Women, work and fairness

During the recession, issues of women, work and fairness, including campaigns for equal pay have come to the fore.  The TUC’s report on ‘Women and Recession’ states that women are contributing an increasing proportion of the household income. But whilst women are contributing more than before financially, they are around 13% more likely to be in a low paid job than men, with many women working in part-time jobs which are often the lowest paid and least secure roles. It’s in this context that Unions21′s work on Fair Work is particularly important.


The Fair Work Commission polling on fair pay, conducted by Survation, reflects the disparity in wages. When participants were asked to rank the fairness of decisions about their pay, 3.3% more men than women thought them ‘very fair’. Women were found to be 6% more likely than their male counterparts to rate the decisions made over pay as ‘quite unfair’. The net figure (7.1% more women than men rating decisions as unfair) demonstrates a clear gender difference of opinion over pay fairness.


Further evidence to support this is apparent when looking at how individuals consider their wages in relation to the rises in the cost of living over the past two years. The difference was repeated in responses to this area of the survey, men were more positive about their pay in relation to the cost of living. 12.2% more men than women consider that wages have either just about kept up with increases in the cost of living or exceeded the rise. Women tended to be less positive about their pay packet, with 10.4% more feeling that wages had risen by less than the increase in the cost of living or that their wages had been frozen or were falling. Part-time workers, particularly, felt the pay squeeze, however, there is clearly a stronger opinion amongst women about wage increases being inadequate.


Training and development is another area where a gender difference can be identified. Whilst the net rating on quality of training was ‘good’, men tended to feel the quality of the training was higher than women (+6.7%). Additionally, 4.7% more women than men stated that they had not received any training at all. This theme is reinforced when looking at a further survey question: Employees were asked to rank ideas to improve training, the overwhelming majority (40.5%) of male and female respondents ranked their foremost priority to be a guaranteed minimum level of training for all employees. Whilst ensuring a base-line of training is provided is clearly an important issue for both genders, 4.5% more women than men prioritised it.   Whilst there were areas where men ranked certain training concerns higher than women, they tended to be more administrative concerns, for example, ensuring employers published an annual report on training activity. Women, on the other hand, had more serious concerns about the quality and type of training being provided.   One conclusion that could be drawn from this is that women are actually receiving less or a lower quality of training than their male colleagues, another possible gender division in the workplace.  3.5% more women rated unequal pay as their main concern and out of those who rated a lack of equal opportunities for career progression as their primary concern, the number of women was 5.5% higher than the number of men.   3.7% more women than men felt that overall in the workplace issues of fairness were avoided. It is clear from the data that whilst there may not be a extreme difference in opinion between the genders, there is a general trend of women feeling unfairness to be more important, and that they are treated less fairly than men.


The area which provided the strongest gender differences concerned career progression. Employees were asked whether they saw their job as a step in pursuing a career or if it was merely ‘to pay the bills until they could find something better’. 60.6% of all respondents answered that their current job is just a way to pay the bills.


However, despite there being a general consensus here between the genders, 10% more women than men answered that their job was merely a means to earn a living. More women than men are in jobs just to earn a living and those women who hope to develop their career feel that they have less opportunity to progress.


In conclusion there are multiple areas in this survey that clearly show different perceptions of equality and fairness in the workplace. My interpretation is that women are more acutely aware of these issues that their male colleagues. The key areas that demonstrate where women are more concerned than men are in fairness of wages, lack of adequate training and inability to achieve career progression. These issues are relevant and important to both males and females, however it emerges from the data that these issues are of greater concern to women than men. It will be vital to continue to work in this area to identify areas where gender inequality can be challenged in the workplace.


Christina Govier is an economics politics student studying in London


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