The Secretary of State marks the third year of Think, Act, Report.
A big thanks to our hosts EY and to you all for taking the time to attend - and for your continued support to create a workplace that’s better for women and better for business.
Yesterday was Equal Pay Day – a timely reminder that, 4 decades since the Equal Pay Act came into force, there remains a lot to do.
Women in the UK have made some remarkable strides in that time. It’s unthinkable now that women were once refused mortgages in their own right. And that it wasn’t until the 1990s that married women began to be taxed independently from their husbands.
I’m hopeful that it will soon be equally unthinkable for women to be paid less than men - whether that’s because of discrimination or simply because too few women occupy top jobs in the best-paid professions.
We’ve made some important progress towards this, with more women in work and more women working full-time than ever before. And - according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics - women are earning more compared to the previous year. On average, around £500 more for those working full-time and over £300 more for those working part-time.
I know there’s still a long way to go – particularly on the gender pay gap.
I’m pleased that we’ve virtually eliminated the gap for full-time workers under 40 and that the gap for the over-40s has also been shrinking. But with the overall gender pay gap standing at around 20%, it still remains far too high.
We can even see this pay gap in our schools, with male headteachers earning around 10% more than their female peers.
The pay reforms we introduced last year will help address this. And I’m committed to doing everything I can to reduce this gap further and faster – not just in our schools, but across our society as a whole - which means, first and foremost, acknowledging the challenges.
Outright discrimination is, thankfully, less common than it once was. But discrimination doesn’t have to be overt. Company culture is a big factor, with institutional barriers and attitudes sometimes unwittingly deterring women from putting themselves forward for the best-paid, most senior roles – even among those that do, too few reach the top.
We all know that there aren’t enough women in these positions, especially in the science and technology sectors - and that this goes a long way to accounting for the gender pay gap. Hence our support for schemes like the Your Life campaign, which aims to increase the number of women working in the science and technology sectors by encouraging girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths at school.
But this certainly isn’t about a lack of ambition among women – far from it. Project 28-40 surveyed 25,000 women about their experiences in the workplace and found that around 70% said they wanted to be a leader and were confident they were up to the job. So we’re continuing to miss out on a wealth of talent, with all the implications this has, not just for equality and unlocking female potential, but for our economy and future as a country.
The smartest businesses know that they’re better off when they reflect the societies they serve. And we in government have been working hard with employers to make this a reality, not through coercion, but co-operation - only by working together can we achieve the cultural change needed. And while there’s still some way to go, this approach is starting to pay off – as seen in your fantastic response to Think, Act, Report.
As you know, this initiative encourages firms to actively look at how their female employees are faring, take action to address any issues and report on their progress. In launching today’s report, I’m pleased to say that the Think, Act, Report is continuing to go from strength to strength, with over 250 companies now involved, covering over 2.5 million employees - that’s nearly double the number of companies that we had this time last year.
The vast majority of those companies are doing much more to champion gender equality since signing up. According to our annual survey, 70% are now gathering more data within the workplace, while almost 60% are now publishing more data externally. A significant number have also done an equal pay audit in the last 12 months.
It’s terrific to see them stepping up like this and, in particular, promoting much greater transparency around this issue - making it the new norm for modern businesses. I know that many of these businesses are here today - and I want to say how grateful I am for your ambition and commitment.
There are also some excellent case studies celebrating what you’re doing in the report – great credit is due to EY for working closely with my officials to put this together and showcase these tremendous achievements.
I’m hopeful that these achievements will inspire others to follow suit – to sign up to Think, Act, Report. To collect and publish more information on pay. To use their relationships with other employers to advance this agenda and demand the same standards of their supply chains - RBS’ work in this area is a great example. And to rally those at the top of their organisations to take a personal lead in changing the company culture - by, for instance, sponsoring the most talented female employees.
Think, Act, Report is doing a great deal to galvanise action on this, but we recognise that there’s more we can do to make this easier. Which is why I’m delighted to announce new measures today to help both employers and employees tackle the gender pay gap.
For employers, there’s free pay analysis software and new, simplified guidance, available from next year, that will make calculating their gender pay gap much easier and quicker – and that will also help them model their workforces and identify barriers that may be stopping women from progressing.
We’re also providing new support for women - by making it much easier for them to make salary comparisons and to see if they’re being paid fairly using a new guide we’re publishing with Everywoman - and making £50,000 of funding available for organisations to provide further advice in this area.
We’re also putting £2 million towards helping women move from low-paid, low-skill work to higher-paid, higher-skill work via a programme delivered by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. And this comes on top of a raft of measures to make life easier for working parents - such as flexible working and the introduction, next year, of shared parental leave and tax-free childcare worth up to £2,000 per child.
So we’re taking major steps to empower women and offer practical help for employers – help that I very much hope they will seize – to further strengthen the Think, Act, Report initiative and to make serious inroads into inequalities over pay – not just because it’s the right thing to do. But because it’s the only thing to do if we want to tap into the talents of all our people and build a fairer, more prosperous future.
As the Minister for Women and Equalities, I’m proud to say that this mission - to see women contributing in all fields and at all levels - is at the heart of this government’s long-term economic plan. This plan is working and we’re determined to see it delivering for everyone. There’s still a great deal to do - and it’s an absolute priority for me to drive down the gender pay gap further still and build on the tremendous things that women everywhere, in every sector, are achieving and contributing.
So I urge you to work with us to fulfil the wider vision of the Equal Pay Act - and leave us with a legacy that, 40 years on, does us all proud.