Gender pay gap is two centuries away from closure

Equality between men and women will take up to 200 years in Parliament and 40 years at the director level of FTSE 100 companies, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

Thirty years after the Sex Discrimination Act came into force, an EOC report, Sex and Power: Who Runs Britain? 2006, has looked at women in senior positions across the public and private sector.

It reveals that women make up only 11% of directors at FTSE 100 companies, 20% of MPs (with only two ethnic minority women) and 16% of local authority council leaders.

The survey also shows that women make up just 9% of the senior judiciary, 10% of senior police officers, and 13% of editors of national newspapers.

While women are reaching critical mass in some areas, including heads of professional bodies (33%) and national arts organisations (33%), in most fields there has been little change since the EOC first published the survey two years ago.

With the publication of this year’s survey, the EOC is calling on party leaders and employers to take further action to help pave the way for women to the top.

Jenny Watson, chairwoman of the EOC, said: “Women will not make it to the top in significant numbers unless action is taken to remove the barriers that stand in their way, and the UK will continue to miss out on women’s skills and talents for another generation.

“At work, where women’s skills are vital to our economy, we know that the rigid, long-hours culture still makes it almost impossible for women – and an increasing number of men – to balance work and family life.”

The EOC is calling for:

  • All political parties to acknowledge that the time to take action to improve women’s representation is now – in the run up to the next election – before the sunset clause in the law makes positive action impossible.
  • More high-quality, high paid flexible and part-time work at all levels, including for senior staff, to empower working mothers and fathers to have a real choice about the time they spend with their families.
  • A legal requirement for employers in the private sector to promote sex equality and eliminate sex discrimination, starting with a diagnostic ‘equality check’ to identify whether there is a pay gap and what action is needed. This is similar to a new duty on public sector employers expected to come into force in 2007.

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