We’ve Made Great Strides on Women’s Equality - But This Is No Time to Pat Each Other on the Back

Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education & Helena Morrissey, Founder 30% Club

We have just reached a momentous milestone on our journey to secure what should be a basic right - equality for women in the workplace. As we speak, one in every four people sitting on a FTSE 100 board is a woman - double the number five years ago. Not only this, but the gender pay gap is lower than it has ever been and the number of businesses led by women is higher than we've ever seen. We've made great strides - and we should be proud but this is no time to pat each other on the back and say job well done. Because we still have a long way to go. We are both well aware that while it is right we celebrate these achievements, it is time to step up the pace. That's why we're delighted to stand side by side with the Prime Minister this week, under one nation, and pledge our commitment to ending the gender pay gap in a generation.

The past few weeks have seen some spirited exchanges on how we close the gap and it is right that this issue is being debated - whether that's in the House of Commons or in workplaces up and down the country. Because gender inequality is a very real issue that has persisted for generations, and it's an issue that should matter to us all.

Achieving gender equality isn't just the right thing to do - it makes good business sense. As the Chancellor set out almost exactly a week ago today, in what was the first Conservative Budget since 1996, we must improve our productivity as a nation. The gender pay gap isn't only a measure of inequality but a measure of lost productivity. As a nation we cannot afford to waste the talents of half our population. By matching women's productivity and employment to that of men we have the potential to increase the size of our economy by 35%. We need to address this mismatch, support women to achieve their full potential, and maximise economic growth.

The Conservative Party made a manifesto commitment to require companies with more than 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees. The Government is determined to take this forward and that is why today, we're launching a consultation looking at how the new gender pay gap regulations will be designed.

We'll also seek views on what more can be done to encourage girls to consider the widest range of careers, support parents returning to work and help women of all ages reach their full potential and have the security of a well-paid job.

The past few weeks have shown that there is still too much confusion over what the gender pay gap even means, with many continuing to conflate it with equal pay. To be clear, the gender pay gap measures the difference between men and women's average pay. It's driven by a number of factors - the different careers women tend to enter and the levels of seniority they progress to. Equal pay is about paying men and women the same amount for the same job and is already firmly enshrined in law.

In reality the causes of the gender pay gap are complex. They include the fact that women still tend to work in lower paid sectors, and not enough women progress to senior levels. Only 34% of managers, directors and senior officials are women - this is a waste of valuable talent.

That's why if we truly want to end the gender pay gap for good, these regulations must be only one part of the answer.

Our efforts must start early. We're both passionate about raising aspirations in schools, so no child thinks a career is 'not for them' - because of their gender, race or background. One of the Government's key priorities is to inspire young women and girls to reach their potential, to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and compete with the best in the world for the top jobs.

This includes our work through the "Your Life" campaign and the Government's announcement of a new Careers and Enterprise Company, to be led by employers and independent of government. This company will help transform young people's careers experiences so they can aspire to great things and know how to achieve them. The number of female apprentices has also increased to 53%. Together, these steps will help transform the options available.

But it's important that there's change from classrooms to boardrooms, with every step of the career journey considered. The government has extended the amount of free childcare from 15 hours to 30 hours a week for working parents, extended flexible working and modernised parental leave to give parents more choice and control. As announced in the Budget, the new National Living Wage - which starts next April at £7.20, reaching over £9 by 2020, will itself go a long way to supporting women, as will raising the tax threshold - 60% of those benefitting from the further increases in the income tax personal allowance will be women.

The UK's progress towards more women playing a greater role in our economy is and will continue to be the result of collaboration between the government and business. Employers are intensifying efforts to develop all their talent and groups of business leaders like the 30% Club and the Women's Business Council are helping to ensure that this joined-up approach continues. The Government's Think, Act, Report initiative, supported by 280 employers representing millions of employees shows that the goal of a more equal workplace is shared by business.

And of course businesses must be fully engaged throughout the consultation on gender pay reporting. A Business Reference Group has been established to inform the Government's proposals. We must make the gender pay gap a thing of the past. Transparency is an important place to start, of course, but we need to tackle root causes to truly eliminate the remaining - and unacceptable - pay gap. That is why our efforts must span right across society. With businesses and a one nation government working together to finally solve this, building on the momentum established through the success of the women on boards initiative, we can achieve equality.

Originally posted on Huffington Post UK (15 July 2015)