Women’s equality and our place in the workforce has never been a hotter topic, and with good reason.
Over in the US, Hillary Clinton’s bid for president (and Donald Trump’s incendiary comments) have made equal opportunities and women’s issues a key electoral issue, while in Australia’s Queensland, a university cake sale highlighting pay inequality hit international headlines after sparking a ferocious feminist backlash. Back in the UK, we’ve seen Nicola Sturgeon vowing to ‘break barriers’ for women and a there seems to be an irrepressible surge of support for the recently launched Women’s Equality Party.
So why is it all coming to a head now?
As part of the generation of women who grew up in the 80s under Margaret Thatcher, we were told we could have and should want it all. We are now ‘middle aged’ (cringe) and have fulfilled our side of the bargain – we worked hard at school and university, we got our degrees and the careers many of our mothers only dreamed of and some of us even married men who believed we were equal to them.
But now that my generation is reaching mid-life, we’ve finally reached the position where the amount of inequality that is still out there is becoming increasingly apparent. The pay gap, the chances to return to work and unequal opportunities are now staring us in the face.
It’s worth noting here, that up to the age of 30 women outperform men in career and salary. By 40 that lead has been decimated. Obviously this is when many women have children and it is where the veil of equality starts to unravel.
Many of my generation of women have not so much fallen off the career path, but found the path ripped up and the route to get back was riddled with inequality and antiquated sexist attitudes. How often does the mum applicant not get the job because potential employers fear she will be flaky or unable to juggle her work with family life?
From my experience, women who return to work after having had children work incredibly hard to over-prove their worth, work effectively, juggle priorities, multi-task well and are less likely to take time off than younger counterparts.
So where does this leave us?
The first thing to note is that equality is not just a women’s issue and equality in the workplace benefits companies, families and society alike. If unchecked, gender inequality was recently estimated as costing the global economy around $12 trillion by 2025.
There are many theories about quotas, pay transparency, uptake of parental leave and more but at the end of the day it comes down to employers as individuals believing that it’s the right, best and most productive thing to do for their company.
Women can bring so much to a workplace and I believe those of us already in it need to do what we can to mentor and help both those just starting out or trying to return. There is a vital need for women to help other women, be their support, champions and provide the ladders to help others up.
I actually think it is our duty, for the sake of the next generation of working women, to make it an easier path for them than it is for many today.
And for anyone who doesn’t think we need to keep up the fight for equality, I urge you to look at these stats below. The generations coming up behind us don’t realise they need to keep battling for equality, so if we give up the fight now, they and their children will realise only too late that they are still stuck in the world of unequal pay, unequal chances and unequal treatment.
- The full time gender pay gap is 10%
- The average part-time pay gap is 34.5%
- It is estimated that for each year a mother is absent from the workplace her future wages will reduce by 5%
- Approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women
- 54% of women working part-time have been found to be ‘employed below their potential’, which amounts to 2.8 million women