All jobs should be advertised as available for flexible working, and greater support should be given to fathers to play more of a role in child care, says the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Releasing its strategy for tackling gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, the Commission says that the pay gaps issue sits ‘right at the heart of our society and is a symbol of the work we still need to do to achieve equality for all.’
Offering all jobs as flexible will remove the barriers faced by women and disabled people, says the EHRC. These groups are more likely to have to negotiate flexible working or accept part-time jobs that are often low-paid. Creating work places with flexible cultures will increase opportunities for everyone, says the EHRC, giving people greater choice about the role they play both at work and home.
The Commission says that giving fathers extra ‘use it or lose it’ paternity leave paid at the right level will encourage more men to ask for flexible working, reducing the ‘motherhood penalty’ that many women face after having children and increasing the opportunities for them to progress. This would follow a successful model adopted in Scandinavian countries.
“We need new ideas to bring down pay gaps,” says Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. “We need radical change now otherwise we’ll be having the same conversation for decades to come.”
Subject choices and stereotypes in education send children of all genders, abilities, and racial backgrounds on set paths, says Waters. These stereotypes are then reinforced throughout the workplace in recruitment, pay and progression.
“For this to change, we need to overhaul our culture and make flexible working the norm; looking beyond women as the primary caregivers and having tough conversations about the biases that are rife in our workforce and society,” says Waters.
As well as pressing for flexible working to be encouraged in all jobs at all levels, the strategy also urges governments, their agencies and employers to:
Unlock the earning potential of education by addressing differences in subject and career choices, educational attainment and access to apprenticeships;
Improve work opportunities for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live by investing in sector-specific training and regional enterprise;
Encourage men and women to share childcare responsibilities by making paternity leave a more effective incentive and improving access to childcare;
Increase diversity at all levels and in all sectors by encouraging employers to tackle bias in recruitment, promotion and pay and introducing a new national target for senior and executive management positions;
Report on progress towards reducing pay gaps by extending reporting to ethnicity and disability and collecting annual statistics.
The EHRC claims its strategy is supported by the most detailed and comprehensive analysis to date of pay gap data and the drivers behind them. It highlights the complex causes of pay gaps, often missed out of debates that focus only on the headline figures. Current figures calculate the gender pay gap at 18.1%, the ethnic minority pay gap at 5.7% and the disability pay gap at 13.6%, but the statistics alone are only part of the story and comparing them to each other can be unhelpful in identifying and tackling the causes of pay gaps for different groups.
Ethnicity pay gaps
Several ethnic minorities have high proportions of people being paid less than the living wage, says the EHRC. From 2011 to 2014, this was almost half of Bangladeshi men and around a third of Pakistani men. This compares with under a fifth of White British men. The largest ethnicity pay gaps are: male Bangladeshi immigrants, who experienced the largest pay gap of 48% and Pakistani immigrant men who experienced a 31% pay gap
Most female ethnic minority groups had a pay advantage over White British women. However, female Bangladeshi immigrants and Pakistani immigrants both experienced around a 12% pay gap compared with White British women.
Disability pay gaps
Those with physical impairments generally earn less than non-disabled people, but the pay gaps for men with neurological or mental health conditions are particularly large: men with epilepsy experience a pay gap close to 40% and women with epilepsy have a 20% pay gap compared to non-disabled men and women respectively and men with depression or anxiety have a pay gap of around 30% whilst women with depression or anxiety have a pay gap of 10%.
The research also highlights that women, disabled people and people from some ethnic minority groups are more likely to be paid below the living wage. This means that caution should be given to comparing sizes of pay gaps. For instance, the pay gap between disabled women and non-disabled women is smaller than the pay gap between disabled men and non-disabled men. This is because women in general are more likely to be paid less to begin with.
Waters says: “The inequalities in pay for ethnic minority groups and disabled people need to be talked about. We’re launching this strategy to kick start the change we need. This includes action to tackle inequalities across the board, including those who are trapped in low pay who often get missed from the headlines.”