Figures show gap in age group is five times greater than six years ago, with some women starting careers worse off than male counterparts
The gender pay gap for women in their 20s is growing after years of decline, with some young women being paid less than men from the start of their careers, figures have revealed.
The figures were released on Friday, named as Equal Pay Day and the day of the year when women in effect begin to work for free due to the pay gap.
Gender rights campaigners said the data highlighted a “national scandal” created by the same power imbalance that allowed sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. They warned that the UK was going backwards in addressing the issue, with the gulf widening for young women.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “The pay gap is widest for older women as it grows over our working lives but we are now seeing a widening of the pay gap for younger women too, which suggests we are going backwards and that is extremely worrying.”
Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality party, stressed that the gender pay gap had to be viewed as part of the same power imbalance that had lead to a series of sexual harassment scandals in politics, the media and entertainment industry.
“Unequal pay is one of the main barriers to equality and is a key factor in sexual harassment and violence against women,” she said. “The pay gap is another national scandal that we don’t understand, and it has this same national narrative around it that women are somehow choosing this treatment – this idea that inequality is some sort of lifestyle choice.”
The gender pay gap for women in their 20s has been widening recently, and is now five times greater than it was six years ago, although older women still face greater pay discrimination than workers at the start of their career.
Progress has stalled on closing the gender pay gap, which now stands at 14.1% according to the Office for National Statistics, with no movement on the figure in the last three years. At the current rate of change it will take 100 years to close the male-female gap in pay.
According to the ONS, older women face the greatest discrimination, with women in their 50s paid on average 18.6% less than their male colleagues. While the gap among younger women had almost been eliminated, in the last six years there was a notable increase, from 1.1% in 2011 to 5.5% this year.
The gap is highest in London (20.7%), followed by the south-east at 16.3%. It is lowest in Wales, at 8.3%, and the north-east, at 10.2%. The gap is higher in the private sector, at 17.1%. But it has fallen by 4.3% points since 2011, while in the public sector it has plateaued at just above 14%.
Fawcett Society research published this year found that the mean aggregate pay gap for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women was 26% and for black African women it was 24%.
Using the hashtag #paygappledge, the Fawcett Society is encouraging workers across the UK to take action to tackle the gap by starting a conversation at work and speaking to their employers, while companies and the government are being urged to make tangible, effective changes.
The Women’s Equality party is coordinating thousands of women to send an “out-of-office” message today in protest about in effect not being paid for the remainder of the year.
“Imagine the chaos if all of those women in all those areas of work simply walked away from their jobs today,” said Walker. “Shops shut, hospitals in crisis, businesses forced to close, dads scrambling to find childcare cover. It’s time for fair pay.”
The government has set a deadline for businesses with more than 250 staff to report their gender pay gap (which will be available on the government website) by 31 March 2018. Some companies have already started reporting, including the BBC, which was fiercely criticised after several high-profile employees were found to have salaries significantly lower than their male counterparts.
Maria Miller, the MP for Basingstoke and chair of the women and equalities select committee, said: “We continue to hear warm words from the government on eliminating the gender pay gap but clearly progress remains disappointing. Businesses must also take responsibility.
“We continue to push for urgent action and reiterate that flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women returning to work after having children, are all key to tackling the problem.”
Walker said that a main reason for the pay gap was that the UK had the most expensive childcare in the world. “It takes away the choice about whether and how much women want to work. And when women take up lower-paid part-time roles and men dominate more senior jobs, there is a power imbalance, and that is where harassment thrives because women are being forced into a position of dependency.”
Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said that even if women did have children or were at the beginning of their career, discrimination was there; it started “from the moment women start work”. The trust’s research revealed that young female apprentices earned 8% less than their male peers, leaving them more than £1,000 a year worse off.
“At this rate, today’s young women will be retired before equal pay becomes a reality,” Easton said. “Often this is because the sectors women tend to work in – such as administration, health and social care and retail – are not valued and paid as much as they should be. Government data shows that male graduates of almost all degree subjects are out-earning women within just a few years of completing their degrees.”
Anne Milton, minister for women and for skills and apprenticeships, , said that despite the passing of the Equal Pay Act nearly 50 years ago too many women were still held back in their careers.
“The pay gap won’t close on its own, we all need to take action to make sure we address this,” she said. “That is why we have introduced a legal requirement for all large employers to publish their gender pay and bonus data by April 2018. I’m pleased that some of our top companies are leading the way and have already reported. By shining a light on where there are gaps they can take action to address it.”
Laura Davies enjoyed her job in retail. She wanted to do more training, push herself further and earn more money, but when she became pregnant aged 20 she found that many of the avenues were closed off.
“When my employers found out I was pregnant they made things very hostile, they didn’t want me to stay,” she says. “So I had no choice but to leave.”
Until recently, Davies, now 27, was working part-time, but found that her childcare responsibilities meant she could not go on to a higher level of pay. “I left at the end of July in my last job, they refused flexible working and they turned me down for promotion because they thought I was not committed, which wasn’t true. Now I’m self employed because I think it’s the only way I’m going to get ahead.”
She, and friends, she said, who were also young mothers, felt the odds were stacked against them.
“Most people think the wage gap is comparing the same wage in the same job, but young mums work lower paid jobs, which don’t have the potential for progression, aren’t flexible enough [for trying] new things or training courses,” she says.
The options open to young women, with or without children, in lower-paid work, are a frustration, she says, adding that even at apprenticeship level jobs dominated by women are paid and valued less.
“There is a mentality that young mums aren’t hard workers, but my friends are some of the hardest working I know,” she adds. “Especially being young you have to work so much harder to prove that you can do it.”
Davies now works from home as an online marketer, working hours that fit around looking after her son. But she feels as if several employers have failed to see, and help her realise, her potential.
“I feel the way jobs are set up has held me back. Billions of hours are being wasted because mums aren’t being used to their potential. Why can’t employers find a flexible way of working? I’d have loved the potential to progress in my retail job, but because I worked part-time and I was a new mum they didn’t feel I was the fit … I had to do it myself and push myself up the ladder.”
Source: The Guardian