Balance for better on International Women’s Day – what does it mean?

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘better the balance, better the world’ or #balanceforbetter. But what does that mean and what difference could it make?

Better the balance in the workplace

Having a better balance in the workplace affects a whole range of areas. There’s no doubt that a lot of progress has been made but there’s still a long way to go.

Here are some statistics:

  • Gender pay gap: The gender pay gap is narrowing, but it’s still around 18%. That’s the difference between the average hourly amount a man and a woman earn. But within that average figure, there are – obviously – huge variations. Financial services has a much bigger gender pay gap than some other areas. Last year was the first year of reporting the gender pay gap, and some companies had a gender pay gap of 40% or more.
  • Maternity pay/rights/discrimination. Some companies have great maternity pay and leave policies. Others don’t. The bigger issue is that it can be very hard to find this information in the first place. And, according to the campaigning group Pregnant, Then Screwed, 54,000 women lose their jobs every year because of pregnancy or having children.
  • Pensions: Women retire with much smaller pensions than men. A report by the Chartered Insurance Institute shows that men have five times more in their pensions than men, at age 65. The average 65-year-old woman has £35,800 in her pension, compared to £179,000 for the average 65-year-old man. Lower pay and career breaks mean women pay less into their pension but they also lose out on employer contributions. Women lose out by £42,000 of employer’s contributions into their pension, over their lifetime.
  • Divorce: Women are more likely to lose out financially when a relationship breaks down, compared to men. Divorced women have a pension pot of £9,000 on average, compared to £30,000 for divorced men. Almost nine out of ten (86%) of lone families are headed by women.
  • Caring: Women are more likely to care for elderly parents and children with illnesses or a disability. They are also more likely to cut down on or give up work entirely as a result.

What needs to change?

There’s so much that we think still needs to change. Here are some thoughts:

  • State pension age for women: the government needs to help women born in the 1950s – some of whom have had their finances devastated by the rises in the state pension age and the fact that they weren’t told.
  • Gender pay gap: companies must make a real effort to address their own gender pay gaps. It’s not good enough to say that there’s a gender pay gap because you have more men in senior roles. That’s the starting point, not an explanation.
  • Women on boards/in senior roles: It’s easy to lose count of the number of reports that show that having more women in senior roles makes a company more profitable. It’s not that women are necessarily better than men, but it’s that a company with women in senior roles is more likely to escape ‘groupthink’. This is where everyone thinks in a similar way and no-one questions the direction the company is heading in.
  • The value of work: we need to have a proper debate about how we value work. Jobs seen as ‘women’s work’ have traditionally been paid less – sometimes far less – than jobs that have been traditionally done by men. And that’s still the case in areas such as hospitality, some services and caring. It is not right that someone who has responsibility for your frail parent or child is paid the minimum wage or a little more.
  • Pensions: at the moment, there are a number of rules and regulations that penalise women. For example, to be automatically put into your employer’s pension scheme, you need to earn at least £10,000 a year from each job. If you are low paid or you work part-time you’re more likely to miss out on a pension. And even the way the government bonus of tax relief can be given can penalise low paid women.
  • Investing: research shows that women are better at investing than men. But fewer women invest. In the past, the financial services industry has brushed this off by saying that women are ‘too cautious’ or ‘aren’t confident about investing’. Women may be more cautious, but that may be because the investment industry has seen itself as a bit of a boys’ club and perhaps hasn’t thought of women as its customers.
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