Women occupy just a third of the top jobs in fashion

It's a female-dominated industry yet it discriminates against women, paying them 15 per cent less

The British fashion industry has long been accused of exploiting women's insecurities to goad them into buying things they neither want nor need. Now it seems that some of the biggest names in fashion have also been ripping off the nation's women behind the scenes. Hundreds of thousands of women working in fashion in the UK are being paid less than their male colleagues, passed over for top jobs and prevented from taking what are considered "male" roles.

A group of the country's biggest fashion companies, including Courtaulds – which owns Gossard and Pretty Polly – and high street brands including Next and Marks & Spencer's Per Una, is working to stamp out this gender-based discrimination, offering extra training to women to help them compete with their male colleagues.

In an industry that prides itself on being forward-looking, some famous fashion companies have pursued outdated practices. For decades, the shoemaker Church & Co, whose classic footwear is favoured by such people as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, has divided the workforce at its Northampton factory into men and women, with women prevented from taking what were thought of as "men's roles", and forced to work at different jobs in a separate part of the building.

Church & Co is now working to correct this as part of the Women & Work initiative launched by Skillfast UK, the council for fashion and textiles, which is providing grants to women in fashion to help them learn new techniques.

Fashion designers and equalities campaigners complain that, while women account for 52 per cent of the workforce in the fashion and textiles sector, they occupy just 37 per cent of the top jobs, and are paid 15 per cent less than their male colleagues.

"Discrimination is everywhere, not just in male-dominated industries," said Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society which campaigns for equality between men and women in the UK in areas such as pay and pensions. "Some employers do it unwittingly, so we are encouraging them to do mandatory pay audits to make sure they are not discriminating."

Although fashion is in the spotlight, some argue that the same obstacles block women's progress in all industries: in particular, that women continue to bear the brunt of childcare. The idea that a high-flying career is incompatible with motherhood is borne out by the statistics, which show that the average hourly wage for female workers prior to having children is 91 per cent of the male average, declining to 67 per cent for working mothers.

British women, on average, are paid 17.1 per cent less than their male colleagues, although this varies significantly from industry to industry. Recent research from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission last month revealed that women working in the financial sector earn, on average, a massive 55 per cent less then their male colleagues.

Many fashion insiders deny there is a problem with inequality; while others reject the idea that women are disadvantaged within their particular company, but confirm that it is a problem within the industry as a whole.

"The fashion industry is one of the largest employers for women, has many strong role models and provides a broad variety of career opportunities," said Caroline Rush, joint chair of the British Fashion Council.

"It is the whole thing of careers and children; they are very hard to juggle," said British designer Katherine Hamnett. "It tends to be gay men who are at the top in design – Yves St Laurent, etc," she added. "That's because they don't usually have any children at all, it is easy for them."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions