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International Women's day


With international women’s day on the 8th of March this blog looks at some of the challenges facing women in the workplace both nationally and regionally along with some of the work the Chamber and our members are doing to promote equality and female role models in the region.

With international women’s day on the 8th of March this blog looks at some of the challenges facing women in the workplace both nationally and regionally along with some of the work the Chamber and our members are doing to promote equality and female role models in the region.

In terms of the gender pay gap, statistics from the ONS in 2019 have shown a decrease in the overall gender pay gap but the gap between full time workers mostly stayed the same since 2018. For all employees the gender pay gap already stands at over 10% in the age group 30 to 39 years. This coincides with an increase in women working part-time from this age and suggests an important step towards women earning less per hour. The gap is largest for those aged 50 and over, with the gender pay gap at 15% and not declining strongly.

A recent publication from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that wages for female graduates rise at a slower rate than male earnings after age 30 across all subjects.

Data has shown that women are less likely to work as managers, directors and senior officials after the age of 30 meaning that their pay does not increase at the same rate.

Whilst there has been positive news, with women now holding a third of all board positions at FTSE 100 companies, one in five of the FTSE 350 UK companies have been warned this year about the lack of gender diversity at senior levels.

Gender norms can also be a barrier to women progressing in the workplace, the UN’s recently published Gender Social Norms index has found that in the UK, 25% of people thought men should have more right to a job than women and said men made better business executives than women did. This is a clear barrier to achieving gender diversity at senior levels in the workplace, using International Women’s day to highlight positive role models can help to challenge gender bias in society.

In terms of sectors, data from the ONS 2019 has shown that the roles with the largest pay gap across all workers (both full and part time) included some key sectors for the region. Carpenters and joiners had the largest pay gap with a 44% difference in pay. Energy plant operatives were the second highest sector at 41% Assemblies of Vehicles and metal goods were sixth at 32%, financial managers and directors were seventh at 30% and chemical and related process were eighth at 29%.

This is especially important as advanced manufacturing, energy and chemicals and all key sectors for the North East.

The technology sector is key for the North East with its tech sector having grown by 45% in the last five years, bringing in £2.98 billion GVA. Facilities such as Sunderland Software City and Proto, and initiatives like Middlesbrough Digital have all helped to encourage this growth. However, report by Harvey Nash has shown that in the technology sector, women constitute only 17% of tech teams in 2020 from a survey of 72 countries and over 2000 respondents from the tech sector. We also need to ensure that women are included in these growing tech sectors for the region.

Looking at the pay gap in the North East, the data for 2019 shows an average pay gap of 11.3% among all employees. These graphs show the breakdown for full time workers in comparison to other regions. The North East’s pay gap is slightly smaller than the UK average for full time workers

But the North East’s gap is shown to have increased from the 2017/18 results, however more firms reported results in 2019 which may have caused the change.Worryingly, the Chronicle have reported that of the 173 businesses who contributed to both year’s figures, 96 reported a widening pay gap in favour of men.

The reasons behind the gender pay gap are varied. Factors to think about include affordable childcare, education and careers advice, parental leave options and the flexibility of working hours.

At the Chamber, we have been keen to showcase how flexible working can help all employees. Lesley Moody our Chamber President has been championing flexible working in the region: “As an employer, my company AES Digital Solutions have always tried to support staff through flexible working which is very close to my heart and to my experiences as a daughter, mother and grandmother when focused on supporting staff when they are doing their best to support their companies while caring for their families – whether it’s helping with grandchildren or caring and supporting parents as they grow older. Working in this way over the years we’ve found that staff have recognised and reciprocated our support.’’

Almost two thirds of member companies who responded to a Chamber questionnaire indicated that they offered flexible working. The Chamber have organised events in collaboration with the Health and Safety Executive looking at the effects and implications of flexible working and with the North of Tyne Mayor to look at the ‘Good Work Pledge’ and how this can incorporate flexible working strategies.

Alix Bolton, Head of People at Visualsoft and Chair of the Chamber’s Women’s Leadership Forum is keen to tackle issues around equal pay: “One of the best ways to tackle this problem and unlock the potential of so many women in our region who, for whatever reason, are not able to be the very best they can be, is to promote role models. We need to see more about the tremendous women who work in the North East. It’s so important that they are visible to the next generation of female employees so they can see what can be achieved and be inspired.”

Alix also added that flexible working is beneficial for everyone- both male and female. Allowing men to also utilise flexible working can help to challenge gender stereotypes for instance around childcare.

The Chamber’s Inspiring Females Awards, with categories ranging from individuals, to businesses and to apprentices will help to showcase some of the positive role models for the region. This Friday, before International Women’s day, the Chamber are supporting the COCO #EachForEqual International Women's Day event to celebrate women of all backgrounds and cultures as we strive for gender equality in our region and beyond.

In some of our recent Chamber podcast series Lesley and Alix discussed some of their female role models in the region, including Professor Jane Turner (Pro Vice-Chancellor at Teesside University), Heidi Mottram (CEO Northumbrian Water) and Lucy Winskell (Pro Vice-Chancellor at Northumbria University). They also offered some advice for younger women entering the workplace including taking up as many networking opportunities to meet new people and to find out what you’re good at and to know your strengths. The Chamber’s CEO James Ramsbotham also talked about how his experience of working in different businesses has taught him that increased diversity on boards help firms to make better decisions.

Our members have also been showcasing their role models for International Women’s day. Komatsu have been celebrating that their HR assistant Charys Urwin, was named “Apprentice of the Year”. Charys said “when I spotted the apprenticeship at Komatsu, I grabbed it with both hands and haven’t regretted it for a single moment.

Newcastle College have also been supporting younger women in the region through their partnership with the Girls’ Network. The scheme works with schools and colleges across the country to put girls aged 14-19 in the least advantaged communities in touch with a female mentor who can support them over one year.

In the lead up to International Women’s day Home Group have been presenting at the North East Women’s Advisory Board on their equality work. 40% of female colleagues at Home Group have had a promotion, following on from attending their Women into Senior Leadership Programme. Nusheen Hussain, Executive Director- Business Development at Home Group told us “It’s so inspiring to see so many women and men from across the planet coming together to celebrate International Women’s Day. Collectively, everyone everywhere can strive for women's equality and create a gender equal world. Let’s get it done!”

LNER have also been working on diversity with a now half female executive board and an overall 42% female workforce compared to an industry average of just 16%. Karen Lewis, People Director at LNER told us “LNER has many examples of women who have remained in the business and progressed their careers due to having the right amount of support to do things like further their education or have families. Rail offers competitive salaries and a multitude of opportunities to progress careers, which we know are important factors for women in the working world of 2020.”

There is still work to be done in levelling out a number of issues, not just in our region but countrywide, from the lack of women in our boardrooms to gender norms and equal pay for all, but there is plenty of positive action taking place in the North East, both from the Chamber and from our members, to promote quality and to celebrate female role models.