Smashing the double-glazed ceiling

10th November 2017 by microdec

Do you love your job?

If you can answer ‘yes’, congratulations! (but there’s no need to look so smug).

But how about loving your job enough to work for free for six weeks each year?

Sounds ridiculous, right? But the UK’s average full-time working woman does the equivalent of just that: Figures for 2017’s full-time working wage gap shows that men are being paid 9.1% more than women. Over a 52 year career this equates to around £300k (or about six and a half years of unpaid work). It’s like working unpaid from 10 November (Equal Pay Day) until 31 December every year.

She must really love her job, right?

More than four decades after the equal pay act of 1970, gender wage inequality continues to impact on the UK’s working woman’s pay packet, rendering her significantly poorer than the average working man.

As if that’s not bad enough, over time sexism buddies up with another subtle form of workplace discrimination, ageism. Over the years, this malicious duo erode the female employees earning potential, cornering her against a double-glazed glass ceiling.

But how does a hardworking woman end up like this?

It actually starts off okay. During her twenties, while her salary might not exactly be equal to the bloke sitting opposite her, it’s not far off. Around the age of 29, however, things start to slip (usually around the time her first child is born). Beyond 40, the pay gap stretches further. By 50, let’s just say she’ll need bifocals to see across it. Thereafter the rift festers at around 33%, flatlining her salary until she retires on her significantly smaller pension. The sorry truth is that wage inequality is a significant cause of poverty in later life for women.

Not exactly outstanding progress, is it?

The causes of wage/age inequality are many and complex. Generations of patriarchal rule continue to manifest in the form of lower female aspirations/expectations, misconceptions around gender-appropriate roles (‘men’s work and women’s work) and the continued undervaluing of traditionally female roles.

Key factors impacting on women’s pay packets today include:

1. Becoming a mum: by the time her first child is twelve a woman’s hourly wage is, on average, a third lower than that of a man of the same age. By the time her child is twenty, a women has around four years less labour market experience than a man of the same age. Around 54,000 women leave their job early each year citing poor treatment after having a baby. Those returning to work often find male colleagues promoted ahead of them.
2. Working part-time: a woman is far more likely than a man to work part-time whilst caring for children or relatives. Her reward for this act of giving? Missing out on the (estimated) four percentage points annual hourly wage increase received by full-time workers. Part-time workers can struggle to fit training into their schedule, another barrier to workplace progression.
3. Lack of training: according to evidence gathered by the TUC, 51% of women over 65 said they’d had no training in the last three years, compared to 32% across other age groups.
4. Public sector cuts: because they make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce, women suffer disproportionately from public spending cuts.
5. Getting older: The further up the ranks you move, the fewer women you’ll encounter. By CEO level (average age 57), it’s ‘spot the woman’: At the time of writing there are just seven female Chief Executives in the FTSE 100 (yep, just 7%). It’s lonely at the top, especially if you’re a woman.

So what can be done?

Whilst we all know about the gender w/age gap (and most of us would probably agree it’s wrong), the cold-blooded question is, ‘why should recruiters care?’ Are there more than moral benefits to helping narrow the gap? Well, as it turns out, yes. When it comes to championing mature female candidates, recruiters can benefit from adopting a position of enlightened interest.

Employing older women is good for your client
1. Strong management: by the age of 40, the combined challenges of work and child-rearing have often equipped women with great project / people management skills. Indeed, recent research suggests mature women make the best managers, outperforming men when it comes to initiative and clear communication; openness and ability to innovate; sociability and supportiveness; and methodical management and goal-setting.
2. Improved performance: organisations that value and support all employees equally are rewarded with empowered teams who communicate confidently, ask for support, share ideas and take the initiative. Needless to say this is good for business.
3. Customer satisfaction: chances are your clients have customers of all genders, ages and backgrounds. In fact, it’s thought that women currently influence over 85% of retail decisions. Reflecting your client’s customer base in the candidates you put forward is imperative to their audience engagement.
4. Inclusive culture: valuing older women sends a positive message that boosts everyone in the workplace, especially other employees who may experience workplace bias. A Gallup poll has shown that the increased morale, opportunity and equality in inclusive workplaces reduces staff turnover by 22%.
5. Attract and retain future staff: senior female staff provide role models and mentors for younger female colleagues, helping gender equality thrive into the future. In addition, a recent study by PWC cited that 83% of women seek careers with businesses who demonstrate strong records of diversity and equality.

What recruiters can do
1. Understand: is age a barrier to employment among your female candidates? Analyse data on your placements and conduct a survey to find out.
2. Include: help your client ensure their policies embed equality and opportunity for older women across training, employment, pay-scales and promotions (and do the same for your own, while you’re at it!)
3. Acknowledge: women are undervalued in a wider social context, which can knock their self-confidence. Be aware that an older woman might not go for a higher level role or ask for a higher salary, even though she could be the perfect candidate.
4. Pay: are your clients offering female candidates the same salaries as male candidates for work of similar levels? Are your clients living wage employers? Over 60% of those earning less than the living wage are women.
5. Flex: encourage clients to advertise jobs at all levels as flexible, part-time or job share, unless there is a strong business case not to. They’ll open roles up to high-level female candidates who may have limited time availability.

As pension ages rise, employers will have access to a widening pool of mature female candidates. Savvy recruiters will reap the benefits of this expanding resource, tapping into the huge potential of this group to offer clients skilled, experienced, motivated candidates. And, in the process, they just might be helping to close the wage gap sooner than the 62 years currently predicted.

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