US election a “wake-up call” for women’s equality

Tomorrow marks Equal Pay Day in the UK, which, according to the Fawcett Society, is the date on which women stop earning in comparison to their male counterparts. With Trump at the helm of the United States, is equality for women just a pipe dream?

“You have to treat ’em like sh*t.”

This is an exact quote from Donald Trump, now the 45th president of the United States, on his behaviour towards women.

In a 1993 interview with New York Magazine, Trump let it all out with his usual brazen sense of self righteousness for which the voting public have clearly voiced support. His form of sexism borders on misogyny, and it wasn’t just that one interview. The Trump sexism tracker compiled by the Telegraph paints a disturbing view of the newest world leader–one that potentially sets women’s equality back by decades.

According to former Sheila Fitzpatrick, NetApp’s chief privacy officer, the Trump win should be a wake-up call for leaders in advocating equality in business. As a woman who has excelled in two of the most traditionally “male-dominated” industries – law and technology, Fitzpatrick believes now is the time for industries to catch up on diversity – especially those which are lagging behind.

“Despite the result of the US election, a woman finally came within a hair’s breadth of becoming the first female president. While some might say it’s ludicrous that we have yet to reach this milestone, the election process should be a wake-up call for organisations to reassess their diversity commitments, especially in sectors like technology where diversity lags behind. Businesses not doing so risk missing out on the wide pool of talent and expertise available to them,” she says.

Fitzpatrick adds that according to Girls Who Code, there will be 1.4 million jobs available by 2020, but only 3 per cent will be filled by women.

“At the same time, Clinton has already broken records by being the first official major-party female presidential nominee, and this should inspire women globally to realise that they can tear down the barriers which hinder their career path. The world is changing towards one of equal opportunities, where baseless prejudices will give way to responsible hiring that finds the best person for the job.”

The tech sector

Tomorrow marks Equal Pay Day in the UK, which, according to the Fawcett Society, is the date on which women stop earning in comparison to their male counterparts. Despite legislation, it has been half a century since the Equal Pay Act was passed, and six years since the Equality Act that superseded it, yet the median salary of women working in tech is 9 per cent less than the men they work alongside; the equivalent of £5,000 a year.

According to research from online career marketplace, Hired, the UK is at bottom of the list of counntries on Hired’s list. Why is this still a reality?

The “Women, Work and the State of Wage Inequality” report is based on Hired’s analysis of nearly 10,000 offers across approximately 3,000 candidates and 750 companies on Hired’s UK platform.

The company looked at both the wage gap between women and men, and also how much women ask for, relative to their male colleagues, which they term “the expectation gap.”

In looking specifically at software engineering salaries, entry-level male candidates earn 7 per cent more than their female counterparts. This figure increases to 10 per cent in favour of men for roles that require two to six years of experience, and by 31 per cent for those with more than six years’ experience.

This wage gap has a direct correlation to wage expectations, according to the study. Women with less than six years of experience ask for roughly the same salary as their male counterparts, however, as they reach six or more years of experience, they ask for 18 per cent less.

The need to instil equal pay early on is becoming increasingly critical.

A different remuneration model

According to Tom Castley, VP EMEA at Xactly, Hired’s report reveals a serious business problem for the UK. Businesses failing to suitably reward their staff, regardless of gender, will ultimately fail to gain the most from their employees and will be limited in their success. Eradicating the gender pay gap should be a priority for every UK business. To tackle this, the way we pay employees must fundamentally evolve with the digital age, he says.

“As a country, we must move away from the old-fashioned salary economy to the performance economy. Rather than paying people based on their position and tenure, employees must be rewarded for their output. Empirically linking pay and performance, using data, will ensure that both women and men are being rewarded fairly for what they do. Tech is a vital sector for the UK economy, and only by moving beyond the outdated gender pay gap can we secure its success for the future.”

Turning girls on to STEM

The sciences, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors collectively face a skills shortage, fuelled by the skewed gender ratios. Research from British Gas shows that some sectors of the jobs market continue to be overlooked by many young women. Almost half of surveyed school-leavers admitted they had never considered working in STEM sectors.

Last year, just 4 per cent of applicants for British Gas’ technical and engineering apprenticeship schemes were women. The company has since put in place a number of measures to attract more women to its apprenticeship scheme, including hosting open days aimed at women, and launching a new mentoring programme.

The research found that women are turning their back on these industries for a number of reasons, primarily because of the perception that the industry is sexist (13 per cent), or better suited for men (9 per cent).  

More role models for young girls

The British Gas survey looked into perceptions and role models. 8 per cent of girls surveyed say there are not enough role models in STEM roles. The results cast doubt on the quality of career advice youngsters get from their parents. The research revealed parents were almost twice as likely to advise boys to take on an apprenticeship compared to girls. More than a fifth of parents would encourage their son to take on an apprenticeship, while only 16 per cent would give the same advice to their daughter.

According to Jane Kenyon, serial entrepreneur and author of Diva Wisdom, advocating equality starts early on, and the current chasm in our workforce is symptomatic of failing to educate, inspire and guide our young women to become more than just ‘another Barbie doll’.

Having worked exclusively with women and teenage girls for over a decade, Kenyon believes the responsibility for empowering generations of strong female leaders lies firmly in the hands of our current generation of women.

“If we don’t stand up and lead the way, what messages are we sending to our young women?” says Kenyon. “Their value to society and their personal identity is so much more than the way they look. Whether we like it or not, we are all playing a part in disempowering the next generation of women and it’s time we all stepped up.”

The Trump approach to objectifying women and gauging female success as looks-based alone may send the wrong message to the current generation of young girls poised to enter the workforce, if it isn’t countered by the business community in its hiring practices now.

“Issues such as equality and diversity are at the top of the agenda, but the problem is they are all looking forward instead of looking behind them at what is to come. What pipeline are we creating for our future society?”

Businesses needs to stop changing its women and start changing the way its runs to support women. We need to call it, own it and out it if we are going to change it anytime soon, says Kenyon.

Kenyon also warns teen girls against “dumbing down” to fit in; this is why we face a future shortage of female doctors, lawyers, MPs and entrepreneurs.

“Our women of tomorrow need to know that they are already enough exactly as they are, but until we own this and demonstrate it authentically, we cannot expect our teenage girls to give up life as a Barbie doll any time soon.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics

Women In Business