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Evidence check: Gender pay gap - supporting women back into the workforce

Women and Equalities Committee

Our recommendation

We recommended that "All jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so."

The latest data from 2016 shows that just 8.7% of jobs paying a full-time equivalent of £20,000 are advertised as available to work flexibly or part-time. Our report demonstrated that this creates a significant bottleneck to women's employment, promotion and progression opportunities.

Government response

In its response to our recommendation, the Government says "The current statutory scheme strikes a balance between giving employees the flexibility to combine work with other responsibilities and allowing employers to plan effectively. Employers can also advertise jobs on flexible terms or offer flexible working arrangements to their employees outside the statutory scheme if they wish – and many employers already do so."

  • Please read the full Government response to this recommendation before contributing your comments.
  • We're looking for strong evidence-based arguments responding to the Government's case. These may include references to academic research, case studies, and examples of what has worked in other countries. Please include references as hyperlinks where possible.

The forum is now closed. The deadline for comments was midday on 12 April 2017.

Return to Gender Pay Gap inquiry

9 Contributions (since 20 February 2017)
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Total results 9 (page 1 of 1)

Women's Equality Party

26 April 2017 at 11:34

Office of National Statistics (ONS) data shows the gap for hourly earnings grows from the age of 40 onwards, and it is greatest for women in their 50s. This is partly due to the fact that half of women over the age of 50 work part-time, and hourly wages for part-time workers are significantly lower than those for full-time employees. Many women who have worked part time throughout their working lives have moved from caring for children to caring for elderly relatives - often not just their own parents, but those of their partners too, and this can prevent them from increasing working hours in their later working years. Women over 50 are also vulnerable to "dual discrimination" - when women are penalised on the basis of both age and gender, rather than solely because they are women. The particular experience of menopause is not well understood by employers, and women who need support or to adjust their working patterns may feel unable to raise the issue, and choose to simply retire instead. Changes to enable flexible working by default will allow many more women to stay in work in older age, including when juggling caring responsibilities. But caring responsibilities are subject to sudden and unexpected changes which can leave family carers struggling to get to work, which is why temporary leave while a crisis abates or a new caring arrangement is put in place is so critical. And for older women who end up having to give up work altogether, WE want to see promotion of secure pathways back into work when they are ready. WE recommend an urgent consultation between government, employers and employees on strategies to help those with caregiving responsibilities balance these with working life. This would include consideration of longer term career breaks, similar to maternity leave, for those with caring responsibilities. WE call for restoration of the provisions in the 2010 Equality Act to permit dual discrimination claims where, for example, a woman feels she has been discriminated against as an older woman. WE encourage detailed research into the experience of working women during the menopause, reducing stigma and spreading awareness among employers.

Young Women's Trust

26 April 2017 at 10:42

Young Women’s Trust welcomes the suggestion from the committee for a National Pathways into Work Scheme but feels that it should be broader in scope. Younger mothers face similar problems in returning to work as older mothers, but to an even greater degree. Our recent polling found that 25% of young mothers had experienced discrimination when their employer found out they were pregnant and 39% had been illegally questioned in an interview about how being a mother affects their ability to work. Recent EHRC reports also showed that young mums face higher levels of maternity discrimination than other mums. Furthermore, younger mums often face even greater barriers due to a lack of work experience and higher level skills. Young women we spoke to suggested that there were several barriers that prevented them accessing employment opportunities and that the difficulties were especially acute for young mothers. These barriers included: • Lack of qualifications or skills • Low confidence • Lack of flexible options • Lack of work experience/ references • Finances and cost of childcare We asked young women what types of support a Pathways to Work programme or other service would need to provide. The following quotes give an indication of young women’s responses- there was a clear emphasis on skills development: “Skills training and [a] staged induction process” Shanae “Easing back into it “ Glenys “Staff network support systems” Zeeyan Furthermore, it was felt that employers did not recognise the skills gained as a parent and young mothers were especially keen “[There needs to be] greater understanding by employers that not working doesn’t mean idle…I’d want support to discuss gaps in my CV positively” Young Women’s Trust believes that younger mothers face significant challenges in accessing employment. Current employment support often falls short of what young women tell us they want. For example, our research has found that young women often report poor experiences of Job Centre Plus. Only 19 per cent of young women who visited a job centre in the last year said it helped them find a job, according to our Work It Out report. 44 per cent said Jobcentre Plus had not given them useful information about work and training opportunities. The vast majority of young women surveyed were negative about their experiences of job centres. 59 per cent described their time at the job centre as “humiliating” and 68 per cent said it was “stressful”. 21 per cent said they were treated with no respect by centre staff. The future design of JCP services should address the extremely-ingrained negative perception that young women have of the Jobcentre. YWT recommends that the Department for Work and Pensions consults more extensively with young women when making policy including any potential rollout of a Pathways to Work programme– something we would be happy to help facilitate.

