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The Solution to the Gender Wage Gap Isn’t Hiring Female Executives

According to a new report from the UK, focusing on getting women into executive roles hasn't helped eliminate the wage gap between men and women.
Photo by Paul Edmondson via Stocksy

If you thought your wages were bad, spare a thought for any woman working in hospitality, cleaning, retail, or care. Aside from the rampant sexual harassment in professions like waitressing, women have to contend with the low wages and lack of career progression in these industries. In even worse news, a new report from the UK suggests that it is these industries that are most contributing to the continued existence of the gender pay gap.


According to the new report from the Women and Equalities Committee, the UK government is "complicit" in a system that undermines women in work and perpetuates the wage gap, which currently stands at 19.2 percent for full and part-time workers. While the government has pledged to eliminate the pay gap within a generation, the figure has stayed roughly the same for the past four years.

The advisory body argues that focusing on getting women into boardrooms and executive roles disregards the huge numbers of women in shitty low-paid jobs. "Many women are trapped in low paid, part-time work that doesn't make use of their skills," the report reads. "This is partly due to women's disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring, but also because many of the sectors women work in, like retail and care, offer predominantly low-paid, part-time work."

In the UK, women hold some 59 percent of all minimum-wage jobs, with hospitality and retail providing most of these positions. Almost 80 percent of the commercial cleaning sector is made up of female part-timers earning low wages. Additionally, 41 percent of female employees work part-time compared to 12 percent of men, and hourly wages are lower for part-timers compared to those in full-time employment.

"Addressing the issues faced by women at the bottom of the labour market is critical to reducing the gender pay gap," the report explains. "All too often the position of these women is neglected."


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In a press release, Maria Miller, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: "The gender pay gap is holding back women and that isn't going to change unless the government changes its policies now. The pay gap represents a massive loss to the UK's economy and we must address it in the face of an ageing workforce, a skills crisis and the need for a more competitive economy.

"If the government is serious about long-term, sustainable growth it must invest in tackling the root causes of the gender pay gap. Adopting our recommendations would be a significant step towards achieving the goal of eliminating the gender pay gap within a generation."

The report says that tackling low pay in industries like retail is key to eliminating the wage gap. Photo by Sean Locke via Stocksy

The committee recommends that all jobs should have flexible working hours "by default from the outset," unless there is a strong business reason for them not to be. It also calls on the government to introduce three months of non-transferrable leave for fathers and second parents and create a scheme to allow women to return to work after time out of the labor market, as well as establish "industrial strategies" for low-paid, "highly feminized" sectors to improve pay.

"The focus on low-paid work, particularly in the care sector, is essential if we are to address the undervaluing of work traditionally done by women," Sam Smethers, the chief executive for the women's rights organization the Fawcett Society, told Broadly. "An industrial strategy is a good first step, but we want to see a strategic investment in our care and childcare infrastructure. This would help to close the gender pay gap and grow our economy. Only then will we see caring work properly valued."

"Women will continue to earn less until the government takes more action to break down the barriers that are holding them back," said Claire Turner, the head of policy and research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a development and social research charity whose data appears in the report, in a press release.

"I'm very pleased that the commission has considered JRF's evidence which shows that this can't happen without a focus on low-paid sectors like care, retail and cleaning, where many women work. These sectors have been left out of policy making for too long—we need to recognise that increasing skills, pay and progression in these industries is vital both for cutting the pay gap and for protecting the long-term health of the UK economy."