Why isn’t the gender gap shifting?

The gender pay gap is proving to be very stubborn, even though many employers are making a concerted effort to close it.

When I was researching this issue for our partnership with SheSays on their ShareBaby campaign two facts jumped out.

The first: incredibly, there are still no sectors in the UK economy where women are paid the same as men.

The second was relevant to the creative sector. The median gender pay gap has worsened at more than half of the UK’s advertising and marketing agencies in the last year.

Why is it the gender pay gap so stubborn?

There is clearly no quick fix to greater gender equality.

It is often looked at through the lens of being a ‘women’s issue’, with organisations wondering how to get more women to senior levels in organisations with equal pay. One key insight I have gained working at WOMBA is that women and men’s professional paths start to diverge at the point where they have children, and this is the point where the. gender pay gap starts to widen.

In theory, supporting women during this life stage so they’re able to manage and progress their careers should help. But despite many organisational initiatives such as enhanced maternity leave, flexible working and coaching around parental transitions, the numbers aren’t shifting. Why is that?

I would argue that we need to look more widely at the obstacles to change.

Employers’ attitudes towards working mums are part of the challenge

There is still a shocking amount of prejudice and discrimination against working mums.

According to the EHRC, one third of managers believe that expectant and new mums in work are ‘generally less interested in career progression’ than other employees in their companies. The EHRC also found that 77% of expectant and new mums reported negative or discriminatory experiences during pregnancy, maternity leave or return to work. I need to repeat that figure – 77%!

Whilst maternity leave and pay enable mums to have time with their babies, a perhaps unintended consequence is that they limit their career prospects and progression.

This is needs to be looked at from both parents’ perspective

If we’re to create change, we need to consider gender equality from dads’ as well as a mums’ perspectives.

Dads want to be more present for their children, yet many organisations haven’t adjusted their policies or their attitudes to accommodate this.
The vast majority of men (85%) believe they should be as involved as women in all aspects of childcare. Over nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for men to take time off to care for their family as it is for women. Yet still, women are eight times more likely to be the primary caretakers for their children (BITC).

Shared parental leave was designed to make this easier but the take up is dismal – around 2%. Something isn’t working. There are practical reasons for this: often it’s not affordable, or requires one partner to donate some of their parental leave to the other. More worryingly, dads believe it will damage their career prospects. The BITC study found the most important factor for men to access family-friendly policies was the confidence it wouldn’t impact their career prospects.

It’s not just a challenge for dads during their baby’s first months and year. Dads are twice as likely as mothers to have requests for flexible work rejected (Nuffield Foundation).

The Daddilife study of dads aged 24-40 reports that of the 28% of dads in advertising who’d requested a change in working hours, only 33% were successful. This makes advertising one of the bottom ranking industries. Revealingly, the study also found that almost half of dads aged 25-40 are convinced that their employer treats mums better.

Advertising and marketing agencies will start losing valuable talent if they don’t start making changes to their employees’ work-life. They’ll lose both mums and dads. There are indications this is starting to happen: one third of dads have changed jobs since parenthood to find an optimal work-life balance (Daddilife).

If we want to create genuine equality at work and meet the needs of parents, we need gender neutral parental policies. This needs to go hand in hand with a change in attitude so the policies are actually used by employees. All working parents should have an equitable opportunity to combine paid employment with raising their family This shouldn’t disadvantage either of them and should allow them to balance their family and work responsibilities. Offering the same parental leave entitlements is a great place to start. Organisations already doing so are witnessing benefits for parents of both genders and internally.

WOMBA is proud to be partnering with SheSays on the ShareBaby campaign.
SheSays is an award-winning global network organisation focused on the engagement, education and advancement of women in the creative industries. The London branch has over 4,000 members.