Scottish Women's Convention

12 April 2017 at 10:11

Case Study “When my husband died I wanted to get back to work. I had raised five children, all of whom had left home, and I wanted to be able to go out, meet people and do a job that I enjoyed. I went to the Jobcentre because I wanted to work, but I had to apply for jobs which were not appropriate to me. I felt this was a waste of my potential because my circumstances were not taken into account. Eventually, I was guided towards a job in the care sector and was put on a zero hour’s contract. To be honest, I felt that I was past the age of working under those kinds of conditions, but I took the job anyway. I needed to work - I was not entitled to benefits because I had a widow’s pension and I was just over the threshold to be able to claim anything .The amount of work I have to do, coupled with the fact there was no guarantee of hours on a week by week basis, had a real impact on my mental health. The stress I’m under almost makes it not worthwhile working.” There is a real lack of recognition of the changing realities of caring demands placed on older women, either in respect of valuing and integrating the contribution made by unpaid carers into health and social care systems; or by incentivising employers to recognise and accommodate the needs of unpaid carers in the workplace. “The number of women who have gained professional qualifications yet left their sectors of expertise is shameful. Policymakers and employers should be more focused on why this is happening.” Age discrimination, both explicit and implicit, continues to be a serious challenge for older women in the workforce. Women have reported experiencing inherent bias, based on outdated perceptions of the capabilities of the older workforce, often propagated by employers and managers in the workforce. Until this is addressed and tackled by policy and decision makers, older women will continue to be disadvantaged within the workplace. It is vital that employers and other staff members recognise the skills and experience that older women bring to the workplace. There needs to be a basic understanding that although older women may, at times, require additional support, time and assistance, they are still more than capable of fulfilling their role and making a positive contribution. There needs to be a way of maximising the skills and experience older women possess, for example through mentoring other staff members or younger people.

Scottish Women's Convention

12 April 2017 at 10:11

The number of older women in employment has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. For many, this is a positive choice and reflects better education, improved health and more freedom to shape their own paths. Others, however, are not afforded this choice. The ever-increasing state pension age and financial pressures mean that they and their families are dependent on that income. Despite the Government’s argument that it already provides sufficient advice and support for women over the age of 40, that which is available is often inadequate for a number of reasons. Funding bursaries should be made available within further and higher education for older women seeking to gain qualifications to improve their position in the world of work. Programmes should be more widely accessible, rather than being restricted to larger urban areas which are inaccessible for those who live in more outlying and rural areas. The lack of part-time learning opportunities in many parts of the country also put women at a disadvantage in terms of furthering their education and skills. There needs to be recognition that older women have significant experience, skills and abilities gained throughout the course of their working lives. Their value in the workplace cannot and must not be underestimated. Some women are reluctant to define themselves as older, as the way they feel about their own skills and abilities may change. Women who work in certain areas feel it necessary to keep a “young attitude” because of the nature of the work they do. Restructuring and redundancies within workplaces can contribute to women feeling, or being made to feel, that they are older. They are being forced to compete for positions similar to those which they have occupied for years previously. “It wasn't until I had to re-apply for jobs that management started to ask how old I was. Up until that point nobody had mentioned my age but when the reorganisation started all of a sudden it seemed to become relevant.” This type of process can make women feel that they should be considering retirement, especially when they are “displaced” into another role. Adjusting to new roles and responsibilities can be challenging, and older women are often afforded little or no assistance to make this transition. Certain working environments can be seen to be the domain of young people, such as contact centres. This can be off-putting for older women. “I was 48 when I joined this particular company and didn’t feel old. At that time there were a lot of older people working in the contact centre, and a lot of them had been displaced from the branches. The company were looking for people with experience to be able to properly assist customers. However over the last five years I have seen older women disappear.” One of the most significant changes to work situations has, however, been the increased use of IT. Employers may offer inductions and training courses, however this is not always possible with the constant advances in technology. Basic support from the Jobcentre is provided. However because staff are under so much pressure to deal with so many claimants, with varying skills, levels and competencies, it is extremely difficult to access the individual support that many require. There are also issues for older women who have been made redundant and attend the Jobcentre in order to find a new job. “While there is help available around applications and interview processes, it is at a very basic level. I have good computer skills and a good standard of education. I have, as a result, been turned away from attending courses as my CV as it stands is considered to be ‘good enough’. I don’t know where to go from here. I worked for my previous employer for over 20 years and have not had to attend an interview or fill out an application form for a very long time. There’s not enough tailored support to deal with situations like mine, which I know are common.”

