International Equal Pay Day is a call for society to take action now – Catriona Manders

Equality in the workplace is still to be achieved, writes Catriona Manders

Thursday, 17th September 2020, 7:30 am
Catriona Manders, Girlguiding Scotland Speak Out champion

Did you know we’re 50 years on from the introduction of the UK Equal Pay Act? When the act was passed in 1970, women were earning 50 per cent less than their male counterparts globally and while progress has been made, women still earn an average of 23 per cent less than men. At this rate, it will take 70 years to close the gap – and that’s not soon enough.

The United Nations (UN) agrees and launched the first-ever International Equal Pay Day, in 2018. Taking place tomorrow, it’s about inspiring action on this unresolved issue. As outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN aims to have equal pay for work of equal value by 2030 – with plans for pay transparency, certified “equal pay” companies and other projects to encourage governments, companies and organisations – big and small – to tackle this issue.

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There’s work to do in Scotland too and the statistics can’t be ignored. While the gender pay gap for full-time employees has narrowed considerably from 18.4 per cent in 1997 to 5.7 per cent in 2018, we have a very long way to go to reach equality for women in the workplace. By these figures, the median hourly pay for women in Scotland in 2018 was £11.81, compared to £13.90 for men. The hidden reality of the gender pay gap is that women aren’t only paid less for the same jobs, they’re also less likely to be promoted and more likely to be in part time or low paid occupations – one in three women are in low income jobs, compared to one in five for men. In highly skilled professions such as medicine, although more women graduate from medical courses, their earnings fall behind men’s just five years after leaving university. Employment issues become even more apparent as women take on child caring responsibilities – three in five professional women return to a lower paid job post-maternity leave. The system is pitted against women in the workforce and it’s not right.

In 2019, the Scottish Government released its ‘Gender Pay Gap Action Plan’ which outlines the steps that will be taken to reduce pay inequality by 2021. Among the projects envisaged are funding initiatives for women retuning to work from maternity leave, extending the workplace equality fund and increasing the number of free childcare hours for parents. However, policy can only go so far – we must change the system that enables the gender pay gap to persist. This means dismantling historical and structural unequal power relations, improving access to resources and opportunities, and mainstreaming gender competency across all government departments.

We now have the opportunity to do just this. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve witnessed how quickly society can adjust and also how efficiently governments can act if resources and time are correctly allocated. As we recover economically, we have the chance to reform our system and change the way our workplaces function, and equal pay must be at the heart of these efforts. If countries seize this moment the gender pay gap will be confined to the history books – where it belongs.

The gender pay gap has been a social norm for decades, and until we and those in power properly acknowledge its prevalence, we can’t change it. We need to fight for equality. Fight for your sister, your mother, your daughter, for all girls and young women who grow up thinking their time is worth less. Celebrate International Equal Pay Day and take action now.

Catriona Manders, Girlguiding Scotland Speak Out champion

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