Female workers more likely to earn less than the living wage

Isabella Eastwood

New research conducted by Scottish Labour has indicated that 270,000 female workers earn less than the living wage, in comparison to 159,000 male workers.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Lesley Laird, said that it was “unacceptable” and likely to be due in part to the higher numbers of women who work in low-paid professions throughout the country. She said: “It’s not right that over 100,000 more women than men make less than the living wage.

“One of the reasons for this is low-paid professions like caring, cleaning and retail tend to employ more women than men.

“That means boosting pay, cracking down on zero-hour contracts and getting tough on companies who think a woman’s labour is worth less than a man’s.”

The distribution of full- or part-time contracts, occupational segregation, indirect discrimination and different working patterns, all contribute to income disparity. However, the ingrained bias occurs at every level and in every occupational sphere. It even extends to the Scottish Parliament, with the average woman’s salary being 11.1% lower than the average man’s.
In response to these numbers, Parliament’s Leadership Group member Susan Duffy contends: “We’ve always set out to be an exemplar as an employer and we have a range of progressive measures and policies in place that we’re rightly proud of. We have a robust pay system and we don’t have a bonus culture. Despite this, we still have a gender pay gap – why is that? Put simply, we have more women than men in lower grades and more men than women in higher grades, which means the average salary for women is lower.”

While the undervaluation of women’s work in areas such as care and cleaning is one of the main factors contributing to women’s low pay – and thus the pay gap – women face discrimination in managerial positions to boot. Not only are women twice as likely to take on junior management roles – with men around three times more likely in senior roles – but women who do “break the glass ceiling” earn 21.5% less than their male counterparts. That is an average £28,622 compared to £36,457.

Online staffing resource XpertHR content director Mark Crail stresses the ubiquity of income inequality: “Some people have tried to explain the gender pay gap away as being the result of different working hours or individual career choices. But when the analysis is based on the pay of more than 100,000 individuals in well over 400 organisations, it is clear that the pay gap is a very real fact of life for UK managers.”

The Scottish government has a number of initiatives lined up that aim to tackle this enduring income disparity. They include greater pay transparency (the fruits of which we have already seen, revealing the 9% discrepancy within the BBC); increasing early learning and childcare provision, challenging pregnancy and maternity discrimination, addressing imbalances in young people’s careers, improving women’s representation on boards and promoting the adoption of the “Living Wage”. Currently, Scotland has the lowest pay gap of any region in the UK – at 15.6% as opposed to 18.1% in the region with the highest pay gap.

Questions arise as to whether forcing companies to reveal their wage distribution without including a reformative plan might further deter employers. It goes without mentioning that women with disabilities and from minority backgrounds suffer even more discrimination.


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