“We’re committed to Gender Equality!”
As we approach International Women’s Day next month, expect to see more and more employers saying something like this in their PR. It’s an easy statement to make but what does Gender Equality mean to them and you? To encourage employers to be clearer on what this means for them, I want to explore 6 possible definitions. Along the way, I show some definitions of gender equality are out of reach unless half a million women working for the NHS are replaced by men.
The 6 definitions are intended to be progressive. By that I mean, the definitions build on what came before e.g. definition 3 automatically includes 1 and 2, etc.
Gender Equality 1 – No Barriers
Men and women can do any job they want and are not prevented from doing so on the basis of their gender. So men can be rape counsellors, women can join the SAS, etc.
As far as I am aware, such explicit barriers are very rare in the UK today. However, employers should be checking whether they have implicit or de-facto barriers. For example, I could say any employer/division/team where at least 95% of employees are of the same gender have implicit barriers to the other gender. Four examples are shown below, two which are nearly all women and two which are nearly all men. British Gas Services is notable here because they say they have over 20,000 employees in total.
Gender Equality 2 – No Pay Discrimination
Also known as Equal Pay, this means when a man and a woman are doing the same job of equal value, they should be paid the same. If they are paid differently, then the employer must justify the difference or they will be found to have discriminated on the basis of sex at an employment tribunal. An example I wrote about involved Samira Ahmed winning an equal pay claim against the BBC where she used Jeremy Vine as her male comparator. A more notorious example was Stacey Macken V BNP Paribas where Stacey’s male comparator testified that he regarded her as his equal but their manager regarded her as the junior but could not justify this.
I do hope all readers understand that pay discrimination (Unequal Pay) is not the same as the Gender Pay Gap! If you are unclear on this distinction, please read my article “Unequal Pay & Gender Pay Gaps are not the same thing!” The reason why this distinction is so important is that an employer with no gender pay gap can still be breaking the law on equal pay and an employer with a large pay gap could be a model employer for equal pay compliance.
Gender Equality 3 – No Representation Gaps
Wherever you look inside your organisation, you see the same ratio of men to women. For example, an employer might a 7:3 ratio of men to women overall and the same ratio is seen in their front office, head office, manufacturing site, IT team, etc. If an employer found that their sales team was 75% men and their HR team was 75% women, then we would say there was a representation gap between the sales & HR teams.
An employer who has no representation gap between their top earners and bottom earners will have no gender pay gap when the median man is compared with the median woman. I have repeatedly shown that pay gaps are in fact measures of representation gaps and the pay quarter breakdown by gender is where the insight lies. Ryanair are an excellent example of this since in the UK since they employ equal numbers of pilots and cabin crew but there is a significant representation gap between the two roles with women making up less than 5% of pilots but nearly 2/3 of cabin crew. This enormous representation gap explains why Ryanair has one of the largest gender pay gaps of all employers.
Gender Equality 4 – No Sector Gaps
The ratio of men to women is the same in all sectors of the economy. In other words, you do not find construction industry male dominated, the care sector female dominated, etc.
This is clearly not the case today in the UK and it is particularly apparent when we compare the private and public sectors. Of the 27m workers in the private sector, 44% are women compared to 65% of the 5.8m public sector workers. Overall, 1 in 8 men and 1 in 4 women are employed by the public sector.
Gender Equality 5 – No Employment Gaps
The proportion of men in work is the same as the proportion of women in work. In other words, women are just as likely as men to be in work and therefore one would expect a 50:50 split between men and women among those in employment.
Of 54m adults (16 and older) in the UK as of September 2022, 32.7m (61%) were in employment. This percentage differs by sex with 65% of men and 57% of women in employment.
One reason for this difference between men and women is the longer life expectancy of women into retirement. For this reason, the ONS prefers to calculate the Employment Rate (% in work) using adults aged 16-64 instead. Of 41.6m adults in this age range, 31.4m or 75% are in employment. The employment rate is 79% for men and 72% for women so the UK Gender Employment Gap is 7%.
