Gender pay gap solution needs radical approach

Women in their 30s are hit hardest by the gender pay gap.

The difference between men’s and women’s full-time earnings, according to a TUC report, rises from 3% when they are in their 20s to 11% in their 30s. Women’s pay stagnates when they are in their 30s and most people don’t find that surprising – it’s the so-called “motherhood penalty”.

Regardless of whether women take six months’ maternity leave, or leave their jobs altogether to raise a family, in their 30s they lose out in experience, prospects, and the annual increases to their established salaries.

Women’s minister Harriet Harman has promised “tough measures” in the forthcoming Equality Bill to cut the pay gap further. But it is unlikely that the Bill will be radical enough. Employer groups baulked at lobby group Fathers Direct’s suggestion that men should receive the same parental leave and benefits as women. But if dads had the choice to incur a fatherhood penalty, would we not see a narrowing of this thirtysomething pay gap?

The government is committed to introducing up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave by 2010, but this only pays lip-service to the problem, except in cases where the woman is earning significantly more than her partner.

To truly tackle the motherhood penalty, forward-thinking employers will have to start offering far better paternity packages than are available today. Only then will we begin to see the culture shift needed to cut this element of the pay gap.

This week we feature a special report, in collaboration with manufacturers’ body the EEF, about the pay and benefits employers are obliged to offer women who are on maternity leave. The report looks at the legislation as it stands and how new regulations will affect newly pregnant women who expect to give birth on or after 5 October 2008.

Maybe, 20 years from now, we’ll be talking about maternity and paternity benefits on a more equal basis.

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