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Gender Pay Gap

Volume 650: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2018

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the gender pay gap.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I feel very greedy for having just intervened in the last debate and now having my own debate, but both debates are on matters that are close to my heart, because both make a big difference to our local communities.

I mean no disrespect to the Minister present—the Minister for Women—but I see this subject as a matter for the Treasury first and foremost, because I think that closing the gender pay gap is one of the most positive economic policies that we could have in this country, given the benefits that it would bring to our country as a whole. We have spent the past eight years, since I was first elected to this House, arguing about austerity—I know that there are different views on it, but Labour Members are pretty clear that it has not been a good economic policy. There are probably different views across this Chamber as to whether Brexit is a good economic policy—many of us are certainly concerned about the impact on our economy—but I hope there is agreement across the House that closing the gender pay gap would have a positive impact on our economy.

For me, it is interesting and telling that we do not see this matter first and foremost as one of economics. That is one of the challenges we have to address, because we know that closing the UK’s gender pay gap would add £150 billion to our GDP in the next couple of years and that an extra 840,000 women would be added to the UK workforce. Those figures reflect what the gender pay gap really is: untapped talent in our society. Given that we have gone through the horrors of austerity and we appear to be going through the horrors of Brexit, never more have we needed positive economic policies that tap into that talent, to help us try to redress the balance. To the person who tweeted me earlier this afternoon, saying that in debating the gender pay gap I may as well be debating “unicorns”, I say that today the “unicorns” are in the main Chamber, in relation to Brexit. This debate is very much a reality.

The gender pay gap is a reality that we have always known existed; we have always had data to show a general gender pay gap in this country. We know from the annual survey by the Office for National Statistics that the average gap is about 13%. However, what has changed in this debate in the last year has been the data about particular companies, busting open the argument in people’s workplaces and revealing to them the variations between different sectors. It has shown that 78% of companies in this country that have more than 250 employees are paying the men they employ more than the women—that is on average, so it is not just about individual men and women. That is a systematic undervaluing by those companies and organisations of the women who work for them, and of the possibilities that they could bring to their company or organisation.

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has secured this debate and it is a pleasure to join her in it. I was on the Delegated Legislation Committee that considered the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 and put them through. I was surprised, as I am sure she was, that the bar was set at 250 employees. I know that is a good start, but does she agree that some of the biggest challenges are in the small and medium-sized companies that have fewer than 250 staff, and that it would be fantastic to hear at least an expression of willingness from the Government Benches to extend that legislation as soon as possible?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. At the moment, only about 60% of the British workforce are covered by that legislation, so when we talk about understanding the gender pay gap in this country, we still have 40% of the gap to understand. I will come on to that issue later because, like her, I am impatient and, also like her, I have a passion for that piece of legislation.

We should honour all of the parliamentarians involved in this, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), whose determination to get the Equality Act 2010 through set us on course to where we are today. Sometimes her contribution to this process is forgotten, perhaps by Members who are new to the House. Anyone who has ever dealt with her on these issues knows full well how passionate she is about them and everyone should recognise that.

The variation within sectors is also pretty telling for us, in terms of the kinds of experiences that women in our country—our constituents—might face.

On that point about looking at different sectors, I used to work in the third sector—the charity sector—which people often refer to as “the women’s sector.” However, when we look at the top and at the management, we see that it is not reflective of the sector at all. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a big issue?

Completely. One of the things that is so powerful about this data is that no sector—public, private or third—is immune from critique, because frankly none of them is valuing women in the way they could. That is reflected in how they pay them, how they promote them and how they work with them.

I am very struck by some of the brands that make a point of selling to women. After all, the one place where women have the majority of power in our society is in their purchasing power, as we account for 70% of purchases in this country. Yet those brands that make a virtue about selling to women are often the ones that, when we look at their pay gap, are some of the worst in this regard. I would not necessarily have put Sports Direct up there as champions of feminism, but its gap is 6%. Contrast that with Sweaty Betty, which has a 62% variation; with Monsoon, which has a 36% variation; or with Boux Avenue, which sells lingerie and has a 75% variation. Even when we are buying those companies’ products, they are not necessarily using the money to pay their women employees equally.

