Balance for better on International Women’s Day – what needs to change

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The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘better the balance, better the world’ or #balanceforbetter. I’m not convinced by the slogan, but I do think that there needs to be some major change to equalise things for women – and to create a better workplace and society.

Balance for better in the workplace

Having a better balance in the workplace affects a whole range of areas. There’s no doubt that a lot of progress has been made but there’s still a long way to go.

Here are some statistics:

  • Gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is narrowing, but it’s still around 18%. That’s the difference between the average hourly amount a man and a woman earn. But within that average figure, there are – obviously – huge variations. Financial services has a much bigger gender pay gap than some other areas. Last year was the first year of reporting the gender pay gap, and some companies had a gender pay gap of 40% or more. You can read my report into financial services companies’ gender pay gaps
  • Maternity pay/rights/discrimination. Some companies have great maternity pay and maternity leave policies. Others don’t. The bigger issue is that it can be very hard to find this information in the first place. And, according to the campaigning group Pregnant, Then Screwed, 54,000 women lose their jobs every year because of pregnancy or having children. You can read about your maternity rights at work in my article.
  • Pensions. Women retire with much smaller pensions than men. A report by the Chartered Insurance Institute shows that men have five times more in their pensions than men, at age 65. The average 65-year-old woman has £35,800 in her pension, compared to £179,000 for the average 65-year-old man. Lower pay and career breaks mean women pay less into their pension but they also lose out on employer contributions. Women lose out by £42,000 of employer’s contributions into their pension, over their lifetime. You can read my article on why men’s pensions are five times bigger than women’s in my article.
  • Divorce. Women are more likely to lose out financially when a relationship breaks down, compared to men. Divorced women have a pension pot of £9,000 on average, compared to £30,000 for divorced men. Almost nine out of ten (86%) of lone families are headed by women. You can read about divorce and pensions and some pitfalls to avoid in my article.
  • Caring. Women are more likely to care for elderly parents and children with illnesses or a disability. They are also more likely to cut down on or give up work entirely as a result. You can read about Carers’ national insurance credits and how to protect your state pension in my article.

What needs to change?

Where do I start?! There’s so much that I think still needs to change. Here are some thoughts:

  • State pension age for women. The government needs to help women born in the 1950s – some of whom have had their finances devastated by the rises in the state pension age and the fact that they weren’t told. This is a huge issue and one this government and the coalition government ignored, or made worse.
  • Gender pay gap. Companies must make a real effort to address their own gender pay gaps. It’s not good enough to say that there’s a gender pay gap because you have more men in senior roles. That’s the starting point, not an explanation.
  • Women on boards/in senior roles. I’m losing count of the number of reports that show that having more women in senior roles makes a company more profitable. It’s not that women are necessarily better than men, but it’s that a company with women in senior roles is more likely to escape ‘groupthink’. This is where everyone thinks in a similar way and no-one questions the direction the company is heading in. You can read some of the statistics – published a couple of years ago – about women in senior roles in my article.
  • The value of work. We need to have a proper debate about how we value work. Jobs seen as ‘women’s work’ have traditionally been paid less – sometimes far less – than jobs that have been traditionally done by men. And that’s still the case in areas such as hospitality, some services and caring. It is not right that someone who has responsibility for your frail parent or child is paid the minimum wage or a little more.
  • Pensions. At the moment, there are a number of rules and regulations that penalise women. For example, to be automatically put into your employer’s pension scheme, you need to earn at least £10,000 a year from each job. If you are low paid or you work part-time you’re more likely to miss out on a pension. And even the way the government bonus of tax relief can be given can penalise low paid women. Find out how this works in my article called Tax relief on workplace pensions. 

SAVVY TIP: Even though you have to earn at least £10,000 a year from at least one job to be automatically enrolled, if you earn more than around £6,000 a year from at least one job, you can ask to be enrolled. What’s more, your employer has to pay contributions on your behalf. Find out more in my article.

  • Investing. Research shows that women are better at investing than men (you can read the evidence in my article). But fewer women invest. In the past, the financial services industry has brushed this off by saying that women are ‘too cautious’ or ‘aren’t confident about investing’. My view is that’s a lazy explanation. We may be more cautious, but that’s because the investment industry has seen itself as a bit of a boys’ club and hasn’t thought of women as its customers. You can also read my article called ‘what would get more women to invest’ for some of my ideas on what needs to change.

What have I missed out?

Where would you like to see change? Please comment below. Thank you!

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