By June Dennis, Dean of Staffordshire Business School
In 1968, some 50 years ago, a group of women machinists at Ford Dagenham went on strike and campaigned to be recognised as skilled workers. The women trained for 2 years as machinists but were paid just 85% of what male unskilled workers received. Although they only achieved partial success – the women did not get upgraded but received an increase in pay to 92% of what a male cleaner would earn – this well publicised campaign was considered a major stepping stone in the establishment of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, now superseded by the Equality Act 2010.
I recall watching the film ‘Made in Dagenham’ about the Ford Dagenham workers some years ago whilst on holiday with my two daughters, then aged 15 and 12. As we discussed the film afterwards, I realised even then that it was going to be one of those defining moments in their development. It also gave me an opportunity to tell them of some of my experiences. For example, as a final year student at a job interview I was asked ‘shouldn’t you be warming your husband’s slippers by the fireplace rather than working here’.
Later in my career, I recalled being told by a very well meaning male colleague that I hadn’t been given the role as link tutor for a partner in India because I had a young family and might not be able to cope with a couple of trips abroad. I was also able to tell them about my parents being role models – both were nurses and on the similar pro-rata salaries for much of their careers, although, it was my mother who worked part-time and unsociable hours to fit around the family. I started my own business and subsequently became a lecturer because I could not maintain an international marketing role with a young family. Neither of my daughters had been aware that such discrimination had existed to such an extent nor that their aspirations might still be curtailed by social and workplace norms about gender roles. Some seven years later, both are intelligent, articulate and confident women who are already role models to younger teenagers.
This year, around 10,000 organisations with more than 250 staff were required to publish data about their gender pay gap on a Government website. The results, released in April 2018, showed that there are still stark differences in the amount women get paid compared to men and also in the proportion of women on higher incomes within organisations. The median pay for women is nearly 10% lower than for men and some 78% of organisations pay men more than women overall. Smaller organisations, with less formal pay structures may have even greater variances.
Some 50 years on, it is less likely that a woman will be paid less for the same job, although the recent revelations about the pay of BBC staff demonstrates that this still exists. However, some of the pay difference can be attributed to the fact that women are still more likely to take part-time and lower paid jobs which they can work around other commitments. This may be by choice or by necessity. Career breaks also have an impact on overall salary. However, there are still many structural inequalities of opportunity and social barriers that hinder progression for those women who wish to progress. Such barriers include expectation to attend early morning or ad hoc late meetings, ‘golf course’ business networking events, requirement for overseas travel when promoted and, more subtly, expectations from friends and family – I don’t recall any well-meaning friends questioning my husband about his family loyalties when he had to work away from home, for example….
Until societal views permit both men and women to choose whether they want to work full or part-time, progress up the ladder or not or take parental leave or not, then I suspect any legislation will have limited impact on these statistics.
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