Sam Smethers (l) Chief Executive of the United Kingdom-based Fawcett Society and Valerie Frey , Social Policy Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and  Development (OECD)
Sam Smethers (l) Chief Executive of the United Kingdom-based Fawcett Society and Valerie Frey , Social Policy Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Live report: Women in the economy

Gender inequality in the workplace is real, with enduring structural barriers, low pay and precarious job situations worsening the discrimination experienced by many women.

That is the take-away conclusion from this morning’s absorbing and fact-heavy presentations at a Parliamentary Assembly hearing on women in the economy.

Valerie Frey, Social Policy Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), opened proceedings with a detailed analysis of the gender gap in business.

In OECD countries, one in 10 women is self-employed. Twice as many men (one in five) are entrepreneurs.

Female-owned businesses tend to be smaller and have fewer employees too. Women experience greater difficulties in accessing loans and may even pay higher rates of interest on the loans they do receive.

Frey argued that the numbers of talented and educated women entering the labour market, provided companies with every incentive to treat them fairly. Yet, of the 45% of women in the OECD labour market, only 30% were managers.

“We are losing women along the way,” Frey declared. Women are expected to climb the career ladder “during the rush-hour” of life,” she added, in an nod to the ‘fertility versus career’ debate which many fear harms women’s career progression.

Sam Smethers (l) Chief Executive of the United Kingdom-based Fawcett Society, also attacked some of the canards which affect the way women are treated at work.

Smethers, who focussed on the United Kingdom in her presentation, pointed to pregnancy discrimination, zero hour contracts and the gender pay gap, which widens with age and leaves women vastly poorer after retirement, as key areas of concern.

According to the chief executive, women earn just 81 pence for every pound earned by men – a pay gap of 19 per cent. By retirement, this deficit rises to 40%.

The gender pay gap was reinforced by the rising cost of legal challenges to unscrupulous employers and the dizzying expense of raising more than one child.

According to Smethers, child care costs make it “virtually impossible” for mothers of more than two children to return to work.

Smethers appealed for change and coated her arguments in the language of fairness but also challenged men to see the economic benefits of ending their gender advantage.

Referencing the United Kingdom government’s own research, Smethers said that six hundred billion pounds would be added to the national economy, if the gender pay gap was ended.

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