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For women in work, the balance of opportunity is still tilted


Wednesday 19 April 2023

For women in work, the balance of opportunity is still tilted By Denise Black, Director of the Centre of Learning. 

True gender pay equality has become an all-too-familiar pursuit. What ought to be a firm destination or fixed goal has for too long felt like a journey that seems to move along at a glacial pace.  

Disparities in pay and pensions persist, even in 2023, leaving women at a disadvantage from the moment they enter the workforce right through until retirement. Those percentage figures between one gender and another belie a systemic issue, and nowhere was this made more apparent for me recently than PwC’s newly published 2023 Women in Work report. 

Sadly, the data makes for familiar reading. ‘Exceedingly slow’ is the term used to describe the progress – or lack thereof – across the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) over the past 10 years. Should the rate of progress continue at its current level (i.e. glacial) then an 18-year old woman beginning her career today in the UK would not see pay equality in her working lifetime.  

For this hypothetical new starter, earning the same as her male colleague would be unreachable which is, frankly, unacceptable. One gap only begets another.  

Indeed, it’s only after several years or even decades pass that this inequality is made apparent, at which point it’s too late to remedy or resolve. The gulf between male and female pensions is not unlike two ships leaving port side by side. At the outset, these two vessels are travelling parallel, bound for the same destination of retirement. But soon after setting off, the SS. Male Pension adjusts course by 1 degree, and continues along that same trajectory until it reaches the sunny shores of life after work. By journey’s end, the distance between the two ships is colossal.  

What begins as a marginal difference has the potential to grow exponentially when left unchecked. And so too the disparity between male and female salaries – and, consequently, pensions – will remain stubbornly intact at the 9.4% average recently recorded by The Guardian, which found four of out of five GB companies continue to pay male employees more than their female colleagues.  

Here in Northern Ireland, the gender pay gap is somewhat closer at 5% which, while relatively positive, must not distract us from the drivers behind the disparity: affordable childcare and the slower career progression experienced by women returning to work. Without holistic interventions, Big Business will consign yet another generation of women to lower pay, robbing us of the opportunities that we know arise from a workforce that is truly talented, equal and diverse.  

At Women in Business we want to equip women with skills, connections and opportunities; a clear investment both in themselves and their career. I am talking to many stakeholders at the minute, capturing asks and looking at how our Centre of Learning can meet those asks., In my new role as Director, I am excited to push forward, collaborate and create more opportunities to move the needle forward on our local journey towards workplace equality… more to follow!   

Wednesday 19 April 2023

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