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23 August 2016

Mothers' pay lag – statistics only tell part of the story

The report issued today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows a 33% pay gap between women who have taken time out to have children, and their male colleagues. This is against an average pay gap between men and women generally of 18%. It is not as simple however as finding one reason for this disparity and trying to resolve it, the issue is far more complex.

Traditional pay systems which advocate an annual pay increase may mean women who take time out or career breaks will miss out on incremental pay rises. They will therefore be on an equal pay level with their male counterparts on entry into the job, but several years (and children) later, they will be lower down the pay scale. This also means that the percentage difference between their pay and their male colleagues will widen with each pay rise, even though their ability in the job may be the same, they simply haven’t had as many years in the role.

There is also what’s known as the “sticky floor” phenomenon by which women sometimes limit their own progression, due to a lack of belief. This can be eased by employers becoming more receptive to “agile working”, as well as couples sharing child caring responsibilities more evenly between them. For example a mother may be more able to seek, and aspire to, promotion if agile working is an option and she has good support away from the workplace.

There is often a misconception that child caring issues only impact working families when the children are of preschool age, but the issues go beyond this time. As a child gets older, parents often feel the need to be present for their children as the demands of schooling increase, meaning the need to work flexibly continues beyond the early years. Traditionally women have taken the more flexible role, but this is changing and will hopefully continue to do so as men take on a more active role in child caring and also seek more flexibility in their working arrangements.

Employers need to adapt to ensure they are retaining the best people and are rewarding them accordingly. There is rarely a good reason to prevent job sharing arrangements in senior/ management positions. Only when this often unconscious bias is overcome when considering senior roles, and how they can be filled and delivered, will the pay gap between mothers and their male colleagues begin to be redressed.