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Equal pay day: The real cost of motherhood

It's equal pay day - from today, women will effectively 'work for free' from today until the New Year - 57 days in total and three days longer than in 2013. Statistically more women than men now attend university in the...


It’s equal pay day – from today, women will effectively ‘work for free’ from today until the New Year – 57 days in total and three days longer than in 2013.

Statistically more women than men now attend university in the UK, and almost half of the entire workforce is female. Yet, 44 years after the introduction of equal pay legislation, not only does the gender pay gap remain; it is getting worse for the first time in years.

A woman makes less than a man no matter what qualifications she holds, what industry she enters or what job she picks. She will earn less even if she makes it to the very top as the gap increases with age and seniority. In fact, women aged 40-plus in full-time employment earn 35 per cent less than their male counterparts, not including the ‘bonus pay gap’.

Defenders of the gender pay gap often argue the difference in pay is justifiable because women make different choices such as taking career breaks to raise children, which result in experience gaps on their CV.

It’s high time we debunk these myths for once and for all. The gender pay gap has nothing to do with motherhood and everything to do with discrimination. The real problem is not women taking time out to raise the future workforce. It is our elected representatives failing half of the people in work.

Sadly, the gender pay gap is also symptomatic of a wider cultural problem. In most cases, it takes two to raise a child, yet only women pay the price for procreating and sustaining the future of humankind. Men on the other hand earn 40 per cent more than their childless colleagues. This double standard is known as the motherhood penalty, which leaves a black hole in women’s pockets worth £423,390 on average over a lifetime.

This needs to change. In the words of Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, “the [current] light touch, voluntary approach to tackling gender pay inequality is clearly failing. We need tougher action to force companies to look at their pay gaps.” In this spirit, the Chartered Management Institute suggests that for a cultural shift to happen, employers need to extend genuinely flexible working for men and women, including shared parental leave. Meanwhile the Fawcett Society is calling on the government to implement a comprehensive women’s employment strategy to tackle root causes of the pay gap and bring in pay transparency rules for large employers, which has already been backed by the Labour party.

While this is a good start, reform needs to go further to secure genuine change. A naming and shaming mechanism for employers who break the law, together with financial sanctions should be implemented to send a message about the seriousness of gender discrimination in the workplace. More importantly still, universal free childcare and genuinely shared parental leave must be legislated. If real change is to follow, waiting for corporate culture to reform is not enough. Pioneering legislature must lead the way.

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