The gender pay gap is now at its lowest point in history, with more women in work than ever before and even though men are more pushy about pay.

According to new statistics released 19 November 2014 by the Office for National Statistics, the pay gap has reduced by 0.7 percentage points over the past year to 19.1%, and for those in full-time work the gender pay gap has reduced to almost zero for those under 40.

Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said:

“I am delighted that the gender pay gap has reduced to its lowest point in history. However, there is more to be done and the government will continue to work with industry to make sure it reduces even further.

“Women are vital to the success of our long-term economic plan and we need to make the most of their skills at every age. We have more women in work than ever before, but businesses need to value diversity in their workforce and pay attention to the role of women in their organisations.”

Minister for Women and Equalities and Business Jo Swinson said:

“It’s good news to see a significant reduction in the pay gap over the last year. We should value the contribution of women and men in the workplace equally, so our vision has to be eliminating the pay gap completely.

“The government will continue to tackle the causes of gender pay inequality. Shared Parental Leave will help to tackle the unequal split of caring responsibilities, and we are promoting pay transparency by making free pay analysis software available to employers.”

One of the main causes of the gender pay gap is that men tend to work in better paid sectors to women. To help women move from low-paid, low-skilled work into higher paid, higher skilled work, the government has invested £2 million to fund a training and mentoring programme of events for women, including those working part-time and older workers, to be carried out by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It will target women working in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), retail and hospitality management and agricultural sectors.

The government is also taking action to tackle a second cause of the pay gap – career breaks, often to raise a family. The government has extended flexible working to all employees, and from next year, tax-free childcare and shared parental leave will come into effect.

Free gender pay calculator

To tackle the cause of discrimination in the workplace, the government will make free software available to all UK companies from next year, which will enable companies to calculate their gender pay gap easily, and identify issues that may be preventing women from rising up in companies.

Guidance has also been published to help women to compare their salaries with their colleagues, and empower them to take on their bosses if they are being paid less than their male counterparts.

The government is also strengthening the Think, Act, Report initiative, launched in 2011 to encourage companies to use new tools and guidance to collect and publish data on 3 specific issues:

  • female representation at different levels within the company
  • the company’s overall gender pay gap
  • the gender pay gap broken down by grade and job type

A report published recently, ‘Think, Act, Report: mending the gap’, shows that over the last 3 years, 260 companies, with a combined total of 2.5 million employees have signed up, including Marks and Spencer, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and Glaxo SmithKline.

No resting…

Commenting on the news about the narrowing pay gap, Gaenor Bagley, executive board member and head of people at PwC, said:

“It is extremely encouraging that UK businesses are making progress in closing the gap between women and men’s pay. We are seeing more and more businesses taking responsibility for reviewing their own pay differences for men and women and holding themselves accountable to drive change.

“A sizeable part of the gender pay gap is the symptom of not having enough women in senior positions, so the increased focus from businesses to tackle this is clearly paying off.

“But the fact there is still a gender pay gap means businesses cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Organisations need to use equal pay reviews to inform their wider actions and strategy on how to improve equal opportunities across the workplace.

“Undertaking an annual equal pay review and publicly reporting the results is part of our diversity strategy to make sure opportunities are equal for all, irrespective of gender.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady added further warnings:

“It’s good to see the gender pay gap narrowing again. But after last year’s widening we’re only back to where we were in 2012.

“Part-time women’s pay still lags some way behind that of their full-time colleagues. Nearly six million women work part-time and they earn £5.15 less per hour than full-time men. Two in five of part-time women earn less than the living wage.

“We need better paid, flexible, part-time work opportunities, and better paid leave for fathers to encourage more equal parenting.

“The full-time gender pay gap may have closed for younger women but it widens dramatically for women in their 40s and 50s. Far too many women still find they have to take a step down to access flexible or reduced hours once they become mothers, and their earnings never recover even when they return to full-time work.”