Chwarae Teg

11 April 2017 at 14:06

Chwarae Teg is a Welsh organisation working to build a Wales where women achieve and prosper. There is a wealth of evidence, provided as part of the initial inquiry, that demonstrates that women over 40 face a number of barriers in the workplace that are distinct from men and other age groups. This includes limited access to training, which is exacerbated by their dominance in part time roles, and their caring responsibilities outside of work. However, few of the projects/interventions cited by Government in response to this recommendation are targeted at women in this specific age group, and therefore are unlikely to address these distinct barriers that they face. In fact, the report by the DWP cited by the Government on trials of training and work experience for benefit claimants over 45 shows that men were more likely to report having benefitted from training by getting a job than women. The data provided around Advanced Learner Loans isn’t clear either about how many older women have benefitted from the service because their barriers are different from those aged 24. Providing this information is necessary in order to evaluate whether it’s been effective in helping this group.

Mary-Ann Stephenson

11 April 2017 at 11:56

In 2016 the EHRC reported on high levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination experienced by women in the UK. Their findings include the estimate that as many as 54,000 women are forced out of the labour market as a result of pregnancy or maternity each year. Women continue to face barriers when they try to return to the labour market. Research by PwC, Women Returners and the 30% Club shows that of 3 in 5 professional women return to lower-skilled or lower paid work after taking a career break. Additionally, a near £1bn career break penalty hits mothers that take time off to look after their children. PwC argue that if the government addresses the return-to-work penalty women face, this could generate over gains of £1.7 billion to the UK economy. These barriers are exacerbated by age discrimination for older women. Research by the TUC into the experiences of women over 50 in the workplace found that older women experienced a larger pay gap than their younger counterparts and found it more difficult to access training and promotion opportunities. Among those who were ‘economically inactive’ a growing number wanted to work but faced significant labour market barriers, including caring (including for both children and elderly relatives) and a combination of age and sexual discrimination. Back to work support for older women through the Work Programme has resulted in sustained employment for only 14% of women over 50 referred to it. This is lower than for younger referees and for men of the same age. Department of Work and Pensions, Work Programme Statistics, March 2015 The Women’s Budget Group welcomes the Spring Budget 2017 announcement of £5m towards returnship programmes for parents, however, £5m is a very small amount considering the scale of the problem. Research by the EHRC has documented the extent of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with 50% of mothers of young babies indicating that maternity had impacted negatively on their “opportunity, status or job security”. The barriers are likely to be even more significant for women that have been out of the labour market for longer.

