International Women's Day - #allOfusToo?

6th March 2020

Women effectively work for free for more than two months a year, according to a statement published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in March last year. This represents on average a disparity in pay of around 17%. Although numbers range in various sectors, the average gender pay gap has not changed much. 

As a man in the legal sector I can certainly appreciate the utter unfairness of this ridiculous situation. If someone told me I had to work for free for even a week, I would just walk out the door. So, why are we tolerating this grave injustice towards half of the world’s population?! In the UK, women are even 2% more in numbers than men, so if we don’t want a full-on revolt on our hands with torches and pitchforks, we really ought to take some action and remedy the situation quickly.

All jokes aside, the stats so far show that the gender pay gap is highly unlikely to be consolidated in our lifetimes, maybe not even in during the most part of our children’s. This all goes to suggest that a more radical cultural change is required to make any significant difference. This is especially true in relation to the society’s generalised expectation that women are expected to be mainly homemakers and men are stigmatised for wanting to take longer parental leave and be a lot more involved in their children’s upbringing. Such gender norms are undoubtedly prejudicial and detrimental to a family’s harmony and are damaging equal partnership responsibilities in relationships. 

There also seems to be a resounding call for flexible or remote working and possibly even a four-day working week. Some businesses are already trialling to help tackle the association of long working hours being synonymous with one’s commitment to their job. The UK has the longest average working week in comparison to European countries.

Various problems equally exist when it comes to firms’ attitudes towards working culture and there being a stereotypical ‘‘boys’ club’ which inadvertently excludes women from social gatherings, particularly vertical networking. This is certainly known to happen in the legal world, especially in corporate settings where deals take place in a predominantly men’s circle.

Approximately half of the people working in law are women but only a little over a third of women occupy the most senior/managerial roles. The situation is rather similar in the judiciary in terms of figures and the same issues discouraging women to pursue the heights of their career are apparent. 

The government’s requirement for companies with 250 employees or more publish their gender pay gap information is undoubtedly a positive step towards progress but a simple naming and shaming approach is not enough to defeat prejudice. Rapid cultural change could only really be achieved through sensible and progressive policy enforcement.

Social campaigns such as #MeToo have done a great deal to raise awareness and give women courage to shout out when they are sexually harassed but more action needs to come from governments to enforce new policies. 

It is not however all doom and gloom and there are certainly companies out there that go above and beyond to help encourage and inspire women into ‘careers for men’. One such example is the Amy Johnson Initiative by EasyJet launched in October 2015 which doubled the number of female pilots to 12% over two years. They have announced their new target for 2020 would be that figure to reach 20%. The airline even mentored Ellie Carter, Britain’s youngest licensed pilot when she was only 16 years of age.

My own 7-year-old daughter is still very young but my hope as a parent would be that someday she would be able to pursue her dreams freely and without worrying that some things are just out of her reach and only reserved to boys. I want her to be able to choose whatever vocation that she dreams to achieve, on her own, and be afforded the exact same opportunities as her male peers. 

Such equal footing for men and women would certainly be beneficial for everyone. We men often feel the social pressures of feeling guilty when spending more time with our families than at work. The need to be self-reliant and not express our emotions often creates friction with our partners. Treating both sexes equally would inevitably lead to better social and working relationships for all.

Ultimately, this problem is one we all need to tackle together if we hope for a brighter future for our kids, both boys and girls. 

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Simon Bloch is a Partner located in Manchester in our Employment department

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