Suffolk County Council revealed its Gender Pay gap last week, days before the legally required deadline of 30 March. It showed that although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there’s still a significant Gender Paygap in favour of men.
The County Council’s mean Paygap is 14.8% (2.6% below the national average) , the median, at 18.6%, above the national average. In other words SuffolkCC employs very few men but they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well paid sectors. (All the statistics refer to the hourly pay rates of full-pay employees so part-time status does not explain the gap).
As LDGI Spokesperson for Women, I asked Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Leader Jane Storey in full council last week whether this gap may be because Suffolk also has a gender data gap? My questions may sound illogical coming from a Spokesperson for Women, because they concerned the rights of men.
“We say we have an occupational maternity scheme. Do we have an occupational paternity scheme? Do we actively promote paternity leave? We say we encourage flexible working – is that for men as well as women? What are the outcomes? We say we run positive recruitment campaigns to encourage women into roles in traditionally male areas. Are there campaigns to encourage men into traditionally female areas? “ I asked.
The bottom line is, “Unless we take a gender-neutral attitude and support everyone at work equally, women tend to be the ones who generally sacrifice fulltime work, career and salary and end up paid less – and the gender paygap will continue. Men will also lose out – but in other ways. They too need support to prevent this happening. “
I also queried the comments of the SCC spokesperson who attributed our Gender Paygap to women working part-time. This comment shows a complete misunderstanding of the figures we had been given. “Does SCC understand its own stats?” I asked.
The Deputy Leader’s response was confused and also suggested a profound misunderstanding of the subject. “I struggle to point out how good an employer we are in terms of women,” she told us – with uncanny prescience – adding “The only way to reduce the gender paygap is to not employ women and to employ men.”
(Can anyone see the fault in this logic?)
According to Cllr Storey, the issue was not – as one might suspect – that SuffolkCC employs too many women on too low a wage, but that “we employ women because that is probably better suited to their characteristics…. Most women are naturally caring,” she claimed. (And therefore don’t want to be paid or promoted to their capacities? Stands to reason! Of course).
Such a response is very concerning. Resorting to talk of “nature” and so-called essential differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender pay gap obscures the real problem and makes it much more difficult to resolve: we need to be confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.
Digging herself ever further into a slough of sexist stereotypes, Cllr Storey then gave the chamber the example of Virgin Atlantic Airline where “figures are very much skewed towards men because they tend to employ male pilots, male engineers…”
All this shows (apart from suggesting interesting employment practices on the part of Virgin Atlantic Airlines) is that Suffolk county council’s administration does not understand the Suffolk Gender Paygap problem – they therefore cannot be the best people to put it right.