Time For Women To Down Tools?

Dr Julie
Today is the day women stop earning but just keep right on working.

Today is the day women stop earning but just keep right on working.

It's Equal Pay Day. 10th November is the day this year when, because of the gender pay gap, women effectively stopped earning money, a full 51 days before their male counterparts.

A lot of people seem to think the battle for equality has been won in Britain. We have an Equality Act which has teeth and can be effective. What we don't have is a country where gender makes no difference socially, politically or in employment terms.

Those glass ceilings really do still abound. There are currently 208 women MPs in the House of Commons - a little under a third of the total number of representatives. Those 208 make up almost half of the women elected to Parliament since Constance Markievicz won the seat of Dublin St Patrick's for Sinn Fein in 1918. In business, women still make up only 22% of company boards of directors. 16% of companies have no female directors at all and fewer than 4% have women in the number one job or an equal number of women and men on the board. Even in education, a sector where women have traditionally had greater access to leadership roles, the situation remains unequal. There is still only a one in three chance that a new university vice-chancellor will be a woman and overall women are in charge at a little more than one in five universities. In the military numbers of women in command roles are vanishingly small and under the 2010 Act as the government's own report into diversity in the military puts it, "The Armed Forces are exempt from elements of the employment provisions of the Equality Act 2010 for reasons of combat effectiveness."

Few places are immune. As principal of an FE college I can be confident that two lecturers in the same subject with the same skills and experience will be paid the same rate for the job, but that doesn't mean there is no pay difference on gender lines. Market forces impact on recruitment and lecturers in some disciplines command a higher salary than others. For example, engineers earn more than early years professionals in the workplace meaning the same is true in teaching. Engineers are more likely to be men and early years professionals are more likely to be women - another reason why it's vital to encourage our girls and young women to take a broad and ambitious view of their future options and to excite them about the possibilities of careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Certainly, the impression some men have of women in the workplace doesn't seem to have evolved much since the 1950s. The sadly, not-at-all shocking survey results showing more than half of British women have faced harassment at work comes hard on the heels of the revelations from Hollywood and Westminster. And that's the point really; just when it looks like so much progress has been made we're vividly reminded of how much remains to be done - which is why I had such great pleasure being at an awards ceremony for Women Leaders in Milton Keynes a couple of weeks ago. It was inspiring and entertaining and a great night out, but more important than that, it was a timely reminder that while the world is still a place where women have to try just that bit harder than their male counterparts, great things can be and are being achieved by women of wit and wisdom, talent and determination. None of those winning prizes will be stopping working today. They're the sort of people who keep on keeping on. And that's what we all need to do. We need to keep on demanding inequality is removed, keep on confronting casual and structural sexism and yes, to keep on giving prizes to remarkable women who give their all at work, even when the rewards are neither fair nor just.

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