On 29th May, 2020, the UK’s Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss tweeted: “It's 50 years since men and women had to be paid the same for doing the same work, thanks to the Equal Pay Act. Vital principle that people are valued for what they contribute not what sex they are. #equalpayact #50Years.”
It was accompanied by a video tracing the journey of the legislation, that has garnered more than 14,000 views.
Although there is no denying that women’s rights in the UK have made significant strides over the last half century, the reality of gender equality in the workplace today is somewhat less rosy than the picture painted by Ms Truss’s tweet.
New research from gender equality charity the Fawcett Society reveals that less than one third of the UK’s top jobs are filled by women. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently found that in the UK, women do less paid work and more unpaid work than men, as well as that the average working woman earned 40% less than her male counterpart in 2019. And the gender pay gap has actually increased from 7% in 2020 to 7.9% in 2021, according to the Office of National Statistics.
In the context of the pandemic, during which women are doing more unpaid and invisible labour both at work and at home, there is a long road ahead to reach true gender equality in the UK workplace.
Fawcett’s 2022 Sex and Power Index analysed women’s representation across sectors, particularly in positions of power. “Overall, across 5,166 positions of power in society, we found that women make up just under a third – 32% – of the total. That means that 919 women are missing from the top roles. Women are under-represented and outnumbered by men at a ratio of 2:1 in the positions that shape our politics, laws and culture. Whilst this continues, government and sector leaders miss out on women’s talent and skills,” states the report.
Jemima Olchawski, CEO of the Fawcett Society said: “The people who hold the top jobs in our society have enormous power to shape our democracy, culture and economy. Yet men continue to dominate most senior roles. That’s not only bad for the women who miss out on opportunities to thrive, but it’s bad for us all, as we miss out on women’s talent, skills and perspectives.”
"Structures, culture and often individuals continue to create barriers that prevent women and women of colour in particular rising to the top. And we’re all losing out as a result."
Jemima Olchawski, CEO of the Fawcett Society
And it's an even bleaker outlook for women in minority groups. “Women of colour are simply missing altogether from the highest levels of many sectors. In top roles, such as Supreme Court Justices, Metro Mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners, departmental Permanent Secretaries, FTSE 100 chief executives and General Secretaries of the largest trade unions, there are no women of colour represented,” states the research report.
“What is most alarming about today’s data is that it shows an unacceptable lack of women of colour in senior positions. It is appalling that in 2022, women of colour are missing in leadership positions from some of our key institutions and organisations. Put simply, this gives the lie to the idea that we live in a meritocracy or a society of equal opportunity. Structures, culture and often individuals continue to create barriers that prevent women and women of colour in particular rising to the top. And we’re all losing out as a result,” Jemima said.
When it comes to women’s representation in positions of influence, unfortunately the UK government has shown very slow progress as despite the record-breaking number of female MPs elected in 2019, Parliament continues to be dominated by men. “Over the last two Westminster elections we have seen scant progress, the proportion of female MPs moving from 32% in 2017 to 34% at the 2019 election. The House of Lords has fallen behind the Commons with just 28% women, despite its appointed nature meaning power to make change lies directly in parties’ and Government’s hands. Local councils are increasing women’s representation by just half a percentage point each year,” states the report.
In the private sector, the research found modest progress towards equal representation year on year with women holding 13.7% of executive directorships, up from 10.9% in 2019, however: “In 2021 there are still just eight women at the top of the FTSE 100 organisations. None of them are from ethnic minority groups.”
With such a long road ahead to achieve gender equality, what can organisations do to increase the representation of women in the workplace and unlock the value of women’s talents and skills?
Fawcett provides four calls for change for the government, companies and institutions to improve their workforce’s gender equality:
1. Set targets to increase the amount of women in positions of power, with clear action plans in place for accountability.
2. Improve your gender pay gap reporting, including ethnicity pay gap reporting and publish your action plans.
3. Bring together sectors where women of colour are missing from top positions, to create action plans to increase representation.
4. Set flexible working policies as default for roles, wherever possible.