Women in their 40s will not see gender pay equity in their working lifetime, says report

Research released to mark Equal Pay Day laments ‘glacial’ progress on closing the wage gap, with parity not expected for nearly three decades

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Women aged 40 and over will not see gender pay equity in their working lifetime or before reaching state pension age, according to new research by the Fawcett Society. 

The report, released to mark Equal Pay Day, noted that progress towards closing the gender wage gap was “glacial”, with the chasm not expected to close until 2051. 

The report – Making flexible working the default – found that, on average, working women take home £574 a month less than men, equivalent to £6,888 a year. 

In addition, by analysing government data, the Fawcett Society found there was a mean gender pay gap of 10.7 per cent, a small shift from where the figure stood last year, at 10.9 per cent.

Tanja Albers, partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa, told People Management: “The snail’s pace at which the UK’s gender pay gap is currently closing means that another generation of women has been failed.

“This issue has become so deeply entrenched in the UK’s corporate world and not only arises from men being paid more than their female colleagues to do the same job, but from a glass ceiling that prevents women from progressing to the highest-paid jobs,” she said. 

Albers said real change would not come about until men and women had the same route to the boardroom, stressing that “transparency is key”. When discussing remuneration, she pointed out it was essential that workplaces shift this valuation from individuals and their experiences to the role itself, no matter who is filling it.

Equal Pay Day, according to Ciara Harrington, chief people officer at Skillsoft, was a "stark reminder of the persistent gender pay gap”.

“Addressing this issue requires proactive measures from business leaders,” she said, adding that initiatives for equal pay must be “prioritised” in boardroom discussions, urging companies to accelerate their efforts.

The report also found that women are obliged to accept less fair and equal working arrangements in exchange for the flexibility needed to combine caring obligations. 

The analysis, based on a Survation survey of 2,844 adults, also found that two in five (40 per cent) women who are not currently working said they could take on a paid job if they had access to flexible work. A third (32 per cent) of unemployed men said the same. 

Women were significantly more likely to report working part time (27 per cent) compared to men (14 per cent).

In addition, 77 per cent of women agreed that they would be more likely to apply for a job that advertised flexible working options. 

"We see time and time again that women feel they have no choice but to accept lower-paid, lower-quality work in exchange for flexibility and this isn't fair," said Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society. 

She said flexible working arrangements were needed, whether owing to caring duties, disability or simply a desire to rebalance work and life, and that this should not spell the end of career advancement. "Women are being kept in lower-quality jobs [because] old-fashioned workplace norms," she said, adding that women must be allowed to progress with the flexible working arrangements they require and men must step up and take on their fair share of caring responsibilities. “Flexible work must be the norm for both men and women at work.” 

Jawaid Rehman, equal pay expert at Weightmans, said the gender pay gap remained a “pressing” issue. “To effectively tackle it, organisations must go beyond surface solutions. Regular wage audits, transparent pay structures and continuous training to counteract biases are foundational steps,” he said, adding that the journey “doesn’t stop there”. 

Rehman said it was imperative to also create a workplace culture that celebrates diversity, inclusivity and above all equality, stressing that it was not just about achieving “equitable numbers” on a paycheck but understanding and valuing the diverse perspectives, skills and innovations that every individual brings. 

Ian Moore, managing director of HR consultancy Lodge Court, said employers can play a significant role in narrowing the gender pay gap by ensuring transparent pay structures, offering flexible options to support parents and actively promoting women into leadership positions. “In addition, they can provide unconscious bias training to all employees, particularly those involved in hiring and promotions decisions,” he said.