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The sticky floor: the other barrier to gender pay parity

Last year’s International Women’s Day’s theme was balancing gender in the boardroom. One year on, it’s heartening to see that some progress has been made, with a third of all FTSE 350 boardroom roles now being held by women, although men are still seven times more likely to hold some of the most senior positions in Britain’s most valuable firms. As important as breaking through the glass ceiling is however, we cannot forget the other side of the picture which affects millions of women in workplaces: the sticky floor.

 

Women across the UK are disproportionately stuck in low-paying, insecure and precarious working conditions. Research by KPMG found that of 5.2 million jobs paying less than the real Living Wage of £10.75 in London and £9.30 outside of London, 3.2 million are occupied by female workers. While 15% of male workers are paid less than the Real Living Wage, that figure rises to 24% for female workers. As women struggle to break into the FTSE boardroom, almost one in four women are not even earning enough to pay their bills.

 

Women workers tend to be clustered in low paid occupations. Of the professions with the highest proportion of workers paid less than the Living Wage, 8 out of 10 are industries dominated by women, such as cleaning, care work and retail. The research also found that women in part-time work make up by far the largest demographic group earning less than the Living Wage, with 2.1 million female workers struggling to earn fair pay for their work.

 

This precarious, low paid work has a serious impact on the mental and financial health of women and their families. The recent publication of the ‘Marmot Review: 10 Years On’ found that, alarmingly, life expectancy has stalled for the first time in 100 years, and actually declined for the most disadvantaged women – particularly in the North-East and Yorkshire, where life expectancy of the poorest 10% of women has decreased by almost an entire year since 2012.

 

Our own research at the Living Wage Foundation has highlighted the damaging effects of low pay on the personal and family lives of working parents, finding that 71% of those surveyed worry so much about their financial stability that it affects their day-to-day routine, and almost a quarter believe that their low pay has negatively impacted their relationships with their children, friends and families. The stress placed on women in badly paid and precarious jobs is immense. I was recently struck by the experience of a working single mother with three children who was a Care Assistant in Portsmouth. She was on the verge of taking a job working night shifts after her children had gone to bed – on top of her day job – just to make ends meet. Fortunately, her wage boost after being uplifted to the real Living Wage meant that she was able to continue supporting her family without taking on a night job. Her case is indicative of the challenges many thousands of underpaid women face every day.

 

Measures to combat low pay and insecure work are paramount to addressing gender pay disparity. There are now over 6,200 leading employers that have signed up to the real Living Wage, voluntarily committing to go further than the government minimum and pay their employees a wage that covers the real cost of living. Crucially, this includes contract workers like cleaners and catering assistants; low-paid roles which are disproportionately occupied by women.

 

Last year we also launched a new Living Hours programme, which asks employers to provide workers with guaranteed hours and shift patterns, providing greater security over working hours. This is vital in avoiding additional costs often disproportionately carried by women, such as childcare that needs to be rearranged at the last minute due short notice shift cancellations.

 

Living Wage Employers and those committing to our Living Hours programme are leading the charge in lifting women out of in work poverty, and providing wage security that translates to greater mental, physical and financial wellbeing for women and their families; but if we are to tackle the endemic problem of low pay and pay inequality, we need many more to follow suit.

 

This year’s International Women’s Day IWD theme is #EachforEqual, recognising all of the actions we can take as individuals to challenge stereotypes, fight prejudice and celebrate women's achievements. One action that employers across the UK can take is to sign up to the real Living Wage.

 

Breaking the glass ceiling is vital to driving gender parity in the workplace. But in our efforts to achieve gender equality at the top, we cannot forget the struggles faced by millions of women working below the Living Wage. As we look at the year ahead, let’s make sure that we aren’t just shattering the glass ceiling: lets clean up the sticky floor as well.

13th March 2020, 15:07
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