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Jon Kennard


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Bridging the gender pay gap: How small businesses can make a big difference


David Ingram says there's a lot more to do to close the gap in pay between men and women.

The gap between men's and women’s earnings is at the narrowest it has been since records began, official figures report, but are we celebrating too soon? Despite the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the Office for National Statistics’ 2014 figures revealed that the gender pay gap still stands at 19.1%, measured by median gross hourly pay. While the gap has fallen significantly from 27.5% in 1997, it is a far cry from the equal opportunities that women deserve. 

A 2012 report by the Resolution Foundation Think Tank suggested that this fall could be due to a stagnation of male wages, rather than a victory for women. The report revealed that men working in typically well-paid jobs had experienced wage freezes and redundancies, and these factors dragged down the average pay for the male gender, which made it seem as though the pay gap had decreased, when it reality it was an unfair representation as women’s pay had barely changed.

The unfortunate truth is that more women than men occupy low-paid jobs, while men continue to dominate skilled and professional roles that pay higher rates. Women make up 78% of the health and social care sector, which is typically low paid, whereas men equate for 88% of higher-paid industries such as technology and science, research by the Fawcett Society revealed. Is this down to the kind of subjects we’re studying at school, college and university, and the type of qualifications we’re earning, or is there another reason? There’s been a lot of talk about apprenticeships of late, but does this career path appeal to women? 

How employers can help 

It is in a business’s best interests to treat its employees fairly. Not only will it be doing the right thing for its members of staff, but it will have improved levels of staff productivity, loyalty and it can ensure that their business projects a positive image. 

Apprenticeships are one of the best routes for young people to develop valuable skills and get on the right career path, and they can also be a fantastic alternative to university. Many university students finish their degrees with minimal experience that they can use in the real word, plus they leave with a great amount of debt from their student loans. Apprenticeships allow young people to be employed in a particular industry while studying for a work-based qualification, allowing a young person to gain relevant work experience, earn some money and start to build a solid foundation for future employment. 

An innovative industry, such as digital marketing, is at the forefront of driving changes in the workplace, and hiring more apprentices is a huge part of helping local businesses thrive. It is down to individual businesses to make sure that every apprentice in their scheme has the same opportunities as another. Statistics from ComRes reveal that women in apprenticeships earn £2,000 less per year than their male counterparts, and 16% of women are left unemployed after finishing their apprenticeships, compared with only 16% of men. If organisations trained more young women as apprentices, they could encourage an entire generation of women to learn new skills and eventually fill roles that are typically associated with males. 

Transparency is key

Organisations should be more transparent with their pay scales. In March this year, the Liberal Democrats announced that all UK companies with over 250 employees would have to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees over the next year. Yet the government is still undecided as to whether organisations should publish a single figure for their gender pay gap, or a series of comparisons for each level of employment. 

The education secretary Nicky Morgan expressed concerns that these figures, or the pressure to show them, may discourage some organisations from hiring women in the first place. However, on the whole, businesses that have already provided these figures such as Tesco, FriendsLife, PwC, AstraZeneca and Genesis, have made themselves appear more transparent and honest in the eyes of the public. If anything, small businesses should be open and honest about their pay scales from the outset, as it can eliminate any inequality in the workplace and people will naturally be drawn to a fairer work environment. 

David Ingram is the managing director of Bring Digital, a digital marketing agency that specialises in SEO, web design and development and PPC. The company has grown in the last year, and they now employ 27 people and one apprentice

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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