By Laura Hutton, Chief Product Officer and Co-founder, Quantexa
It is nearly 50 years since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, yet the gender pay gap persists. The UK tech industry is no better than other traditionally male-dominated industries, with Mercer reporting that men in high-tech companies earn 25 per cent more than women, compared to the gap in the UK overall of 18 per cent.
Factors contributing to this include continued gender stereotyping in relation to career and family commitments; women’s participation in the workforce drops from 49% at junior support level to just 25 per cent at the mid-level professional level and 13% at executive job level. Evidently, women continue to struggle in a workplace that favours men and that perpetuates the pigeon-holing of women as primary caregivers. The tech industry, which suffers already from a low representation of women (who make up just 17%of the UK tech sector), will fail to bear witness to the benefits of having women as a significant part of its workforce unless substantial movement is made to create a workplace that is more friendly towards women.
One way to do this is by encouraging greater take-up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). Introduced in April 2015, SPL allows parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them in their first year after having a child, and aims to give parents more freedom in balancing work and family. With uptake currently low—the BBC recently reported that uptake of SPL could be as low as 2 per cent of eligible parents annually— it is clear that women continue to shoulder the lion’s share of childcaring responsibilities.
Consequently, if it is to truly address the gender pay gap, the tech industry needs to do more to encourage parents to take on a more equal share of child-caring duties. This can be done through ensuring companies are more transparent about the rights fathers have in terms of leave-taking (there remains a stigma when it comes to fathers taking extended leave) and through better educating employers about their options when they are becoming, or have become, parents.
Businesses can also be more proactive in putting in place effective policies to support men taking leave for child-care reasons, thereby motivating more men to put in time with their children. Strategies such as offering men and women equal pay for the leave they take in the first year of having a child would remove the financial argument for men to stay on at work, and incentivise fathers to spend more time at home with their newborn.
Currently, fathers get 26 times less pay than mothers if you compare statutory paternity and maternity pay – a gender pay gap of 96 per cent. Compounding this, a survey recently found that 95 per cent of companies enhanced maternity pay above statutory provisions, often to a significant extent, but only 4.4 per cent enhanced paternity pay for even part of the statutory two weeks.
Families are unlikely to utilise SPL unless it makes financial sense to do so and unless men and women are offered equal leave pay, SPL will continue to seem a second-class option. Employers going beyond the minimum pay for SPL would thereby make it a more feasible option for families and allow fathers to take a more active role in child-care.
Another strategy is for tech companies to better support women returning from maternity leave or SPL. Employers need to ensure they are making work life compatible with child-care needs, and to ensure they are not piling pressure upon returning mothers to feel they need to prove themselves or compensate for taking time out. Simple approaches such as setting realistic and reasonable goals through two-way conversations with returning mothers, can go a long way to making women feel supported in the workplace.
Flexible working is also crucial to creating a workplace compatible with child-caring demands. Establishing flexible working policies within the business and working with individuals on a case-to-case basis to set out ways of working that best suit them and their needs means both mothers and fathers can balance responsibilities for children and work appropriately.
By implementing strategies that encourage more men to take a greater amount of responsibility when it comes to parenting, tech companies can work to break down harmful stereotyping in the workplace that separates men into working, and women into child-rearing, capacities, and help produce an environment in which family life can occur symbiotically alongside work life. As a result, fixed gender roles with regard to child-rearing would begin to be broken down, and women would feel supported in the workplace to pursue careers in whichever manner they see fit. Diversity has long been proven to foster creativity, and so, for the burgeoning tech industry, it is crucial that there is a wealth of men and women bringing different experiences and backgrounds to the mix in order to provide the innovative ideas needed to push organisations forward.