August 24, 2016 : Ruth Boyle

Why can’t Scotland tackle persistent gender pay gap?

Our out-dated, inflexible labour market is a key barrier to equality in employment

Research has revealed that women in Scotland are paid £10,862 less on average than their male counterparts. That’s a gender pay gap of 29.2%.

This means that Scotland gains the unfortunate title of having the ‘worst gender pay gap in the UK’.

The research also highlights a persistent ‘motherhood penalty’, with the pay gap widening consistently for 12 years after women have their first child.

While this is completely unacceptable, the issues surrounding gender discrimination in employment are far more nuanced than a focus on the gender pay gap would suggest.

the gender pay gap is a symptom of our labour market

Close the Gap have previously highlighted that reporting the gender pay gap as one figure, combining full and part time earnings, hides a number of systemic structural problems.

The most important consideration the Scottish Government must make is that the gender pay gap is a symptom of our labour market. Structural issues such as occupational segregation, inflexible working practices and part-time work are key contributing factors to women’s disadvantage.

While the statistics published today focus on managerial positions, disparity in pay is apparent across all levels of our labour market. Women are trapped in low paid employment which is often unsustainable and lacking in progression opportunities.

Statistics that highlight the inherent structural issues in employment and training are abundant. For example, women make up 48% of the labour market, yet account for 75% of all part-time workers in Scotland.

In 2015/6 women accounted for only 5% of engineering apprenticeship starts, and three quarters of Modern Apprenticeship (MA) frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse.

SCVO recently published its response to Scotland’s Labour Market Strategy. We highlight inflexibility in working practices and tackling occupational segregation as priorities for the Scottish Government moving forward.

What needs to be done?

  • Until rates of pay and progression improve in ‘feminised’ sectors, such as care and cleaning, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated. The fair work agenda must explicitly tackle the impact of occupational segregation on in-work poverty.
  • Cultural issues and persistent gender stereotyping needs to be tackled in early education and career guidance. The education system should socialise our young people to make informed decisions about their future based on their skills. Close the Gap’s Be What you Want Campaign has been working in this area.
  • SCVO has also called on the Scottish Government to use the Apprenticeship Levy to promote equalities within our training programmes, in particular Modern Apprenticeships.
  • The lack of flexible working practices in the workplace, particularly at senior level, also restricts women’s full participation in the labour market. The Government should seek to promote flexibility through the Business Pledge.
  • In-work training opportunities and support for women returning to work if they have had time out of the labour market. Government and employers must supporting men and women to share childcare and unpaid caring more equally.

From April 2017, companies with more than 250 staff will be required to publish any gender pay gap data. Although this will help to shed light on discrimination, the pay gap will persist without policy changes to promote a flexible, responsive labour market in Scotland which is suitable for modern working practices.

At present, the Scottish Government is preparing to publish itslabour market strategy and is in the process of designing new social security and employability programmes. These policy priorities must adopt a human-rights based approach, mainstreaming gender considerations throughout design and delivery.

Only then will we be able to dismantle the discriminatory structural factors inherent in our labour market which lead to the #genderpaygap.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle