Jobs for the girls: women and equality in the workplace in Scotland

Written by Jenni Davidson on 25 May 2017 in Inside Politics

The Mays’ references to gender-based jobs around the home may have been widely mocked, but segregation still exists in the workplace

Jobs for the girls - Image credit: Holyrood

Theresa and Philip May’s references to household chores as ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’ in their interview on the BBC’s The One Show prompted equal parts ridicule and dismay among commentators, with many single and gay women joking about their houses overflowing with rubbish since they have nobody to take the bins out.

But in the world of work, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that there are still differences, in fact, if not in intention, and that men’s jobs are often better paid and more senior than women’s.

Theresa May referred to this in her first speech as PM, where she talked of the “burning injustice” that “if you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man”.

And while the gender pay gap is smaller in Scotland than in the UK overall, and is decreasing, on average women in Scotland still earn £182.90 per week less than men.


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There is still a clear split between traditional male and female roles in the jobs market.

According to gender equality charity Close the Gap, nearly half of working women are employed in public administration, education and health, with 97 per cent of childcare and early years education workers female and 98 per cent of classroom assistants.

Women are more likely to work in the public sector, making up 81 per cent of NHS workers and 67 per cent of local government employees, but just a third of chief executives in the sector are women.

Around 80 per cent of staff working in administration and personal services are women, but only 10 per cent of senior managers in science, engineering and technology professions and less than three per cent of civil engineers.

This wouldn’t perhaps matter so much, except that sectors dominated by women are often paid less than those dominated by men, with areas such as caring and customer service tending to be lower paid than, for example, skilled trades.

Zero-hours contracts, too, are often associated with the care sector.

The gender pay gap in Scotland reduced from 7.7 per cent in 2015 to 6.2 per cent in 2016, compared with a change of 9.6 per cent to 9.4 per cent in the UK as a whole, but the real difference is affected by hours worked.

Close the Gap points out that in 2016, the mean gender pay gap in Scotland was 14.9 per cent when men’s and women’s overall average hourly earnings were compared, but 10.7 per cent when comparing men’s and women’s full-time average hourly earnings and a huge 32.2 per cent when comparing men’s average full-time average hourly earnings with women’s average part-time hourly earnings.

In Scotland, women make up 49 per cent of the labour market, but they are significantly more likely to work part time than men, with consequent lower average earnings, both overall and per hour.

Women account for 76 per cent of all part-time workers in Scotland and 42 per cent of women employed in Scotland work part time compared to 13 per cent of men.

Some of this imbalance relates to caring responsibilities, with working-age women far more likely to be carers than men – and to give up work to care – as well as many more women than men taking a career break or going part time after having children.

Work is going on to improve these statistics. The Scottish Government now requires all public bodies with more than 20 employees to publish their pay gap every two years and an equal pay statement every four years and is currently consulting on legislation for mandatory gender balance on public boards by 2020, with a voluntary campaign, Partnership for Change, to encourage private sector companies to follow suit.

The introduction of the living wage for care workers employed by local authorities is also likely to particularly benefit women.

The Scottish Government’s planned increase in childcare hours from 16 to 30 hours a week by 2020 is also intended to help more mothers of young children into the workplace. 

However, this is limited to three and four-year-olds, as well as two-year-olds whose parents are on a low income, so there is still a gap in childcare both for younger babies and toddlers and for after-school care for primary-aged children, as advocated by the Scottish Government’s poverty adviser, Naomi Eisenstadt.

Some doubts remain, too, about whether the childcare sector will have the capacity to meet the increased demand.

One of the difficulties for women is returning to the workplace after breaks for caring responsibilities, but work is now being taken up in this area too.

Following a six-month pilot project run by Equate Scotland early last year, in October 2016 employability minister Jamie Hepburn launched a women returners’ scheme to help women re-enter employment in science, technical or medical (STEM) careers.

Equate Scotland, in partnership with Prospect, was given £50,000 to provide 40 women with support to re-join the labour market by offering support, delivered in partnership with The Open University, including workshops, online learning, networking events, one-to-one guidance, career clinics, webinars and the opportunity to apply for three-month ‘returnship’ placements with participating employers, with a particular focus on placements in life sciences, digital skills and engineering.

The aim was to launch women returning from a career break of two years or more back into STEM employment through a structured programme to refresh skills and knowledge, close the ‘CV gap’ and rebuild confidence.

It is open to women who are qualified in science, technology, engineering or the built environment who are not currently working in any of those industries, but want to return to work in STEM.

Launching the initiative, Hepburn said: “This funding for the Women Returners Project will encourage women to re-enter employment and encourage them to regain the confidence and skills they may have lost during career breaks when they have had time away from the workplace.

“While Scotland continues to outperform the UK as a whole on female employment and is making inroads on tackling the gender pay gap, there is still more to do.

With our funding for the Women Returners Project, improving the availability of childcare and flexible working, and promoting the living wage, we hope to close the gender gap once and for all.”

Writing about the initial pilot for Close the Gap, Lesley McNiven, Equate Scotland’s women returners’ programme lead, said it had received “phenomenal feedback” from the 15 women who took part.

She wrote: “Although most jobs in the near future will require STEM skills, women make up only an estimated 25 per cent of the workforce in Scotland’s STEM industries – science, technology, engineering and maths.

