The government has faced increasing pressure to tackle Britain’s prominent gender pay gap in recent years, but the bleak fact is this chasm still stands at 18.1%.
Underpinning all of this is the fact that women are routinely penalised for taking time out to start a family. Thousands of women face maternity discrimination in the UK, meaning they are forced to take a lower wage after returning to work, or even pushed out of their role altogether.
Still more women find that exorbitant childcare costs and a lack of flexible working options mean that returning to the office after having kids is a near-impossible feat. Women are squarely taking the financial hit by having children, in a problem that exacerbates the gender pay gap at all levels.
Now, a new scheme is taking aim at this quandary, by earmarking £5 million of this year’s budget to help people returning to work refresh their skills and build valuable contact networks.
The campaign involves paid placement and training schemes of between six weeks and six months for people returning to work in certain industries. The first round of the initiative features 50 places available for civil servants, 100 for social workers and 300 for health professional returners.
The scheme is open to both men and women returners. However, ministers are hopeful that it will be of particular use to mums looking for a path back into work.
“Millions of us need to take time out from our careers, but it can be really hard to return,” says Anne Milton, minister for apprenticeships, skills and women.
“Women in particular find the routes back into employment closed off after taking time out to start a family.”
The scheme is open to people in public sector jobs to begin with, but the government are in talks to see whether something similar can be rolled out to businesses, too. They are also liaising with the Department for Education to explore a returners programme for teachers.
“These returner programmes will make it routine for women to go back to the workplace and get on with their careers,” Milton says. “It ultimately should also help us to tackle the gender pay gap.”
The move comes on top of another legal obligation which comes into play next April, whereby all employers with 250 or more staff in Britain will be obliged to report their gender pay gap and bonus gap.
“To address the unequal impact of caring roles between mums and dads we have to have flexibility first,” she writes, in Stylist’s Ask A Feminist column. “All jobs should be advertised on a flexible working basis unless there is a good business reason not to, and we must open up senior roles to part-time working.
“Failing to do so is a huge waste of women’s skills and expertise.”
Find out more about the new government scheme right here.