Valuing women in the Welsh workforce

Sarah Rees looks at the role of women in the Welsh jobs market.

Along with the bangs and flashes of Bonfire Night, you may have noticed the beginning of November marked equal pay day, highlighting the fact that 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still not being paid the same amount as men.  As women make up 38% of the Welsh working age, that’s almost half a million people potentially facing inequality at work.

You may ask what this has to do with you?  Well, simple economics tells us that more money generated in the economy equals more money being spent in Wales, and that’s never a bad thing. According to Buckinghamshire New University women are responsible for 83% of all shopping purchases, so as the ones with the purchasing power, more money in their pockets would equal economic success.

‘Equal pay day’ is a global campaign that marks the calculation of the wage difference between women and men, falling on different days across the world.  It’s come three days earlier in the UK than 2013, showing that we are falling back rather than moving towards equality.  For those working part-time, the data poses a much bleaker reality, their equivalent ‘Equal Pay Day’ falling on the 28th of August.

The good news is that it seems Wales is faring well when it comes to closing the gender pay gap, the Bevan Foundation’s ‘Women, Work and the Recession in Wales’ figures have shown that women’s pay, both full and part time has been increasing year on year. (Although figures are yet to be published for the 2014 gender pay difference in Wales to be calculated.)

So, what do women have to complain about you ask?  Especially if you’ve seen this week’s news reports of the gender pay gap shrinking to a record low.  For starters, this shrunken pay gap is a double negative because men’s wages are dropping faster than women’s.  But the main point is, as ONS statistics show, on average women are paid about £100 a week less than men.  How would you feel if that were your mother, wife or daughter getting a raw deal on pay?

A major factor in this debate is people in low paid work.  Recently the CIPD and John Lewis Partnership released their research, ‘Pay Progression: understanding the barriers for the lowest paid’ which found that 64% of those on low pay are women.  They also found a strong correlation between being stuck on lowest levels of pay and working part time; and as part-time work makes up 42% of female employment in Wales compared to just 12% of men’s its plain to see that the problem disproportionately affects women as the largest group in low paid and part time employment.

There are always going to be low paid jobs and someone has to do them, but I see the issue as a lack of skilled and professional part-time jobs available in the Welsh market.  As TUC research shows, “the lack of skilled, decently-paid, part-time jobs affects women’s pay and their career prospects far more than it does men.”

Statistical analysis continually shows that women predominately enter part-time work because of their caring responsibilities and the need to balance family life and work.  The immediate solution to the issue is to make changes on childcare; in my experience of working with women in Wales this has predominantly been the issue women state as a barrier and needs to be adopted as a major concern by policy and decision makers.  But aside from this ‘elephant in the room’ how are skilled women going to find suitable employment?

At present 40% of women’s employment in Wales comes from the public sector and women make up two thirds of public sector employees.  Why is it that this sector is so attractive to women?  Because the public sector lead the way in flexible working and actively enable women with caring responsibilities to return to work part-time.  This means that the private sector needs to become more attractive to women; it’s often cited that having more women in senior positions improves company performance so it s a win: win situation.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some great private sector employees supporting families out there.  I recently heard about an employee of Legal and General in Cardiff entering a flexible working pattern so that he could care for his baby whilst his wife returned to work.  This family are now able to share the parenting responsibilities and cut down on the huge cost of childcare, which currently costs between £30 and £55 per day in Wales.

What we really need to see is Wales doing what it does best, leading the way in innovative and effective strategies – what Jobs Growth Wales is doing for young people, lets get a project in place for women!

There are simple things employers in Wales can do right now:

  • Contact Chwarae Teg, the Welsh leaders on Women and the economy, who offer support and guidance on creating flexible workplaces and equality of opportunity for all of your employees.

  • Talk to your HR department about supporting women in lower paid or part-time roles into further training and development.

  • The next time you advertise a job ask yourself, is it really a full time position, can it be done part-time or job-shared?

  • Signing up to become a Living Wage employer, only procuring goods or sub-contracting work from companies signed up to the scheme (… and yes Welsh Government that means doing the same for your Baristas too.)

Sarah Rees is Director of Career Women Wales and Co-Chair of Women's Equality Network Wales. She can be found at (

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