Rachel Reeves: Gender pay gap shows fight for equality goes on

IT is 100 years since the first women won the right to vote and the last century has brought a huge number of positive changes for women.

Rachel Reeves MP is calling for more action to tackle the gender pay gap.

Leeds women like the Suffragettes Isabella Ford, Mary Gawthorpe and Leonora Cohen were at the forefront of those early battles.

But there are some key areas where women still get a raw deal and where we need further changes if we are to get a fairer society and make the most of all our talents.

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One of the most obvious examples is the issue of the gender pay gap. The issue grabbed headlines last year when it was revealed that even national institutions like the BBC had huge and indefensible gender pay gaps – including paying men and women very different rates for what looked like the same job.

What should be done to counter the gender pay gap?

In Yorkshire and the Humber, the figure for the average annual earnings for full-time male employees in 2017 was £28,300. But for full-time female employees that figure dropped to £23,100. That is a massive and unacceptable gap.

It is the same story across the rest of the UK. The median annual earnings for full-time male employees in 2017 was £30,800 compared to just £25,700 for women, according to the Office of National Statistics. Nearly eight in 10 firms – a total of 78 per cent – have a pay gap that favours men.

Of course, it has been illegal since the Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 after the incredible work done by campaigners like Bradford-born Barbara Castle to pay women less than men for doing the same job.

But men still make up the majority of higher-paid jobs. In the airline industry, for example, the vast majority of pilots are men, while women take up 
most of the lower-paid cabin crew roles.

Ryanair revealed a gender pay gap of 72 per cent with women making up just three per cent of the top quarter of earners at the airline. The latest figures from Apple UK Ltd showed that 84 per cent of its top-earning employees were men.

These figures are dreadful. But I am glad they have been dragged out of companies because at least everyone is now aware of the scale of the problem and we can think about the action we need to fix it.

That action has to start with the people who run businesses. But the picture is equally bleak when it comes to equality in 
the boardroom.

A review published last month showed Britain’s businesses have a long way to go to meet a target of ensuring a third of company boards are made up of women by 2020.

A review of women on boards warned businesses they needed to “buck up” their act after discovering far too many firms had no women or just a sole female on the board.

While FTSE 100 companies are just about on track to meet the target for female board representation, smaller firms are not doing as well.

In the next largest 250 public companies, only 23.6 per cent of board roles are held by women.

About 100 companies in the FTSE 350 either have no women or only one on their boards. According to the review, Sports Direct was among 10 firms that had all-male boards.

The target to get more women on boards is a voluntary one in the UK and there will be no penalties for firms that miss the target.

Progress is just too slow and it is hard to see how we will close the gender pay gap quickly when so few of the decision-makers are women.

Some of our biggest companies still have all-male boards. They have got to drag themselves out of the dark ages and get more women in top jobs to help bring an end to these antiquated old boys’ clubs.

More women on boards will bring a more diverse perspective to the way firms are run and will, I am sure, be much better for business.

After all, half of the consumers in the UK are women.

Investors have their part to play too. Shareholders should be putting pressure on companies to up their game and recruit more women to top jobs. We need the best possible talent to help grow our economy both locally and nationally and much of that talent is female.

The time for excuses is over. That’s why I called out the Government over the staggering decision to appoint another man to the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee which has just one woman 
on it.

And, as chair of the Business, Energy and Industry Strategy Select Committee, I have called some of the best and worst performing companies to 
give evidence about what they are doing to close the gender 
pay gap.

I also criticised the “Magic Circle” of the biggest law firms for refusing to supply proper figures. They masked the 
size of their pay gap by 
excluding partners, who are predominantly men and 
the highest-paid, from their figures.

Including partners in the figures pushed the pay gap as high as 44 per cent at one firm.

My committee’s report, published later this month, 
will spell out recommendations about how to end the gender 
pay gap.

We will not have real equality and fairness in the workplace until that happens.

Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.