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The gender pay gap – and what should we do about it?

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In my last blog, I looked at the extent of the gender pay gap in construction.  We know it exists and we also, as I noted last time, know that it conceals wide variations.  It has now almost disappeared from the news pages, which is a pity because it is so important. What should we do about it, or indeed can we do anything about it?  

At its heart, this is about the difference between equal pay – a statutory requirement in the UK – and equal opportunities.  It’s also about whether you think men and women are different and, crucially, the extent to which the state should try and influence our behaviour. These are big, complex topics, involving, amongst other things, women working in “less important” and lower paid types of work and men hogging all the top jobs. Stir into the mix the unavoidable biological fact that only women can have children which, naturally, takes time and, even with today’s laws, means that they tend, statistically, to have longer career breaks or return to work on a part-time basis (thus earning less in absolute terms and skewing the gap figures), and you have another layer of complexity.  Note, for avoidance of doubt, I’m not passing opinion on this, just stating that these are the facts of the UK workforce in its current form.  

If we accept that the argument over equal pay has been won, the next question is the one about equal opportunities.  For what it’s worth, my view is that this is the proper area for debate and action in the aftermath of the gender pay gap reporting.  For example, if women are discriminated against after returning from maternity leave because it’s felt by a (usually male but occasionally female) manager that they are not going to be so motivated then that is a problem that needs to be resolved. Having more women in director-level or managerial positions ought to help that to be resolved for those women who do wish to continue to climb the career ladder after giving birth. For those who do wish to work part-time and concentrate more on their families, that should not be frowned upon.  And of course, this should also apply to men who want to take time out to raise their families. It is about equality of opportunity.

Taking the gender pay gap statistics to their illogical conclusion, we then get into a different argument: should equal numbers of women and men be employed at each level of a company (or industry)? Also, because this can be such an emotion-laden issue, it’s very hard to make sensible judgements about what actually is the best way to proceed.  Should we simply insist that women have 50% representation at every job level?  Can we simply make men less like men have always been and women more like men have always been – and is that a good thing? It’s really not as simple as the gender pay gap numbers shown – but it’s good that they have been shown. Their publication has forced continued debate on the subject of equal opportunities - a debate that continues to throw up justifiable concerns that we, at Peace Recruitment, believe need to be addressed. 

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment

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