Jo Swinson talks to Cosmopolitan about the gender pay gap and equality in the workplace

We’ve heard a lot from Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson over the past week on one great inequality in the workplace – the rules around leave after a baby is born. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats in government, parents will soon be able to share all but the first two weeks of a year of parental leave. For me, that policy sums up what we are about. It’s liberal, it’s about allowing people to make choices that are right for them and it does sing to both stronger economy and fairer society mantras.

However, that’s not the only issue of equality in the workplace. Many women will have effectively been working for free for the past month. We may have had equal pay legislation for four decades, but still the median pay for women is around 85% of the median pay for men. Jo recently talked to Cosmopolitan magazine about these issues and the measures she’s put in place to narrow this injustice.

I appreciate that we are bringing you this a little late. That probably says more about the work ethic of Jo Swinson than anything else. Every single time we’ve had this ready to go, she’s gone and done something else, whether it’s tackling payday loans or launching mannequins that reflect actual women’s shape or cracking down on employers who don’t pay the minimum wage or launching initiatives to tackle homophobic bullying. We’re exhausted just watching her.

So, what’s she doing on the gender pay gap:

One of the main measures is an initiative called Think, Act, Report – it covers pay, but also encourages companies to promote gender equality in terms of recruitment, retention and promotion of staff. When you look at the causes of the pay gap, a third is accounted for by occupational segregation – the fact that women are more likely to work in sectors that pay less generally – and some of that goes back to subject choices at school.

Fewer than ten per cent of professional engineers are women, and a study out this week shows two thirds of schoolgirls aren’t ever going to consider it as a career, despite it being a well-paid profession.

Meanwhile, in other less well-paid sectors like the caring professions, women are over-represented.

And what if it doesn’t close:

The government does have additional tools at its disposal. Through the Employment and Regulatory Reform Act we’ve given employment tribunals the power to order equal pay audits where an employer has been found to have breached equal pay and/or sex discrimination laws. We expect this to come into force in October 2014.
And while The Think, Act Report initiative is making good progress at the moment, if it doesn’t ultimately result in narrowing the pay gap, there’s a further provision in the Equality Act that would require large companies to measure their pay gap if industry doesn’t get its act together.

And is there anything women can do as individuals?

Obviously this is not the responsibility of individuals, but people do want to make sure they’re being paid a fair rate for the work they’re doing. We get very British and uptight talking about money, but I think sometimes that’s the catalyst women need to ask for a pay rise – to recognise that the bloke opposite them is getting paid significantly more for doing a similar job.

I think in general terms, women could be more assertive in asking for a pay rise and explaining how they add value to the company.We should also encourage each other to go for that promotion or develop a career, and build each other’s confidence. Women sometimes lack confidence, and that’s not something that, as a government minister, I’m immune to either. Everyone suffers from the same dilemmas and worries, and I think women can help each other by sharing them.

Many women don’t think, ‘Oh I could be an MP.’ Then you point out, ‘But you’ve done so much work in your local community, you’ve got all these skills, why don’t you stand for parliament?’ And they look at you like you’re mad at first – but after thinking about it eventually say, ‘You know what? I will stand for parliament.
You can read the whole article here. Jo is soon to go on maternity leave and her responsibilities will be covered by Jenny Willott during that time.

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  • Great to see Jo tackling this.

    I thought this quote was interesting “women are more likely to work in sectors that pay less.”
    In my sector, there are an equal number of women who get qualified, and are keen to pursue a career. Yet the majority of well paid jobs go to men !? So how can we ensure that women GET JOBS once they have the skills and knowledge, rather than just wasting their time (and earning potential) ?

  • And when I say “the majority”, I mean over 95% of the jobs go to men.

    Some parts of the sector are aware of this, are working on it and achieving a much better balance, but others are actively hindering it !

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Dec '13 - 5:16pm

    I am finding that issues to do with equality are heavily dependent upon personal finances. Poorer opposite sex couples are more likely to opt for one person, usually the woman, focusing on homemaking. Shared Parental Leave should help women from thinking they have no choice but to go on leave, but for many this will still be a desirable choice and I think we need to not sound intolerant towards the traditional family. This is why any talk of quotas needs to be shot down immediately. It is not the government’s job to say how families should be constructed.

    I think Shared Parental Leave was a really good idea and if we can find any more areas where men and women aren’t equal before the law then that will be a good policy area to work on.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Dec '13 - 5:36pm

    Perhaps saying “heavily dependent” is taking it too far, but I think personal and family finances definitely influence gender equality.

  • Is swearing not allowed on these boards?

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