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Highlights from the Gov Led Symposium on Gender Pay Gap Jan 10th

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Making changes to the Gender Pay Gap in Ireland is gaining serious momentum. Narrowing and eliminating the GPG has huge implications for women socially and economically. Here’s a synopsis from Claire Flannery & Group Member Herizon www.Herizon.ie @Herizonevent  Facebook (A free non-profit forum for female leadership from the first symposium)

On Wednesday 10th January the Government held a Symposium in Dublin on addressing the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) in Ireland. It was an invitation-only event jointly hosted by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and the Department of Justice and Equality, and saw more than 130 politicians, senior policy makers, business representatives, trade unions and academics come together.

The backdrop to this event is the launch last May of the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020, and a public consultation in August seeking views from interested parties on measures to tackle the GPG.  Overall, 38 submissions were received, with strong themes across factors seen to contribute to the GPG: 47% cited ‘women and caring responsibilities’, 37% cited ‘occupational/sectoral gender segregation’ and 34% cited ‘more women in lower paid employment’.

Why is this important to the Government?

In opening the Symposium, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan talked about Gender Equality and the GPG as being a global concern, with widespread public discourse on an imbalance of power. In her opening address, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries highlighted that with the GPG at 13.9% in Ireland, this is not just a women’s issue but an issue that affects all of our society.

Indeed, there is a solid economic, business and societal imperative to address gender inequality. Recent OECD figures estimate the world economic gain of gender parity at $1.2 trillion. Closer to home, Eurofound estimates the EU cost of a lower female rate of labour participation at €370 billion. Add this to the growing body of solid research highlighting the business benefit of diversity at all levels of organisations; and the business and the societal gain of utilising the potential of ALL of our people, and it is obvious as to why this is a political priority. In her address, Minister Humphreys also noted that she would be considering the outcomes of the Symposium in the Action Plan for jobs 2018.

Following initial opening speeches, Morgan O’Donnell from the CSO talked us through the most recent statistics. Standout figures were male and female workforce participation rates and the GPG at different age groups. While male and female participation rates start out similar, there is a circa 20% reduction in participation rates where women have children under 3 years of age, with no comparative reduction for men. The GPG almost trebles between 30’s and 40’s, most likely where women are stepping away from the workforce for caring responsibilities (children or broader families). The GPG increases with age where we see the impact of e.g. starting a family, on leave, hours and subsequent career advancement; this impact continues to increase right up to retirement age.

Closing the Gap – Key Themes

In looking at finding solutions and closing the gap we heard from Orla O’Connor, NWCI; Áine Myler, SCSI; Mary Connaughton, CIPD; Dr. Kara McGann, Ibec; Patricia King, ICTU; Emma Kerins, Chambers Ireland; Senator Ivana Bacik and Emily Logan, IHREC.

 Transparency and Reporting

At a national policy and legislative level, there was a strong theme of transparency, reporting and monitoring as the key to closing the gap. Essentially taking a ‘carrot’ approach as necessary, but perhaps with a ‘settling-in’ period for organisations. Mary Connaughton, CIPD, shared research of the concern across member organisations of the negative PR associated with publishing GPG statistics.

Childcare and Parental Leave

There was also call for a review of current maternity and parental leave policies and the availability of affordable, quality childcare. Dr. Orlagh Quinn, Secretary General from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, spoke of the Civil Service and how the issue is not equal pay, but getting women to senior positions. She highlighted the need to support women on maternity leave and when they return to work, via flexible practices. Patricia King, General Secretary of Irish Congress of Trade Unions spoke of the “value & effect of maternity leave” and how women “suffer the strongest career effects right up to retirement”, referencing a 26% GPG at retirement age. She strongly advocated shared paid parental leave where couples choose the split. Dr, Kara McGann, Senior Policy Executive Ibec talked of a future where it is acknowledged that both men and women have caring responsibilities and it is not seen as a barrier to career progression.

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, spoke of the challenges of childcare, and the need for a culture of flexible working practices and support for paternity & parental leave. Emma Kerins from Chambers Ireland talked about the ‘motherhood gap’ where research in the UK suggests that women with no children are paid 25% more than women with children. She also talked of the challenges with starting & scaling for female entrepreneurs and called for a more affordable childcare model.

Workplace Practices

In her presentation, Dr. Kara McGann of Ibec gave an excellent summary on examples of progressive Irish workplace practices in Ireland at present. These include: parent networks in organisations where parents can support each other; shared parenting leave across couples; maternity coaching where women are supported through the transition of stepping way from, and back into, their careers; parenting workshops to educate and support parents; and women returners programmes for women returning to the workforce following an extended break.

Other notable points

Dr Micheál Collins, UCD, highlighted that feminisation of the teaching profession is a big issue. This is certainly one that needs more focus if we wish to prevent further ingraining of cultural and societal gender biases in our younger generations.

I was pleased to hear Heather Humphreys, talk of the improving rates of female entrepreneurship and further government plans for increased focus on start-ups led by women. This is against the research showing that men are still twice as likely to be entrepreneurs as women, in Ireland.

 Concluding Thoughts

The mood on the day was largely positive with a shared view that now was the time to highlight existing progress and build momentum to close the GPG. In his closing statement, Minister David Stanton referenced the potential for the introduction of an Equality and Diversity Mark for employers. He spoke of the need to engage women AND men, and how closing the GPG will benefit everyone.

What’s next

We can most certainly expect policy and legislative changes coming down the track in areas of parental leave, childcare and GPG reporting. Getting to the deeper roots of cultural, societal and organisational gender norms and biases requires much further consideration.

As Employers and Business Leaders, what steps can we take to best prepare for the changes ahead?

With much of the research pointing to starting a family and having young children being a big trigger point for the GPG, we should look at ways we can adopt inclusive workplace practices that retain our female leadership pipelines; supporting them in successfully transitioning out of, and back into the workplace, and through the early parenting years. Reviewing recruitment practices and looking for ways to attract career returners to our companies, and looking at internal mentorship schemes and networks to support these groups. These are just some of the ways we can contextualise current GPGs and evidence transparent and solid plans to address gaps, working to address the GPG on a local level.

 Learn More

The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 and CSO data can be viewed here

The summary of the Public Consultation on Measure to tackle the GPG can be viewed here