Ninety guests were welcomed by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Cllr Peter Rippon to Sheffield Town Hall to celebrate International Women’s Day 2015. Our theme this year was Closing the pay gap: networks as a driver for change and for the first time, this was a shared event between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. We were joined by guests from across the city of Sheffield.
Despite the Equal Pay Act from 45 years ago, the gender pay gap remains stubbornly persistent and stands at 19.1% today which means that for every £1 a man earns, a woman gets just under 81 pence. Nationally, this is marked by Equal Pay Day, a date in early November, at which point women effectively continue working for no pay for the rest of the calendar year.
There are different reasons why the pay gap persists and the 4 invited speakers gave their own interpretation of the impact this has had and continues to have. Professor Anne Peat, Pro Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Sheffield was first up and talked about the lack of women in senior roles. In the University sector, only 20% of Vice Chancellors are women although there are now 3 women leading Russell Group Universities at Manchester, Liverpool and Imperial College. Things aren’t that much better in the private sector but again we have seen some improvement since the Lord Davies Review and the setting of the aspirational target of 25 % women on Boards by 2015, which has now reached just under 23% with a year to go, even though women are mainly there in Non-Executive roles.
Helen Best, Assistant Dean Planning and Resources in Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University then told us about her own career journey from starting in clinical practice as a diagnostic radiographer in London to her senior role at the University today and gave examples of poor gender equality practice from male colleagues during her early career. We may believe that outright discrimination is a thing of the past but even today, just one year on from leaving university, our male graduates are earning 12% more than their female counterparts.
Having tucked into our first course, our third speaker was Shahida Siddique, founding partner and director of FaithStar a specialist organisational and business development service supporting the principles of faith in business, as well as the principles of faith in the community. Shahida gave us a personal view of her experience of the pay gap as a young Muslim woman and her reflections on its impact on family life. Working patterns and careers now operate in a constantly changing environment and Shahida proposed that earnings should be treated as a unified whole of bringing income into the family. The motherhood penalty still exists and is clearly shown when pay gap statistics are disaggregated by age bands. The Office of National Statistics figures from 2013 show that from ages 18-29 the gender pay gap is small, but begins to climb after this point. The gender pay gap stands at 11.2 per cent for those aged 30-39 and 24.1 per cent for those aged 40-49.
Guests were then served their main course and invited to discuss the topics so far on their tables and to consult the statistics from Sheffield Community Knowledge Profiles, Women in Sheffield 2014, https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/sheffield-profile/community-knowledge-profiles.html
Jane Robinson, co-founder and director of Cutting Technologies Ltd, a £3m turnover laser cutting and engraving business based in Barnsley, was our last speaker and talked about her experiences as working as a woman in engineering. As a director and the only female member of her senior management team, she had positive career experiences to relay and is keen to support young women who want to work in the STEM sector. Occupational segregation contributes to the pay gap as jobs traditionally done by women, such as cleaning, catering and caring, are typically undervalued and paid less than jobs traditionally done by men, such as construction, transportation and electrical engineering. The predominance of women in low paid sectors is a significant contributor to women making up the majority of those on low pay.
The lunch ended with much energetic and enthusiastic networking – which was why we were there, and to mark the International Women’s Day theme for 2015 – Making it Happen. The event was organised by the Equality and Diversity team at Sheffield Hallam and the Women @ TUoS NETwork at the University of Sheffield. We wish to thank The Women Professors’ Networks at both the Universities, the inclusion team at Sheffield City Council, Sheffield First Partnership, the TUoS Public Engagement with Research Team, and Claire Pickerden of the White Rose University Consortium for her work in bringing it all together.
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