One reason for women’s under-representation is that only 27 per cent of women who leave university qualified in a STEM subject, remain in that industry long term.

“The pipeline of female talent is notoriously leaky, as a range of planned and unplanned life events interrupt careers, leaving some women unsure how to return.

“Equate Scotland has worked across the Scottish STEM landscape for the last ten years, as change agents and experts on increasing women’s representation in STEM.

“Our latest initiative aims to find that pool of hidden talent and help them restart their STEM careers.”

At its spring conference, the SNP announced that further funding will be given to Equate Scotland to help a further 200 women back into the workplace.

Similar work has been going on at a UK level. In January this year, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work (APPG) at Westminster launched its first annual report on women in the workplace, ‘Women Returners’, outlining the results of a year-long inquiry and calling on both government and employers to do more to help women enter or re-enter the workplace.

At the launch, APPG co-chair Conservative MP Flick Drummond MP said: “If we want to be a happier and more successful country, we must appreciate that some people take time out of the workplace for either caring responsibilities or to pursue other interests.

“But it is unacceptable that taking often unavoidable time out usually means forfeiting future earnings and economic success.

“For example, on average, women earn more than men in their twenties, but when they turn 30, men begin to significantly outstrip their female counterparts.

“I would like to see a culture where we recognise that caring responsibilities have a positive impact on our ability to ‘do the job’ and that this is understood and valued by employers across the country.”

Her co-chair, Labour MP Jess Phillips, added: “Improving women’s labour market participation is not just important for well-rehearsed social reasons, it matters to our economy.

“It is unsurprising that some of the best examples of schemes to support and encourage women back into work came from the private sector where the business case of recruiting and keeping the best talent is understood.

“This report and its recommendations begin a conversation about the importance of getting women working, and we will continue to work with government, the private and public sectors, and most importantly, women themselves to make sure that everyone is able to make a full contribution to our economy.”

Some of the report’s recommendations concern devolved areas the Scottish Government controls while others are reserved to Westminster.

It recommends that statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental leave pay are equalised so that couples are not financially penalised if they choose to take up shared parental leave and highlights a need to re-examine how the self-employed are treated for maternity and paternity benefits.

It also calls for employers with 250 or more employees to consider putting in place paid returner programmes with guaranteed training, advice, and support.

It notes too that returnship schemes could be broadened, with the majority of schemes currently focusing on professional jobs.

Disabled women face even more of a barrier than non-disabled women and twice the pay gap of disabled men, so the report calls for government to work with disabled user groups to map and better understand what is needed to help women with disabilities to secure employment and progress within the workplace.

Among the other recommendations is more flexible, targeted support to parents for whom free childcare is most likely to make the biggest difference, every workplace with 250 or more employees should have a carers’ policy and the inclusion of self-employment and entrepreneurship on the curriculum in secondary schools.

Flexibility is another key area, with suggestions to diversify the apprenticeships sector by specifying that a percentage of apprenticeships should be part time or flexible and a flexible working kitemark for employers, with official accreditation and assessment to increase flexible working visibility and actively encourage the uptake of flexible working.

Evidence submitted to the APPG by specialist executive search firm, The Return Hub, which carried out a survey of professional women returners, showed that 60 per cent believe that the main barrier preventing women from returning to work is employer reluctance to hire someone with a CV gap, while 47 per cent thought that a lack of clear paths back through traditional recruiting channels was one of the top two barriers preventing women from returning to the workplace.

Dominie Moss of The Return Hub told the APPG: “There is a largely untapped talent pool of highly skilled women who want to return to work. It’s time to increase awareness amongst employers of the benefits of hiring returners.”

That could help with equality in the workplace and create more parity in maternity and paternity leave to encourage more fathers to take time out and reduce the perception – and reality – that parenthood only affects a woman’s career.

As of 2015, fathers have been able to take two weeks’ paternity leave following the birth of a child and both parents can choose to share up to 50 weeks’ leave, 37 weeks paid, as shared parental leave.

However, uptake has been low, and at present, sharing the leave puts the family at a disadvantage, with mothers who take maternity leave getting six weeks’ pay on 90 per cent of their salary, while parents who share leave only getting the statutory rate of £139.58.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have committed to doubling paid paternity leave for fathers from two weeks to a month if elected next month, but the UK lags significantly behind some other countries.

In Sweden parents are entitled to almost 16 months of paid parental leave, with three months of that solely reserved for the father under a ‘use it or lose it’ system to encourage more dads to take the time out.

And in October 2016, Spain voted to extend paid paternity leave for fathers to 16 weeks, equal to what is offered to mothers.

In her introduction to the APPG report, Flick Drummond calls for the positive role of caring to be recognised and valued in the workplace: “If we want to be a happier and more successful country, we must appreciate that some people take time out of the workplace for either caring responsibilities or to pursue other interests.

“Spending time at home with children or looking after elderly parents does not make women or men less capable and it should not be a deterrent when wanting to go back to work at the appropriate time.

“I would like to see a culture where we recognise that this can have a positive impact in our ability to do the job.

“The recommendations in this report are very helpful and I hope that by highlighting some positive cases, other organisations will follow.”

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