Earlier this year, the government announced an ambitious new initiative to help tackle the gender pay gap: all voluntary, private and public sector employers with 250 or more employees will have to publish their gender pay gaps publicly online.
Setting the UK apart as one of the first countries to require such reporting, the initiative means that almost half of the country’s workforce – including some 9,000 employers and over 15 million employees – will have to be transparent about any disparity in pay between men and women.
And today, the government has begun acting on its own initiative, with the Department of Education (DfE) becoming the first department to reveal its gender pay gap.
Announcing a mean pay gap of 5.3%, the department’s figure is far below the national average of 18.1%, which in itself is the lowest since records began in 1997.
However, the fact that there is a gender pay gap at all is, of course, problematic.
In a statement, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women Justine Greening said, “The UK’s gender pay gap is at a record low, but we are committed to closing it… Through transparency we can find out what the situation is, where there is best practice and create pressure for more progress.”
In order to reduce the gender pay gap, the DfE has introduced a range of measures to support women in the workplace, including monitoring pay and making the application process for future employees anonymous, helping to limit any bias made on the basis of sex.
Crucially, the department is also upping its support for women returning to work, which is one of the biggest influencing factors of the pay gap. A 2016 report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the average woman’s pay plateaus in her late 20s and early 30s in direct response to being tasked with childcare duties, while a man’s pay generally soars around this age.
And this is an issue that female teachers in the UK are certainly familiar with. While the figures released today refer to civil servants working in the DfE, the National Union of Teachers reports that the average pay for women teachers in all state-funded schools, including academies, is £2,800 less than for their male counterparts every year – with “career breaks” being one of the most crucial factors.
Speaking to stylist.co.uk about the reasons behind this disparity in pay, Katherine Bradshaw-Smith, a 26-year-old Drama and English teacher from Bristol, said, “Families of teachers are massively impacted by the roles set out for men and women in the education sector. Many of my female colleagues report that male peers who they began teaching with are all now in better paid roles than them.
“This is due to the opportunities women have to sacrifice when having children. The deal men get for paternity leave is significantly worse than for females, which encourages women to take the time needed off, preventing them from progressing in their career.”
Unsurprisingly, this is an issue that she herself is worried about tackling. “I aspire to become part of senior leadership further down the line in my career and the thought of this being prevented due to the inequality between the roles of men and women is upsetting and wrong,” she added.
And Laura Jones, a 29-year-old working in a private school in London, faces the same obstacles. “Men tend to move through the salary scale much quicker than women,” she admitted. “This could be due to women who are in the profession generally having to take a couple of years maternity leave. Also, although there is a pay scale that you move through, schools (especially private ones) can pay you what they like.”
Here’s hoping that the government’s new scheme will help close the gender pay gap – across all sectors – once and for all.