Closing the Gap and Achieving Equality

In the mid 1980’s I undertook a PhD study that examined the role and impact of technology on the retail sector. Difficult to imagine now, but for those of us old enough to remember, that was in the early days of bar codes and the use of scanning systems at checkouts. PC’s worked on DOS and iPads, macs and iPhones were still a vision waiting to become reality. Mobile phones didn’t exist and online shopping wasn’t even dreamt of.

My work examined how skills and employment patterns of female workers could be impacted within the UK supermarket sector. It tested the hypothesis that the growth of technology could lead to upskilling, greater job satisfaction, higher earnings and enhanced career opportunities for women. My belief was that technology would also improve productivity and business performance and enhance the customer experience. A win-win-win scenario for women, technology and business.

Fast forward thirty years, today technology has advanced beyond even what leading futurologists where predicting at that time. Service and retail employment has continued to grow, business performance and management information and reporting systems have improved, technology is now embedded in not only how we do business and how we shop but also in how we interact and communicate with each other. The speed and growth of technology and its application has been phenomenal.

Last year, I undertook an independent Review  into the “Role and Contribution of Women to the Scottish Economy” and revisited many of my earlier predictions. The evidence was staggering. The benefits and advancements that seemed so obvious had not manifested themselves in improvements in earnings, increased skills or enhanced career opportunities for many working women, particularly those working in the retail and service sectors. A sector that still remains dominated by low pay, low skills, part time working and a lack of women in management and senior roles. But even more disappointing was the fact that women across many other industry sectors, including those in self-employment, have faired equally badly in this period and have not achieved the career and earnings benefits predicted to accompany technology growth.

Specifically, looking at data from the mid 1990’s, the gap between men’s and women’s earnings has remained relatively consistent at around £100 (ONS 2015) and the Fawcett Society estimate that women still make up the majority of those in low paid work, 63% of people earning £7 per hour or less. Evidence also shows that for every £1 a man takes home, a woman takes home 85p, this equates to women working for free for two months of the year compared to a man. This gap in earnings becomes even more pronounced when women have children and get older. Within Scotland, the gender pay gap averages at 17% but can be as high as 40% in the Legal and Professional Services sector and 23% in the Construction industry.

And gender also impacts those in self-employment. In terms of business start-ups, if women set up businesses in Scotland as the same rate as men this would add £13 billion to the Scottish economy or the equivalent of over 100,000 new businesses.

The reasons for these gaps include a heady cocktail of social, economic and cultural factors including; flexible working, access to affordable child care, educational and skills levels, the size of companies where many women work and access to finance for many female business start-ups.

Closing the pay gap will go some way to addressing the structural inequalities that many women face in the workplace. Under new Pay Gap legislation announced by the UK Government in February 2016, companies and voluntary organisations with over 250 employees (approximately 8,000 across the UK) will now be required to publish pay gap information on their web sites, showing the number of men and women in each pay range.

But to achieve full workplace equality and to ensure women compete on an even playing field in the workplace we need to also take action to ensure we broaden the skills base and career choices particularly for younger women, encourage and support the introduction of flexible working policies and the equal sharing of family responsibilities. In addition, we need to recognise and value the contribution of women’s work to the economy, home and society.

Today, more than at any other point over this thirty-year period I feel optimistic about the future for generations of women. Driven by a change in attitudes, cultures and behaviours and supported by legislative and policy measures as a society we now recognise that we need to address many deep rooted barriers that impact women in education, at work, in the home and running their own businesses. Do I think the next thirty years will see progress on all these fronts and the fair sharing of the benefits that technology can bring, absolutely. Do I think women of all ages, all skill levels, across all sectors and in every region of the UK will finally work, live, and contribute to a fairer and equal society? A resounding yes. But it will need a continued focus and drive from us all to achieve it.

Dr Lesley Sawers

Executive Chair



Diversity Statistics Show Progress Still Needs to be Made

Technology impacts our lives every day and increasingly our lives are shaped and influenced by data. It is no longer unusual and indeed we are now accustomed to our shopping habits being analysed by major retailers who use sophisticated data analytics to mould and promote tantalising offers to keep us loyal to one particular retail operator.

