#BalanceforBetter: The Evolution Of Gender Balance In The Workplace

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I’ve had the luxury of growing up in a home where gender balance in the workplace was mostly assumed, to the point where I didn’t realise that it was even an issue for women. I guess I was lucky in that sense. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long until my bubble of naivety burst and dramatically at that because, as it turns out, the workplace really isn’t all that equal.

There have been improvements, sure and I recognise my privilege in being at the end of the gender equality progress that’s seen a significant shift in an increased number of women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights and increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models. On the other hand, there are still huge inequalities with many women still not being paid equally to their male counterparts.

Within the Women in the Workplace 2018 study conducted by Lean In, results showed that in corporate America women are continuing to do their part in pursuing a change in workplace equality. They’ve been earning more bachelor degrees than men for decades. They’re continuously recognising their worth in asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men and contrary to popular belief, they’re staying in the workforce at the same rate as men. The same study found that not only are fewer women being hired at entry-level for jobs than their male counterparts but at manager level, disparity widens further. Statistics show that for every one hundred men promoted to manager, seventy-nine women are promoted to manager status thus leading to men holding 62% of manager roles and women only 38%. At this rate the number of female managers will increase by only 1% over the next ten years whereas if companies started hiring and promoting women and men to managerial positions at an equal rate, theoretically we should get close to parity in management over the same ten years. Realistically, none of this is news for women as we continue in pursuit of gender balance in the workplace but just how far have we come? Below shows a timeline of key events concerning gender equality throughout history.

1919: Nancy Astor becomes the first woman in Parliament

Previous to the passing of the 1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, women weren’t allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Following this passing of this act, seventeen women stood for election in 1918. Countess Constance Markievicz, was successful in St Patrick’s Division of Dublin but as a Sinn Fein MP, she didn’t take her seat in Westminster. in 1919, Nancy Astor won her seat in a by-election for Plymouth-Sutton making her the first woman to take her seat in Parliament.

1939-1945: Women in the workforce during WWII

While men were going to war, the working jobs they typically held became the responsibility of women who, unsurprisingly, proved they were capable of keeping the economy going by taking over these jobs. Thus began the evolving movement of women in the workplace.

1956: British legal reforms require equal pay for women teachers and civil servants

1961: US Commission on the Status of Women

The President’s Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, appointing Eleanor Roosevelt as chairwoman of the commission. The purpose was for the commission to analyse the employment policies affecting women including labour laws, hours, wages, legal representation and the availability and quality of education and counselling for working women. Reports from their findings showed extensive discrimination against women with the commission suggesting several changes to bureaucratic organisation and laws to solve these discriminations. Recommendations included paid maternity leave, affordable childcare and hiring practises that didn’t discriminate between men and women.

1963: US Equal Pay Act

Signed into law by President John F. Kennedy as part of his New Frontier Program, the equal pay act is a labour law amended by the United States aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on gender for jobs by both men and women that required the same skill set, efforts and job responsibility. The first ruling against an employer who didn’t abide by the enacted law came in 1974 with the Corning Glass Works vs. Brennan case.

An Equal Pay Act to the same effect wasn’t introduced in the UK until 1970. This came following a three-week strike by female workers at the Ford plant in Dagenham with demands of equal pay to their male counterparts. Their argument was that their work as machinists was equal to the production jobs done by men at the plant. Although passed in 1970, the Equal Pay Act didn’t come into force in the UK until 1975.

1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female prime minister in Britain

1993: US Family and Medical Leave Act

Signed by President Bill Clinton, the passing of this act meant that both men and women were entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave for reasons such as parental leave. The act allowed for job security in these instances, particularly for men. Reasons for use of this leave include pregnancy, adoption, foster care, personal or family illness or family military leave. To be eligible for this leave of absence, employees must have been at the business for 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours over the course of the last 12 months and work in a location where the company employees 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

2012: The UK pay gap estimated at 10-20%

Studies at the time suggested that it could take 30, 70 or 100 years to close the wage gap as it existed in 2012.

2018: UK Salary Legislation

As of April 2018, under equal pay legislation, employers with more than 250 staff are required to report salary figures for men and women.

2019: Current wage gap decreasing, but only slightly

While there are unfortunately some disappointing but isolated instances where the gender pay gap at large companies has actually increased in the last year alone, according to Personnel Today, the broad trend is one of a slight decrease. In 2018, studies showed the average difference between the reported hourly median hourly pay gap was 0.6 per cent points in favour of women. Realistically, putting into action the efforts of the last few years to decrease the pay gap, it will take around five years to start seeing real, drastic improvements in the narrowing the gap.

In the US, women are paid on average, 20% less than men. Starting early, the existing pay gap means that women as young as age 16 are paid less than men with nothing but an increase in the gap from then on. Worldwide, women are paid on average, 23% less than men.

Rights to equal pay are just one of the many issues facing women in their campaign for gender balance in the workplace and beyond. While moves and improvements have been made to help the issue, there’s still so much more to do. As the International Women’s Day official website states, “Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.”

Furthermore, “Gender balance is essential for businesses and communities to thrive.”

So get involved in the #BalanceforBetter campaign as part of International Women’s Day and do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women everywhere.

Instagram / @internationalwomensday_global
Niamh Crawford-Walker

Niamh is a full time fashion and features writer at The Style Edit. Her work has previously appeared in IMAGE magazine, image.ie and Emirates Woman.

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