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Women in the workplace: A look at female employment in the UK

Author: Rachel Wheeler
I Stock 1010836454

Female employment in the UK has risen through the decades. The most recent statistics show that as a proportion of the population, 76.3% of women aged 16-64 are in employment, compared to 52.7% of women back in 1971.

female-employment-rate-UK-statistics-2020-graph

Photo credit: Office for National Statistics 2020

Momentous legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 and consistent additions to the Employment Act 1996, such as the Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, have perhaps helped women to feel better represented in the workplace - empowering them to juggle careers and families, seek promotions and enter professions previously dominated by men.

The Equality Act was first introduced in 1970, and prohibited less favourable treatment between men and women, in terms of pay. The Act was amended in 2010 to consolidate several pieces of legislation, ensure equal pay for both genders for equal work and protect employees from discrimination.

Despite these positive movements, we cannot ignore the gender pay gap. An issue that wasn’t really brought to light up until 2018, when 10,000 UK companies provided details of the differences between male and female salaries. The main conclusion and headline fact being that three-quarters of firms were paying men more than women, but also that men were more often in more senior jobs and receiving higher bonuses. With countries such as Iceland making it illegal to pay men more than women, I doubt it will be long until we see similar legislation being passed in the Houses of Parliament!

Shared Parental Leave, although complicated to get your head around, is a ground-breaking revelation. And yet whilst this is a fantastic option, it is quite surprising that the take up may be as low as 2%. Admittedly, not everyone is eligible, as you have to be employed for 26 weeks by the time of the 15th week of pregnancy (complicated, right?) or it may not be financially viable to reduce your income to statutory pay. But I can’t help but think that other reasons may be due to men perhaps feeling embarrassed to ask to execute their right, feeling they will not be supported or respected by their employers and co-workers. I hope this isn’t the case though as in today’s workplace, we should be empowering everyone, both male and female, to have careers and a family simultaneously.

On the subject of working mothers, in 2015, 72% of ‘working age’ mothers were in paid work, compared to just 50% in 1975 and the number of women in full time employment has risen from 29% in 1985 to 44% in 2017. The rise of women’s employment in the UK can only be a good thing, although it has been suggested that the increase is largely the result of a huge change in working patterns. For instance, many women are now cohabitating and having children less frequently and later in life which are contributory factors towards these statistics. Perhaps this shift is because more women are focusing on careers first then returning to work after childbirth. Having the right to request flexible working, part time working or working from home, has certainly aided women in balancing family and work.

The increase in state pension for women is no doubt a significant factor in the rise in female employment. Previously, women could retire at 60, whilst men retired at 65. Then in 2007, legislation changed to increase the age and to create a timetable to ensure both men and women retired at the same age. This was sped up in 2011, affecting around 5 million people born between 1953 and 1960. If you’re wondering, the retirement age is set to rise again to 66 by 2020 and 68 between 2024 and 2046.

Although we still have a long way to go to ensure true equality in the workplace in an effort to further increase female employment, it is important to reflect on how far we have come over the last couple of decades. I’m personally hoping we follow Iceland’s example and make it illegal to pay women less than men for doing the same job. I’d also like to see the introduction of better maternity and paternity rights, such as full paid leave and a guaranteed return to your role, like Norway and Sweden. What changes would you like to see in the future? Tweet me @forwardrole_rw or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Rachel Wheeler heads up the Product, Trading and Ecommerce team at Forward Role, get in touch with her by emailing rachel@forwardrole.com or calling 07825 589 389.

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