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By Rick Vollmar
March 29—The overall gender pay gap in the U.K. is 19.2 percent, a significant decline from 1997's 27.5 percent, but it is important to see the composite rate in context, according to a report released March 22 by the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons. For women in their twenties and thirties, there is little if any gap, but for women in their fifties the gap is 27.3 percent, close to the benchmark rate of twenty years ago.
Much of the reason women's earning power declines as they get older is that they bear “disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring,” which can force women to work part time or to leave the workforce altogether for a time. The fact that younger women face little or no pay gap does not indicate a fundamental change in pay patterns that will carry through their careers, the report says, but simply that women in their twenties have yet to encounter the barriers older women confront.
“The problems faced by [women] over 40 are likely to hit younger women as they age,” according to the committee. More specifically, “if women continue to take time out of the labor market or reduce their working hours after having children, the positive trajectory [of pay equality for younger women] is unlikely to continue towards eliminating the gender gap.”
The committee recommends three steps toward addressing the gender pay gap.
First, flexible working arrangements—job sharing, late starts, early finishes, term time (which allows employees to take unpaid leave during school holidays) and working from home—should be available to all employees. This could give working mothers (and fathers) the flexibility to balance work and family obligations.
Second, men should be encouraged to more equally share childcare responsibilities with their wives or partners. “As long as women continue to take the majority of responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring, pay differentials will persist,” according to the parliamentary committee. Toward this end, the committee recommends that fathers be provided with nontransferable parental leave “to allow men and women to share care more equally.”
Third and finally, women who want to return to work following a care-giving absence must be given support in their transition back into the workforce, something that happens now all too rarely. The committee recommends the development of a formal process to ensure that women get the support they need when returning to the workforce after an extended absence.
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