Narrowing the gender gap will benefit everyone

Occupational segregation is a phrase that has become more common in recent years. It refers to the distribution of workers across different jobs, based upon demographic characteristics, most often gender. 

The subject came sharply into focus last year when organisations, including the BBC, were shown to be paying women less than men for doing the same job.

The recent attention given to the disparity, and longer-term initiatives like International Women’s Day, which fell on 8 March, are helping to accelerate gender parity, as well as raising awareness of women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements.

A few stats put the position into context. A House of Commons briefing paper last year showed that median pay for all employees in the UK (both full and part-time) was 17.9 per cent less for women than for men at April 2018. 

In 2017 a Scottish Parliament committee heard that the Scottish Government calculated the gender pay gap in Scotland to be 6 per cent. However, this excluded part-time workers and the committee chose to use the overall hourly pay gap of 16 per cent as a more representative picture of the pay gap.

The same committee heard the Scottish economy could benefit by £17.2 billion if barriers to women’s participation were removed, while other reports were referred to which said narrowing the gap could add £150 billion to the UK economy.

More locally, a Highlands and Islands Enterprise report in 2017 said there is clear evidence of segregation. It said that generally, women are more likely than men to be underemployed, work part time, and work in lower grades within an organisation or lower value sectors.

It highlighted that in the professional occupations (the second highest pay band) women are more highly represented and account for 57 per cent of employees in the Highlands and Islands - compared to 52 per cent nationally. However, it also pointed out that women are still under represented in the most senior and well-paid positions, with men making up 65 per cent of managers, directors and senior officials.

Having a more balanced workforce brings different and broader perspectives, which can lead to improved creativity and performance. Therefore, more women need to be involved at senior levels and in the decision-making process of organisations, big and small.

Within Inverness Chamber of Commerce, our senior management team is 50 per cent female and our wider team of 14 is nearly 80 per cent women. In my role as deputy chief executive, I have helped shape the strategic direction of the organisation, including the development of our five-year strategy, and represent the Chamber at a number of high-profile events.

The chamber’s membership also includes many inspirational female business leaders. And in the public sector, we currently have a female Inverness Provost and council leader, as well as women chief executives at both the council and HIE.

A lot has been done to tackle occupational segregation, but there is still much to do.