Promises promises for women in work

As Parliament is dissolved and the official election campaign period begins, what will the eagerly awaited party manifestos hold for women?

Fawcett will be scouring every manifesto page and reporting to you on the main topics. Here’s the low-down on women and the workplace so far.

‘We Can Do It!’ promises the feisty proto-feminist, baring her muscles and clenching her fist in defiance at her doubting male counterparts. It was the 1940s – time for female blue-collar workers to roll up their sleeves and show their grit. . .

Over 70 years have passed since J. Howard Miller’s call to arms and guess what: We’re Still Doing It!

The number of women in workplaces has increased, particularly since the 1970s[1]. Surely the 1970 Equal Pay Act[2] and the 1975 Sex Discrimination Law[3] & Employment Protection Act have brought greater equality in the workforce… it looks convincing on paper, doesn’t it?

Yet, after the long and arduous fight to gain equal access to (almost all) the professions dominated by men, there are still barriers and issues preventing women from achieving full economic equality.  Women’s social and economic status has stalled or worsened in recent years, particularly as a result of global recessions and subsequent austerity policies responding to man-made financial crises.

The latest figures published by Women in Work Index (March 2015)[4] have been loudly touted as ‘promising’ by the media. The UK ranks 14th amongst the 27 developed countries in the report by the OECD, an improvement on the previous 18th place. It also appears that the ‘strengthened economic recovery’ has reversed the statistical clock back to the year 2000[5] – the Golden Age of gender equality.

Women are notoriously good at reading between the lines, however, and this is what they see:

  • It’s going to take another 70 years for the gender wage gap to close[6] at the current rate. Of course, this doesn’t take Motherhood into account where another pay gap kicks in. At present, UK mothers with two children can expect an additional 25 per cent penalty compared to non-mothers;[7]
  • Fewer women are in employment compared to men. Age and relationship status increase this difference[8]. Single mothers, for example, are less likely to have a job as a direct result of their caring responsibilities. Not to mention the rate of under-employment amongst women, which is nearly twice the level it was at the start of the crisis in 2008;
  • What to make then of our 25th place (out of 27) when it comes to women in full-time employment? Lack of appropriate day care and after school facilities limit mothers’ ability to work full-time[9] . They have little ‘choice’ but to work part-time, until better facilities are in place (like those existing in Scandinavian countries);
  • There are still not many female directors on the boards of top companies even though representation has improved recently to 23 per cent on FTSE 100 boards and 18 per cent on FTSE 250 boards[10]. Evidence from other countries shows that target requirements for listed companies succeed in getting more women into the boardroom. While there may be a few more women, other diversity issues are totally ignored. With just 1 in 13 management roles and 1 in 16 senior leadership positions going to minority ethnic people in the UK[11], women from this group are even less represented, making up only 13 per cent of the UK’s female working-age population.[12]


So what would the political parties do about these issues? The full manifestos will be announced any day now, but here are some pledges so far:

  • The Liberal Democrats are encouraging employers to provide more flexible working
  • Labour would reform the employment tribunal system to ensure that workplace justice (e.g. sex discrimination claims) is affordable;[14]
  • The Conservatives would raise National Insurance thresholds and eliminate contributions for under 25s[15], helping to address the fact that more than 130,000 women than men are not in employment, education or training (NEET);[16]
  • All parties would increase the minimum wage, but the Greens would raise it the highest to £10 per hour by 2020;[17]
  • Finally, in an attempt to help the lowest paid workers UKIP would have no tax on minimum wage employees.[18]

Watch out for our full manifesto analysis and our blog series keeping you up to date on the latest manifesto commitments and the need-to-know facts about women’s equality.


[1]—women-in-the-labour-market.html#tab-Women-in-the-labour-market. This report also highlights how a shift from manufacturing to service sector jobs may have also contributed to this growth and a reduction of men in employment.

[2] Aiming “to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women.”



[5] The PwC Women in Work Index is a weighted average of various measures that reflect female economic empowerment: 1. The equality of earnings with men (25%); 2. The proportion of women in work (25%); 3. The gap between female and male labour force participation (20%); 4. The female unemployment rate (20%); 5. The proportion of women in full-time employment (10%). The report looks at and compares rates published by 27 OECD countries (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).


[7] Grimshaw and Rubery (2015) The motherhood pay gap: a review of the issues, theory and international evidence. Geneva: ILO. Accessible via:–en/index.htm.


[9] Davies & Pierre (2005) The family gap in pay in Europe: A cross-country study, LABOUR ECONOMICS, 12 (4). pp. 469-486. Accessible via:

[10] Following the Davies report (2011), Women on Boards, which recommended a voluntary target of 25% to be achieved by the end of 2015 for FTSE100 companies. 2015 report accessible via:


[12] Data from the latest Annual Population Survey for the UK (April 2013 – March 2014). For more details see:

[13] Liberal-Democrat Pre-Manifesto 2014: A Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society, p. 11, 19, 24.

[14] Labour Pre-Manifesto: Changing Britain Together, p. 14, 46.





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