Why the gender pay gap won’t close any time soon

I’ve been reflecting on gender pay gap reporting and shared parental leave over the last couple of weeks, in particular the causes of the gender pay gap and low take up of shared parental leave. Both I thought would make good topics for a blog until I started writing and ended up with one blog covering both.

Low uptake of shared parental leave and the gender pay gap are heavily reported as employment issues, and of course they are, employers play a key role, but they are also a society issue. Many of the causes of both these issues happen outside of the workplace, this doesn’t supply a get out of jail free card for employers.  Employers are a key part of the resolution, we do however need to get society on board and ensure that our policies don’t only consider treatment of staff but also our customers and suppliers.

For me, gender inequality and stereotypes has come into sharp focus since becoming a mum and in particular a mum to a boy and a girl. I know only too well the statistics around boys in education and already I’ve heard the phrase “boys will be boys” when it comes to my sons schooling, for my daughter I hope the gender barriers to employment are broken down by the time she gets there.  At 6 and 4 I already hear them discussing the differences between boys and girls, they already define the likes of girls and the likes of boys.  It’s not surprising when the toy shops define the difference so clearly and whilst some things are improving, this seasons Next catalogue has boys baby grows in astronaut and racing driver designs whilst the girls’ designs are a fairy and mermaid.  Add in school reading books still portraying traditional family gender roles, which whilst I appreciate is also about a lack of funding in schools to replace old books, the effect remains the same.

My husband finds at our daughters’ hospital appointments (as we alternate routine appointments) he will get asked “where is mum”, I’ve never been asked “where is dad”. Our son’s first nursery would insist on calling me and not my husband if there was an issue with our son, on one occasion when they couldn’t contact me, they rang my husband who told them the answer they needed, however, they still insisted he called me to confirm.  Societies treatment of men and second in the parenting team will impact on the decisions families make, including decisions to take shared parental leave.  I’ve heard people questioning what a man is doing his shard parental leave in a way you would never hear a woman being questioned, even if this is not direct to the man involved, it will impact on the decisions of other men in the workforce.

All these things influence the decisions we make in life. We still have generations of children who have gender differences ingrained before they even start school, further reinforced in school in my children’s experience.  That’s another generation who will have to battle against the ideas they have learnt from an early age, they won’t be entering the workforce until at least 2028 but if their current learning is anything to go by we’ll still be talking about this then.

Equality for women in the workplace has to include equality for men in the family. Everything I have read about gender pay gap reporting tells me about narratives for getting more women into the workforce, yes this is a significant issue and it does need addressing (and fast).  There is also the significant issue of female dominated careers (teaching, care etc) which become male dominated at the top, again an issue that needs to be resolved.  However, resolving these imbalances also needs to include getting more men into currently female dominated professions as well as supporting the role of men in the family.  The only way we can get equality for women in the workplace is to stop seeing particular types of work (both paid and unpaid) as “women’s work”.

There are many more examples I could give of everyday sexism faced by myself, my husband, our son and daughter, please do share yours and your thoughts on resolving this inequality.

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