Girls outperform Boys at school - so why is the Gender Pay Gap still there?

Marlyn Glen

16 September 2011

In my previous piece ( link ) I looked at explanations of why girls generally perform better in education than boys, and the belief for some that Margaret Thatcher was a suitable role model for girls to emulate in adult careers.

While there was little evidence of this from her polices and her lack of identity with women and their needs as a group, Thatcherism, the term that came to describe her politics, certainly had its effect upon males.

Thatcherism directly challenged male identity in working class areas with traditional industries.

As life and jobs were stripped out of communities across the country, and millions were sent to the dole queues, the identity of men with their work was broken.

Broken too was the link between boys striving to be academically successful at school to ensure a good start in adult working life.

There were simply not such jobs in these communities, and hence the value of education for boys' future fell.

Coming back up to date, the hope that the higher levels of success displayed by girls and young women as opposed to boys and young men at national exams would have ushered in the beginning of the end for the gender pay gap has yet to be borne out.

This year and last , two heavyweight institutions, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Home Office found that this permanent reminder of inequality was still as spacious as ever and that progress to close it was " grinding to a halt"

The HRC declared,

"Despite women now doing better than men in every aspect of educational qualification, the mean gender pay gap for women and men working full time was 16.4% in 2009.

"The gap is lowest for the under 30s, rising more than five-fold by the time workers reach 40, when women earn on average 27% less than men of the same age."

The Home Office report on "Women and work" noted that almost half of this country’s workforce are women, but that "evidence from a range of studies suggest our labour market is still failing to make the best use of people’s talents.
"In particular, pay levels for women, while improving, still do not reflect their qualification levels.

Last month , the EHRC published "Sex and Power" which estimated that over 5,000 women were missing from the top positions of power in the public and private sector
It reported that while women graduates on average had higher degree passes than men and the number of women graduates continues to grow, this is not reflected in their numbers in senior management categories in employment after graduation.

The percentage of women in positions of influence included :

22 per cent of MPs

17 per cent of the Cabinet

13 per cent of local government council leaders

22 per cent of local authority chief executives

14 per cent of university vice-chancellors

10 per cent as national newspaper editors

The dearth of women in top positions resulted from factors such as the "outdated" culture of long-working hours and "the unequal division of domestic responsibilities"

EHRC emphasised that ,

"If Britain is to stage a strong recovery from its current economic situation, then we have to make sure we’re not wasting women’s skills and talents."

The reluctance to tackle this significant division of priorities at the centre of women’s working lives, which is virtually absent from the lives of many men, between the needs to earn to bring up a family and the dependent needs of those same family members has its consequences for the economy.

Many women choose part-time work to resolve these competing demands

The TUC has reported that the Gender and Employment in Local Labour Markets study recorded 54 percent of women working part-time as being ‘employed below their
potential’ – the equivalent of 2.8 million women.

The TUC emphasised ,

"What this means is that previously they had worked in jobs that demanded higher qualifications/skills or more responsibility than the jobs they now did

"If employers offered more high status and better-paid jobs on a part-time basis or with other flexible arrangements these women would be able to apply for these opportunities."

So while some progress has been made through women gaining better educational qualifications, the gender gap remains firmly in its place.

Shifting the work-life balance more in favour of women now takes on a new importance.

This means that that many employers must be made to recognise that :

women would be better employees if their ( unpaid) domestic and caring duties could be integrated more harmoniously with their ( paid) work.

women face considerable obstacles in career progression as the standards set for such advancement were made initially by men to accommodate men’s working needs.

women’s work is consistently undervalued compared with that of men, and that their work is rewarded accordingly.

Girls and young women have come a long way in education in a relatively short time.

If we want to close the gender gap significantly, then employers must also make a similar journey in a much shorter time scale.

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