At Current Rate of Change Women Over 40 Won’t See Gender Pay Gap Close in Their Working Lifetime

22nd November 2023, is Equal Pay Day (EPD): this is the day when, because of the gender pay gap, women overall in the UK stop being paid compared to men1. This means, on average, working women take home £574 less than men each month (£6888 p/a).

  • Progress to close the gender pay gap is glacial; at the current rate of change the gap won’t close until 2051 – that’s 28 years from now
  • Women aged 40 and older (those born before 1983) won’t see the gender pay gap close before they reach State Pension age

To mark EPD ’23 the Fawcett Society, the leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality, is releasing new data and a report which shows that making flexible work the default in high-quality, high-paid jobs is essential if we are to see the gender pay gap close more quickly. Our data shows that while most people can access some form of flexibility in their role, women are accessing flexible work associated with lower paid, lower quality work e.g. part-time, insecure work and zero-hours contracts to balance their caring responsibilities – this contributes to the UK’s pernicious gender pay gap.

The report reveals that:

  • 40% of women who aren’t currently working said that access to flexible work would mean they could take on paid work (32% of men who aren’t working and 37% of people overall said the same)
  • Women were significantly more likely to report working part-time (27%) compared to men (14%)
  • Men were more likely to report having access to more desirable forms of flexible work – for example, working term time only (outside of an education setting) (21%), working as part of a job share (18%), working a number of set hours flexibly across the year (15%) or working to commissioned outcomes (10%).
  • 77% of women agreed that they would be more likely to apply for a job that advertises flexible working options.

Flexibility supports women’s career progression, grows the talent pool for employers and breaks the link between women and less-desirable flexible work. Flexibility in high-quality, high-paid jobs should not be seen as a privilege an employer may deign to offer, instead it must be normalised for all employees. This will mean more people can access paid work, it will encourage a more equal division of labour between women and men, and offer greater opportunity for people with disabilities.

Worryingly, Fawcett’s report also reveals that 48% of Black and minoritised women said they would like greater flexibility at work but worried about the implications for their career – this compared to 40% of white women. The most recent ONS data we have on the Ethnicity Pay Gap is from 2020, this showed that Black African women earn 26% less than men; Bangladeshi women 28% and Pakistani women 31%2. Much more needs to be done to better understand the ethnicity pay gap and how it intersects with the gender pay gap – we need to see mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

Jemima Olchawski, FawceP Society CE said:

“The Chancellor is delivering the Autumn Statement today but can he really build a thriving economy without closing the gender pay gap? The fact is, if we want a thriving economy, the gender pay gap must close and to achieve this, our government must make flexible work the default.

“We see time and time again that women feel they have no choice but to accept lower paid, lower quality work in exchange for flexibility and this isn’t fair. A need for flexible working arrangements, whether it be due to caring responsibilities, disability, or simply a desire to rebalance work and life, should not mean the end of career progression. Women are being kept in lower-quality jobs due to old-fashioned workplace norms.

“Women must be allowed to progress with the flexible working arrangements they require, and men must step up and take on their fair share of caring responsibilities and household tasks. Flexible work must be the norm for both men and women at work.”

The report also showed that women are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to say that flex enables them to:

  • Manage household tasks (46% v 32%)
  • Care for children (34% v 18%)
  • ‘Spend more time with family’ (45% vs 35%)
  • ‘Support my mental or emotional wellbeing’ (31% vs 24%)

The research shows that flexible work is critical to women undertaking unpaid domestic caring responsibilities. Alongside flexible working practices fit for the 21st century, equality will mean men taking on their fair share of unpaid care work.
Flexible work isn’t only good for employees; advertising roles and making clear flexible working options will mean employers can access a greater pool of talent, improve staff retention, and increase positivity from employees. Currently, employees can request to work flexibly from the day they start a job – but this doesn’t go far enough. Potential employees need to know the flexibility available to them before they take on a job, particularly when they have caring responsibilities, so we need to see flexibility highlighted in job adverts.

Today’s report shows:

  • 30% of women and 30% of men have applied for a job but had to turn it down because a potential employer was unable to offer flexible work
  • 61% of women would feel uncomfortable making a flexible working request in the first week of a new job
  • 67% of respondents (71% women and 64% men) agreed that they are more likely to stay in their current job if flexible working is available to them
  • 74% of respondents (79% women and 70% men) agreed that working flexibly makes them feel more positive about their job.

Jemima continues:

“A day-one right to request flexible working is simply not enough to create the deep cultural change that is needed. Right now, accessing flexible work is a matter of negotiation with your employer. Our report clearly shows that this is a process that favours men and bakes in existing inequality. Women shouldn’t be penalised or disadvantaged because they need to work flexibly and they certainly shouldn’t be locked out of roles they are qualified and keen to do. Too many women take on less-desirable and less well-paid roles so they can access flexibility and this contributes to the gender pay gap. Flexible work must be made the default for everyone. Employees need a better understanding of the different forms of flexible work open to them across all career paths and employers need to embrace the benefits this will bring to their organisation.”

Fawcett Chair, Harriet Harman, said:

“The gender pay gap is closing far too slowly. At the current rate of change, women over 40 will suffer the pay gap until they retire. This is unfair and unjust, and it hurts everyone. A thriving economy relies on the full participation of women, and we are currently locking women out of work they are qualified for and capable of doing.

“For too long, women have put up with less fair and less equal working arrangements in exchange for flexibility. We need urgent action to ensure women are allowed to work to their full level of skills and experience. Making flexibility the norm will make it easier for women to get the flexibility they need, and normalise men taking on their fair share of caring responsibilities. We cannot afford to wait.”

Recommendations

Our survey finds that 70% of women and 60% of men would be more likely to vote for a party that required employers to include all possible flexible working options in job adverts. This included the vast majority of people who intend to vote Labour, Conservative, SNP or Liberal Democrat at the next general election. What’s more, previous research from Fawcett3 shows that 84% of women in red wall constituencies say that taking action on the gender pay gap is important to them when deciding which party to vote for in a general election.

The Fawcett Society is calling on the Government to legislate for an employer ‘advertising duty’ for flexible work and for all political parties to include this in their manifestos ahead of the next general election. That is, employers must think about how a job can be done flexibly and advertise all reasonable flexible work options available to applicants, such as flexible hours, compressed hours, job sharing, remote working, or part-time work – with flexibility as the default. Where a particular form of flexible work is not possible for a role employers must fully justify this – and work to expand the types of flexibility they can offer.

To read the full report, click here.