Alison Outred

07 April 2017 at 17:13

I was employed as a senior training consultant by Aegon from 1999 to 2009. I hhad my only child in Oct 2005 and returned to Aegon in 2006 after approx 10 months maternity leave. I was able to do part-time hours on my return which I greatly appreciated. However, after decided I wanted a new challenge I was horrified to discover there were no professional jobs advertised that were not full time. I was advised my friends and colleagues in HR that I could go for full time roles and I might be able to negotiate a 4 day week if the potential employer was amenable and keen to recruit me but I really needed a 3 day arrangement and there was simply nothing available. I have since set up my own business as being self employed seemed the only way I could balance work and childcare. While this is an entirely satisfactory outcome for me I feel that it doesn't make sense economically as I don't earn anything like the salary I did before and am paying alot less in tax. I can see that a few roles may require a Mon - Fri presence but this is simply not necessary for most roles and offering roles on a flexible basis is essential for women to utilise their skills effectively. Professional women I know are effectively stuck in their current organisation as they cannot find flexible work elsewhere. Employers know this and this then impacts on pay as they know they don't have to offer the same incentives to stay. I'm pretty disgusted that with a business degreee, a marketing diploma, a coaching diploma and years of experience both employed and self employed and from a family of very intelligent women (and men), that I'm suddenly unemployable because I can only work 3 days. That's why I've joined the Women's Equality Party and why I will continue to support Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish political system which supports women with equal representation. Not good enough people!

Amanda Fone - Founder & CEO f1 recruitment ltd, Co-Founder Back2businessship for Returners in Marketing, Media & Communications Sector. Witness at Select Committee Hearing Jan 2016 on Gender Pay Gap

25 March 2017 at 18:22

Each year since 2014 we have run a Returners to Work programme called Back2businessship for women that want to return to careers in the Marketing, Communications and Media sector who have had a gap of more than 3 years to raise a family. All of the women on our programmes need some kind of flexibility in their working week. This doesn't mean part time necessarily or part effort - its means 'some flexibility'. They left the Marketing & Communications profession on salaries of over £50,000 a year - these are qualified women who can contribute to the economy and to business, who want to return to the work place. The only way back in for them is to bridge the gap on their CV by taking a paid, flexible working 'returnship'. We try to set these returnships up for the women on our programme with our clients and there is robust evidence from our case studies that a returnship not only bridges the path back to work but it boosts confidence, builds a CV and increases the liklihood of a woman getting back into a permanent salaried role within 3-6 months of the paid returnship. A 'returners' course alone cannot achieve this. Much more needs to be done to help women find these paid returnships and much more needs to be done to encourage companies to take 'returners'. The National Careers Service is not really fit for purpose for women who want to return to the career they left particularly if this is in the private sector. The £5 million allocated by the government in the Spring 2017 budget needs to be used cleverly to encourage more sectors to reach out to women who have left their sector, to run back to work programmes and host returnships. There are only 23 back 2 work programmes currently in the private sector. Back to work needs to become the norm for companies that are looking at new pipelines of experienced talent. We run our programme at no cost to the delegates and all speakers and facilitators are unpaid. The returnships pay each returner £12,000 for three months - paid by the host company. This is the budget and headcount that many companies find difficult to find. Different sectors will have different budgets for a 3 months returnship. Put the government money to practical use - put it towards running returners programmes through a national pathway back to work sure but also put some of the budget towards (say) match funding the cost of a returnship with those companies that are brave enough to take a returning mum.

Lee Taylor

21 February 2017 at 15:57

An Employment framework enforced by Government already exists that gives Women over 45 an advantage. The Government already runs a framework that disadvantages small businesses to such an extent that: - A Woman can take a job without declaring pregnancy despite the SME having a genuine need for that work to be done but that can lead to money spent on training someone who may never return, followed by huge disruption and uncertainty. - On the background of that lack of economic activity, an SME may not only have to give paid time off for Doctors visits, but even Swimming or Yoga classes whilst having no say in when that absence occurs. - A Woman can take 12 months off, not return, but still get paid holiday pay for that period. On the back of that information, and all the other Government attacks on small businesses such as pensions, wage increases and business rates, is it any wonder that an SME, if crazy enough to employ anyone at all, is more likely to be drawn to someone with more experience and who, by definition of biology, is more likely to manage to do the hours and output required by the SME? The sooner your Committee, Government in general, and all other interfering parties make Employment terms a matter between Employer and Employee the better. If we can be trusted to run an enterprise, surely we can be trusted do determine what is talent and how to retain it if we so wish? The current laws are a mere socialist construct that aid the less talented. If I attempted to tell some of the Ladies who appear on your committee how to spend their money, I would, no doubt be called a sexist. Rather strange how it is OK when reversed?

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