Over thirty years after the Sex Discrimination Act was administered in the U.K. women still face sexual disparagement within the workplace. Shocking statistics recently revealed that the gender pay gap has widened, and that women in Scotland now earn 32% less than their male counter-parts.
Women make up half of the workforce, with around 13.6 million women employed in the U.K. Yet women’s work continues to be undervalued, with women treated as second-rate employees within society. It has been approximated that women are cheated out of £330,000 during their lifetime. It is irrational and detrimental to the workforce to discriminate against half of the skilled workforce.
Even though men and women are supposed to be equal citizens within society, men are much more likely to be given unjustified larger wages for the same number of hours as a woman, as well as being much more employable when it comes to the top occupational positions. Women currently represent only 11% of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 directorship positions and female MPs make up only 19.3% of U.K. parliament, according to the Sex and Power report published this year. Women are highly unrepresented in the top positions in society. This gender imbalance at the top is ensuring that women continue to be exploited by their employees and forced to endure unacceptable gender discriminate wages.
Change is at a stand still for recent graduates. Three years after university graduation women still earn 15% less than male graduates. With 40% of men earning above £25,000 three years after their graduation, compared to only 26% of women. In education, women are expected to pay equal tuition fees and receive the same education as men. Yet once women leave University and enter into the workplace they are discriminated against purely based upon their gender. This pay inequality is making it increasingly difficult for women to pay off their tuition fees and various student loans. The gender pay gap that is still prevalent throughout society is not encouraging women to invest within their future and continues to make education economically unattainable for women.
Female graduates are not the only women within society who are feeling the burden of being a part of the female sex. Mothers are being further penalised by the sexism that is prevalent within the job industry. The unequal paternity and maternity laws, means that women are encouraged (some may say forced) to be the main caregiver. This disruption in women’s careers, plus the added pressure of profit driven bosses and their negative attitude to women, pregnancy and maternity leave, means that women suffer. They are often forced to go part-time for unreasonable pay and in some cases leave their jobs to go into less skilled and low paid part time jobs. With childcare expenses, soaring and women’s pay considerably less than men’s pay; women are forced into the acceptance of low wages during motherhood when women need financial support the most.
The Equal Pay Act that first came into force in 1970 was a government attempt to eliminate gender pay discrimination, but the fact that the pay gap is still an issue shows that law is not going to make the crucial difference to women’s lives. A recent survey showed that 29% of women believe that the gender pay gap will never be eliminated, highlighting that something more needs to be done in the U.K.; the European country with the widest gender pay gap.
There have been remarks that pay secrecy allows pay discrimination to thrive within the workplace. Yet an invasion of privacy and the exposure of corruption will not make sexism within the workplace disappear. We need to take a more radical approach to sex discrimination and attempt to change the cultural attitudes towards women in education and the workplace. We need to ensure that women’s work is not disparaged. That women are not continued to be seen as secondary citizens. That women are not stereotyped as being the main child carer. Women are essential to the workforce and need to be treated with the same respect that is shown to their male counterparts. In times of economic crisis such as these we need to encourage the development of the workforce to ensure that the economy continues to progress. The only way we can progress the work force is by changing cultural attitudes and by eliminating exploitation so that both men and women are paid equally for the hours that they work.