lose out. We are all entitled to achieve our full potential at work, have our skills and contributions recognised and valued, regardless of our gender. If you work hard, you’re eager to learn (and keep learning) and you are respectful to people, then your opportunities should be limitless. It’s good for you and it’s good for the economy.

By changing the dynamic of relationships between employers and employees and creating the space for frank and open conversations about work, huge opportunities open up to do things differently, and better. Much of this relates to workplace culture and the relationships staff have with their line managers. If you’ve got a trusting relationship with your line manager where you feel valued and respected, then what can’t you achieve? If you aren’t fortunate enough to have this, it’s at the root of most workplace challenges. Anecdotal evidence says that employees don’t leave organisations, they leave line managers.

I’ve been doing huge amount of research about changing the way we work to accelerate progress towards gender equality at work. Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be a niche add-on that makes some people in an organisation shudder. It is for everyone in your organisation and it is about creating a level playing field for all staff.

By joining the debate and having your say, you help move things along faster. Take an interest, because accelerating change just might make you financially better off too, so what’s not to like about equality?

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