This week, to coincide with International Women’s Day, the accountancy firm PwC published its annual Women in Work survey.
The findings confirm that women’s pay continues to lag behind that of men, although the gap is closing.
In the North West, for example, the differential has shrunk from 27% in 2000 to 16% last year. The national average is 17%.
Put another way, if men and women were paid equally, female earnings would rise by £90bn or £6,300 per women per year, on average.
The sectors with the widest gender differentials include financial services and manufacturing. Hospitality, a big employer in Cumbria, has one of the smallest but even here men earn more than women.
Businesses need to think about how their working practices might, unintentionally, be impeding women.
The gender pay gap will come under greater scrutiny from next month when, for the first time, employers with more than 250 staff will be required to report the gap between female and male pay.
Public sector employers must report by the end of March, while private companies and charities have until April 4.
So far, with less than a month to go, only one-in-six of the 9,000 employers affected by the legislation have reported their data to the Government.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “Employers don’t set out to pay women less than men.
“Often, the gap opens when a woman takes maternity leave. Her career can lose momentum, she misses out on a promotion, and perhaps she returns to work part-time in a less senior role.
“Not only is this unfair, it is a waste of potential.
“Businesses need to think about how their working practices might, unintentionally, be impeding women.
“If there is a culture where people feel they have to work long hours to get on, that is more likely to work for a man but is unlikely to suit a woman with a young family.
“We have to value people for the contribution they make, not the hours they work. Simple measures such as flexible hours and part-time working can help to retain and develop female employees, and indeed to retain older workers who might delay retirement if they have the option of working fewer hours.”
He added: “In Cumbria, we’re facing challenges around an ageing workforce that we’ve never seen before.
Simple measures such as flexible hours and part-time working can help to retain and develop female employees.
“The county’s Local Enterprise Partnership estimates that 80,300 jobs will need to be filled by 2021 to replace people who retire or leave. Only 24,000 young people will enter the labour market by then, leaving a shortfall of 56,300.
“As employers compete with each for other for a dwindling pool of labour, the cost of recruitment will rise. It’s therefore imperative that we make the most of the people we have, maximising their productivity.
“Part of that is about encouraging women who have taken a career break to return work, not penalising them for doing so, and putting them forward for promotion.”
The PwC report underlines this point, citing figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
These show that the UK economy would receive a £180bn boost if our female employment rate matched that of Sweden – the top performer, along with Iceland, in terms of female participation in the workplace.
The UK languishes in 15th place.
So how can the UK do better?
The authors of PwC report argues that the gender pay gap can be reduced by increasing government spending on family benefits and childcare, encouraging greater female entrepreneurship and giving women more opportunities to take on higher-paid and higher-skilled roles.
Rob added: “The Chamber is already to help women who want to go into business through programmes such as Business Start-Up Support and New Enterprise Allowance, delivered by our Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
“Currently, we’re also able to offer employers free training to upskill workers, which can help women who want to take on higher-skilled roles.”
The funding that supports the Growth Hub this comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. Likewise, BSUS is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding, Cumbria Forum project is receiving £446,000 of funding, and the Subsidy Scheme £2,528,767.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information click here.