In Ashford Borough Council, women’s median hourly rate is 23.6 per cent lower than men’s. It is commonly assumed that in general, employees in the public sector are better off than their peers in the private sector, with a cushier, less stressful working life. And in spite of a decade of austerity, public sector workers still have better job security, shorter hours and earn more on average. Yet recent pay gap statistics are likely to tarnish this assumption.
On average, in the public sector men are paid 14.9 per cent more than women. This is a touch higher than that of the private sector, at 14.3 per cent. It shocked me to find out just how much above the average the pay gap in my own council is.
While we may expect corporate businesses, big banks and consumer-oriented enterprises to not be particularly preoccupied with the pay gap, we would probably have a little more faith in companies in the public sector — our schools, universities, hospitals, museums.
It is important to recognise exactly what the gender pay gap means. The phrase can be misleading; it does not mean that men and women in the same position are paid differently — it means that in general, women take up lower ranking positions, which means on average, their salaries are less.
It is sometimes claimed that the gender pay gap should not be seen as a concern. It has been suggested that women don’t necessarily want high-flying careers in the same way that men do, that women go off to have babies, that women prefer jobs in middle management rather than right at the top.
However, the credibility of this claim comes into question if we consider that women’s career aspirations in fact surpass men’s — more women than men consider a profitable career a top life goal, according to findings from the Pew Research Centre. Two-thirds of women aged between 18 and 34 rate career ‘high’ on their list of life priorities, compared with 59 per cent of men.
Moreover, this does not change when women reach middle age, suggesting that the reason behind the pay gap does not lie in women wanting to halt their careers while they go off to have children. The same study reveals that 42 per cent of women aged between 35 and 64 rank their careers as a top priority — and roughly the same proportion of men think the same.
This why it is saddening to see such a big discrepancy in pay in the public sector. Surely within the NHS, our schools — and in our borough councils — more should be done to ensure women are encouraged to go for the top positions? Women evidently want to reach high ranking positions, so the question remains, why aren’t they?
Perhaps it is rooted in the ingrained perception of women not being emotionally capable of dealing with top management positions. Perhaps it is because half of the men admit to thinking that the number of women in senior positions is sufficient. With this sort of complacency, how can we expect things to change?
I hope I never end up working in my borough council. Because regardless of what I seek to achieve, it would dishearten me to know that men still dominate the top positions, despite the majority of women having career aspirations.
The gender pay gap figures which have emerged should be a wake-up call. It is great that the Government are trying to improve the level of transparency by forcing both private and public sector companies to publish their pay statistics, but there is still so much more to be done.
In 9 out of 10 companies, male salaries are on average higher than women’s. The pay gap is not closing any time soon — and women want careers just as much as men do.
I hope things are going to start to change.