In a week that included International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is perhaps unsurprising that we have seen the launch of a number of initiatives by both government and employers designed to support female employers and tackle existing workplace inequalities.
The government, for example, launched a pilot initiative aimed at improving pay transparency and reducing the gender pay gap by asking employers to publish salary information on job adverts and refrain from asking candidates about their salary history during the recruitment process.
While such initiatives are to be welcomed, there is still much to do around gender inequality. If we are to truly to gain full equality and open up the workplace on equal grounds to all working parents, irrespective of gender, for example, there is much still to be done around the UK’s provision of childcare. The high cost of private childcare means this is still a barrier to working for many. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK currently has the world’s third most expensive childcare system.
Following a campaign by Pregnant than Screwed in conjunction with Grazia last year, a petition calling on the government to look into the crippling costs of UK childcare gathered more than 113,000 signatures and triggered a debate on childcare in Parliament. On International Women’s Day, however, all signatories of the petition received an email stating that the government had no plans to look into the cost and availability of childcare. This is no doubt frustrating for all those individuals who are affected by the issue, those who have been campaigning against this issue and employers who are missing out on valuable talent.
The move also appears to be at odds with the government’s steps to support women back into the workplace in certain fields, for example, through its new returner programme for science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers.
While childcare is in no way an issue that affects only female employees, evidence shows that women are more likely to bear the impact of childcare on their careers, either being unable to work due to childcare costs or being unable to progress their careers. Until there is a solution to the childcare cost conundrum, therefore, the UK will be unlikely to see true gender equality in the workplace.