The chief executive of leading women’s rights charity, The Fawcett Society, has told the government that it must take serious action to address the gender pay gap.
It has been 45 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced, and five years since the Equality Act superseded it, yet figures reveal that women continue to earn, on average, 19% less than men.
Sam Smethers, who headed up the charity last month, has said that women’s tolerance levels are waning, telling The Guardian:
“We should be less accepting of the fact that we have still got a 19% pay gap, we – government, business and individuals - have to genuinely want to close it.”
On the Fawcett Society’s website, they state that “the gender pay gap remains the clearest and most dramatic example of economic inequality for women today.”
Although Smethers applauds the government’s requirements for companies with over 250 employees to publish pay data, she has said that it is not enough to level the playing field.
“It’s pretty pathetic if you think what we have achieved in those 40-odd years, so we definitely need to speed up the pace of change,” says Smethers.
The pay gap is seen to increase from age 40 onwards, when many women opt for part-time hours, to allow for childcare.
As a result, the Fawcett Society asserts, women are less likely to progress in their careers than men, making up only 47% of the workforce and only 34% of managers, directors, and senior officials. Smethers is calling on all jobs to be advertised as part-time, or as potential job-shares, to tackle this issue.
Prime minister David Cameron has been keen to state his dedication to fighting this ongoing disparity, pledging to eradicate the gender pay gap within a generation. But Smethers says he could be doing more, starting with his own cabinet, saying he “could choose to have a 50: 50 cabinet if he wanted one.”
Smethers says that equal pay is not only an equality issue, but one which affects the economic productivity of the country as a whole, telling the paper that equalising women’s productivity could benefit the economy by almost £600bn, expanding the economy by 10% by 2030.
“What resources are we pouring into girls’ education is then just seeping away because they can’t get decently remunerated work in what they are trained to do...it’s a huge, massive waste of resources,” says the chief executive.
The Fawcett Society is also calling for a rise in the minimum wage – which would benefit women, who are the majority of those on low pay.
Although the government introduced equal paternity leave in April this year, only 2-8% of men stated they would take it up and Smethers believes this is only scratching the surface, saying:
“We have tinkered with paternity leave...[but] you have to get under the skin of this stuff and I don’t think we’ve ever tried to.” The charity are calling for a need to make paternity leave “more financially rewarding” in order for more men to take it up.
What it really comes down to, says Smethers, is "who fundamentally is in positions of power, in decision-making positions in society?"
"It still isn’t women."
Words: Harriet Hall
Images: Fawcett Society, Rex Features