We have apps on our mobiles that can record our preferences for films, music, tv content and recommend accordingly. The smart use of technology will only continue to grow and continue to disrupt traditional models of work, retail and our social activity.

However, despite monumental leaps in technology and constant challenging of the status quo including Uber, Air BNB, and Tesla which is leading to the democratisation and people driven focus of previously protected industries I believe we have yet to see technology and data being used effectively to drive diversity in the workforce.

In Scotland and the UK the statistics on diversity in the workforce continue to make depressing headlines.

The employment rate in Scotland for people with a disability is 41% compared to an overall employment rate of 72.6%.

There is an average pay gap in Scotland between men and women of 17.5% – rising in some sectors to over 40%.

Research by the Equality Network in Scotland suggests that over a quarter of LGBT individuals in the workplace have experienced discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

Of Scottish-based companies in the FTSE 100 – women only account for 25% of board members.

We would all agree that these are serious issues that businesses need to address not just morally but unquestionably because diverse businesses perform better than those who are not.

Research by Forbes undertaken in 321 large global enterprises with over $500m in annual revenue found that 85% of these enterprises recognised that diversity was crucial to fostering innovation in their workforce.

Research by McKinsey has found that companies who are in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. In addition their research found that companies with greater gender diversity on their senior executive team led to better financial returns than competitors.

Diverse companies are better at attracting and retaining talent, and they have a more engaged, empowered and positive workforce and workplace. They are also able to promote a brand or reputation that is valued by shareholders, stakeholders, customers and employees.

Diverse businesses become an employer of choice.

Faced with the challenges and knowing the benefits how can we work better to enable technology to support diversity?

Our ability to utilise technology and data must be harnessed if we want to see a shift in some of the statistics above and to create an environment where anyone can achieve their potential and ambitions at work regardless of ethnicity, gender or any disability. But what are some of the very real and tangible challenges and how could technology and data provide solutions?
For many women the pay gap starts to take effect when they choose to start a family and take leave from their work. With remote-working technology now in the mainstream and affordable for many businesses the adoption of this technology could mean that women could begin to get back into work sooner and become engaged in specific roles and projects whilst still on leave if that was something they wanted to do.

One of the dangers in all of this is that we look for solutions to solve the problems that women face and that is a mistake. We need to look at technology to support both men and women in the workplace. When we talk about leave we need to continue to shift the language to shared parental leave and provide men with the same technology support as women.

It is the same when we look at the data available to companies to better understand their diversity challenges. Too often companies consider Diversity an HR issue and not a mainstream business performance issue.

To understand where companies are losing staff or not seeing enough women for example in leadership roles, businesses need to use the data available to consider male / female employment application splits, what is the language being used to outline job applications or promotion opportunities, do women apply for promotion at the same rate as men, are women leaving the workforce at a greater rate than men, what is the percentage of women in senior leadership roles for example? All of these questions can be similarly applied to other protected characteristics.

By analysing these questions and understanding their current performance companies can then set targets to seek to improve their diversity position.

We know that if it gets measured it gets reported and businesses will be much clearer on where there challenges lie and how to begin to make a positive impact to redress any imbalances that they identify.

We still have a long way to go before we truly see equality in our companies and where we recognise and reward individuals based on their talent and potential. However I am truly optimistic that we are heading in the right direction.

Never before has this been such a key issue in government, in companies and in board rooms across Scotland and the UK.

For the companies who seize the diversity challenge as an opportunity, who embrace the use of modern technology to enable their staff, who understand the data available to them and put in place a framework and road map to achieve diversity the prize is great. Not only will they see their business performance improve but they will also demonstrate a commitment to their staff internally and externally they will show that they offer a truly inclusive workforce where everyone matters, everyone can achieve their potential and everyone is valued.

That is a prize worth aiming for.

Dr Lesley Sawers

Jane Gotts