The Economically Inactive column consists of full time students, those unable to work due to long term sickness, full time carers and home makers. The latter category is disproportionately female hence why women account for nearly 60% of economically inactive (excluding retired) adults.
It is worth noting the split of those working by Employees (those employed by an employer) and Self-Employed (those who work for themselves). I was surprised to notice that women make up almost 50% of employees so the employment gap has almost been eliminated for employees in the UK. However, there remains a gap among the self-employed where women only make up 3 in 8 of the 4.4m self-employed.
Another implication of seeking No Employment Gaps is that the gender ratio should be 50:50 among both full time roles and part time roles. This was not the case as of September 2022 when women were 3 times more likely to work part time –
- Of 24.6m full time workers, 40% were women.
- Of 8.1m part time workers, 71% were women.
- 13% of the 17.1m male workers work part time
- 38% of the 15.6m female workers work part time
Side note – I first wrote about Employment Gaps in my article “Don’t mention the Disability Pay Gap!” which looked at the difference in economic inactivity between disabled and non-disabled people in the UK.
Gender Equality 6 – No Life Gaps
This will be the case if in every part of life inside and outside of work, the gender ratio is 50:50.
Does the NHS help or hinder gender equality?
Of the 5.8m employees in the UK public sector as of September 2022, 1.9m work in the NHS. Of the 27m people working in the private sector, 22.6m are employees and 4.4m are self employed. The breakdowns by men and women in these four sectors is shown in the table below.
If your definition of gender equality is No Sector Gaps (4th definition) then the first step is to aim for women to account for 48% of workers in each of the four sectors. Of the 1.9m NHS workers, 1.5m (or 76%) were women. To reduce this proportion from 76% to 48%, half a million NHS roles filled by women today will have to be filled by men in the future instead. This is what is shown in the Swap Number row where a negative number shows the number of women that have to be replaced by men and a positive number shows the number of men that have to be replaced by women.
All four sectors have swap numbers of half a million or so but as a proportion of their respective totals, the NHS’s is the largest. This gap is especially notable given that healthcare roles are often perceived as “women’s work“. This is why I ask if the NHS is a barrier to gender equality under the 4th definition. For sector gaps to disappear, the whole notion of healthcare as “women’s work” has to be eradicated. I see no sign of the NHS prioritising this task today and unless they do so, gender equality as defined to be no sector gaps is out of reach.
How can No Employment Gap be reached?
The swap numbers become even larger if we look at the 4 sectors by full time and part time roles as well. Under the 5th definition of no employment gaps, full-time, part-time, self employed and employee roles would all become 50:50 men to women. This results in the swap numbers shown in the table below.
The first point to note is the +0.7m swap number for the UK working population i.e. 700,000 men would have to leave employment to be replaced by 700,000 women who are currently not in employment. How can this happen? The answer is to look at the economically inactive population of the UK which in September 2022 consisted of 3.2m men and 4.6m women. If the swap number for employment is realised then we would have 3.9m men and 3.9m women economically inactive instead. Changes on that scale is only going to happen with radical changes to society’s perceptions as to gender roles when it comes to caring and children.
The largest change in the above table sees 2m full time roles filled by men in the private sector being filled by 2m women instead. Whilst 4 times larger than the NHS overall swap number of -0.5m, the private sector covers a vast number of disparate employers who will be following their own definitions of gender equality. The NHS is a single employer who can have an enormous impact on gender equality in the UK if they wish to.
What do you think?
I’ve created a short Google Forms survey where you can select which of these 6 definitions is closest to your view. After that question, there are 3 more questions (which are all optional) asking for your age, gender and how much involvement you have in gender equality related issues. Once I have a sufficient number of responses, I will add a summary of the results in this section of the article. I will be fascinated to see how much diversity there in terms of what people think.
Click here to take the survey.
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