24 March 2016 | Marino Donati
Flexible working lies at the heart of addressing the gender pay gap, according to a report from a cross-party committee of MPs.
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee highlighted the lack of effective policy in many of the areas that contribute to the gender pay gap.
One of its conclusions is that old-fashioned approaches to flexibility in the workplace and a lack of support for those re-entering the labour market were stopping employers from making the most of women’s talent and experience.
The report, Gender Pay Gap, said that there was a gap of 19.2 per cent in the hourly rate of pay between men and women full and part-time workers, despite the fact that woman were better educated and qualified than ever before.
It said this was in a large part down to women’s concentration in part-time work. The report said: “Many women are trapped in low-paid, part-time work that doesn’t make use of their skills. This is partly due to women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring, but also because many of the sectors women work in, like retail and care, offer predominantly low-paid, part-time work.”
But the report concluded that employers were recognising that workplaces needed to change, and that flexible working did not mean low-paid, part-time work.
“Flexible working is much broader and includes jobs shares, late starts, early finishes, term-time working and working from home,” said the report.
“The government recognises the value of modernising the workplace, but is still not taking the steps needed to ensure flexible working is offered to all employees, particularly those in lower-paid sectors. Moving to a culture where flexibility is the norm, and employees are judged on outcomes rather than presenteeism, offers a tremendous opportunity to tackle the gender pay gap.”
According to the committee report, women over 40 are most affected, with the pay gap for those between 50 and 59 being 27.3 per cent.
The committee concluded that investing in policies that supported men to share childcare and allow women to continue working reduces the gender pay gap.
“Aside from increasing the national minimum wage, there has been no co-ordinated attempt to address issues faced by the many women working in low-paid sectors,” said the report.
The committee called on the government to make all jobs flexible by default unless there was a strong and continuing business case for them not to be.
It also called for non-transferrable leave for fathers and second parents to allow men and women to share care more equally, industrial strategies for low-paid, highly feminised sectors to improve productivity and pay levels, and create a National Pathways to Work scheme to support women to return to employment after time out of the labour market.
Committee chair Maria Miller, said: “If the government is serious about long-term, sustainable growth it must invest in tackling the root causes of the gender pay gap. Adopting our recommendations would be a significant step towards achieving the goal of eliminating the gender pay gap within a generation.”