OPINION - Don’t be like a Premier League footballer on International Women’s Day

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

A nickel’s worth of free advice for all PRs working with men’s sports teams eager to create some wholesome content for International Women’s Day: if you ask the players to name the woman who has inspired them most in their life, for goodness sake encourage them to say someone other than their mother. Today it was the turn of Leicester City players, but previously it was professional tennis players.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think mums are great (there is Office for Budget Responsibility data to back this up). And I’m keenly aware my own mum reads this newsletter. But this default answer, while superficially sweet and safe, feels a bit unsatisfying. If nothing else, women don’t have to give you life, clothe, feed and generally love you unconditionally in order to be inspirational. A cynic might suggest these players can’t think of anyone else...

Today is IWD 2023 and the Evening Standard is packed with profiles of inspiring women to whom you may not be related. But first, let’s begin with the gender wage gap which, according to the Office for National Statistics, has been declining slowly over time. In 1998, it stood at 27.5 per cent and last year fell to 14.9 per cent. Of course, the more you delve into the data, the more complex a picture is painted. For example, the pay gap for employees aged 40 and over is significantly higher.

Some metrics suggest the trend is reversing. The accountancy giant PwC came out with a new report this week which found that, when taking the soaring cost of childcare into account, the average pay gap widened last year. As a result of what it calls the “motherhood penalty”, at this rate it will take more than half a century to reach gender pay gap parity.

It might seem to go without saying but I think it would be useful at this point to state why equal pay matters. For employers, there is the fact that it is a legal requirement under the 2010 Equality Act. Being taken to tribunals is expensive, time-consuming, contributes to low staff morale and damaging to a company’s wider reputation.

For employees themselves, money is clearly an important factor. But it’s about so much more. The gender pay gap leads to a wealth gap. It impacts people’s pensions and therefore not only how comfortable they will be in retirement but how long they will have to work. Across the country but particularly in London, where house prices are so high, it contributes to a situation where women wait 5.3 years longer than their male counterparts to buy a property in the capital. And this is without evening getting into issues around unpaid and emotional labour.

What with progress rarely being linear, these gaps won’t be bridged without a concerted effort amongst governments, employers and wider society. And some backsliding is being detected. A recent Ipsos survey found that younger generations hold less supportive views on some aspects of gender equality.

In total, 38% across the generations now agree that when it comes to giving women equal rights with men, things have gone far enough (up from 25% in 2018). While 43% of people (and just over half of men) say we have gone so far in promoting women’s equality that we are “discriminating against men”.

As in other arenas where systemic inequality is stripped away, the previously favoured group can experience the absence of privilege as if it were oppression. It isn’t, but there is clearly a battle of ideas (and for pay) that still needs winning.

In the comment pages, Ayesha Hazarika says modern-day feminism feels like a circular firing squad of women. Ben Judah warns that the Ukraine war is at a crucial stage, and China’s next move could be key. While Melanie McDonagh urges us to save the diversity of our plantlife as well as fix climate change.

And finally, stop queuing outside of Dishoom. It’s nice but there’s so much more to eat. Ben McCormack picks his favourite Indian restaurants in London, from Michelin-starred fine dining to long-loved family institutions.

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