There was wide spread outrage in the press earlier this week at the news that men receive bonuses more than twice as large as those of their female counterparts, but sadly little surprise at this news.
Although we have had legislation in this country for over 40 years to tackle the gender pay gap, statistic suggest it is still alive and kicking. The 2010 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, carried out by the ONS, showed that the average hourly rate of pay for men in the UK was £16.25, compared to £13.73 for women – a difference of 15.5 per cent.
So should these statistics get all us working women burning our bras and demanding greater positive action on equal pay issues? Personally, I don’t think so. I am not disputing that there remains a gender pay issue in this country, but given the progress made over the last 40 years, we have come a long way and this was never going to be a problem that was an easy fix in the short term. A move to meritocracy and a change of culture and attitudes was always going to take time, and a few generations moving through the workplace, to take hold.
My opinion is that when looking at the gender pay gap as a whole, there are wider demographic issues at play here than simply one of equal pay. More women than men take significant time out of work to raise children, whether as maternity leave or by electing to work part time so that they can combine child care with work. On the basis of this, it is not surprising perhaps that the average bonus paid to working women is lower, although the figures quoted in the press this week do purport to be “comparative”.
My point is that by taking time away from work and working reduced hours, when compared to male colleagues, it is not surprising that women, as a generic group, are in less remunerative roles. This is an observation, not a judgement. Women, and indeed men, who elect to take career breaks or opt to work part time, cannot expect to make these decisions without realistically expecting it to have an impact on their career, which in turn will impact on their earnings. My husband gave up his well paid, professional career to bring up our kids, but did so in the full knowledge that if and when he chose to return to the work place (I’m still waiting for that to happen) he would re-enter the market behind the stage, career wise, at which he exited it. This is not discrimination, it is reality.
Ms Francke, the Chief Executive of the CMI, observed that women, on the whole, are less self promotional than men, which impacts on their ability to negotiate bigger packages for themselves. I am not sure I share her view on this entirely, and again I think as generations pass through the system, it is an ever evolving situation. When I look around my workplace it is the younger women, many of whom have children and / or work flexibly, who comprise the group making stronger challenges to management about pay, promotion and prospects. It is also the case that the vast majority of the women of my generation in my business are the major breadwinners in their households.
For me, issues such as self promotion and part time work, in our current working environment, or rather within my working generation, are not about gender but about individual choice and circumstance. If people chose to have families, these are decisions that are made on the basis of peoples’ individual circumstances, not on the basis of gender. Whether male or female, anyone who thinks taking a year off work for any reason will not affect their career prospects, even if only in the short term, is a bit short sighted.
Esther Smith, Partner, Thomas Eggar.