Many people have rightly challenged the data about the gender pay gap. After all, there were only four measures, so I agree that the data is a blunt tool. There are certainly things about the data that I would like to know more about. However, my argument today is that just because the data is not perfect does not mean it is not powerful. I absolutely agree that we need to understand much more than just gender when it comes to inequality in the workplace, the undervaluing of talent and what that means for our economy. It certainly means that we need to understand whether we can get better data on how black and ethnic minority employees are treated in the workplace. We know that the full-time pay gap for black African women is 19%, and that for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women it is 26%. That is in contrast to the general gender pay gap of 18%. Black male graduates earned a whopping £7,000 less per year than their white counterparts in the past 10 years. One of the things we know is that although black men have been more likely to invest in higher education than their white counterparts, they are less likely to have benefited from it in their pay packets. That is an interesting challenge for us.

This data also does not tell us about part-time work, which is absolutely crucial for women because, at 73%, the majority of part-time workers in our country are women. We know that there is a gender pay gap within the data for part-time work, but it is not as clearcut as the one within the data for full-time work, which is the data that we have for these individual companies. The data also does not tell us about age. For many people, understanding the difference of the gender pay gap, and therefore understanding what is driving it, is crucial when it comes to age. People presume that the gender pay gap is something that happens later in life. Actually, we are already seeing a gender pay gap building up with graduates, within 18 months of them entering the workforce. Again, that tells us that the gender pay gap is not necessarily what people think it is.

Also, in relation to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley), the public sector cannot lecture the private sector in this regard. When we look at the NHS, we see that 77% of its employees are women but it still has a substantial gender pay gap. That should tell us—as the people in charge of public services—something about our ability to value women and their worth in the workplace. Indeed, the private sector pay gap has decreased, from 20% to 16%, while the public sector pay gap has widened to 13.9% in the past five years.

The data also does not tell us what difference getting qualifications makes. Again, when we go on to consider what might be causing the gender pay gap, people make presumptions about the impact of training and qualifications. Actually, when we look at the data, we see that it is not necessarily the case that women who have been educated to a higher level, such as degree level, are being paid more. Indeed, despite more women being educated to a higher level, there has been little or no change in the gender pay gap between groups of workers qualified to a degree level since the early 1990s. We also see a gender pay gap when it comes to apprenticeships. For level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships, women earned an average of £6.85 an hour, compared with the average for men, which was £7.10 an hour.

One of the things that is so powerful about this data is that, because it is so localised to particular companies, it helps people understand what is happening directly to them in a way that a general statistic does not. I have met the Minister to talk about one of the challenges in this regard: when the data was published in April this year, what impact did it actually have on the ground? I ask that because it is one thing for us here in this House to analyse the data and maybe call to account those firms that sell to women without paying women properly, but it is another thing to talk to our constituents about their experiences of what the data shows about their workplace.

Therefore, when the data was published, a cross-party group of MPs put together an anonymous survey called #PayMeToo to try to understand the experiences of women at the coalface. As the Minister knows, the responses were pretty shocking. People often say, “Data is a great disinfectant. Publish the numbers and that will drive change.” The data from the #PayMeToo survey shows that we might be publishing the data, but we are certainly not telling women to talk about it, and those women trying to talk about it in their workplaces face a hostile environment—I hesitate to use that phrase, but it is very clear from the responses we got.

Women were being told that that was just the way it is; that they work in sectors where there are not any women, so why would they expect women to be paid the same as men? They were being told by HR departments that they should bury the data; that they should not be difficult; that they needed to raise a grievance if they wanted to talk about those issues. They were being told that they could get a pay rise, but it would not be equal to that of their male colleagues, because it was about trying to manage the impact of the fuss that was being created. They were recognising that their companies were using what they called “very creative reporting” to try to minimise the gender pay gap, and so pretend that the issue was not happening. They were being told, “Don’t worry. Next year we will employ some more lower-paid men, and that will sort the problem.”

One of the things that I hope the Minister will commit to is following up that data and gathering it herself next year, when the second lot of data comes out. It should not be up to MPs to try to grab these qualitative pieces of research, when what consistently comes back to us speaks of the hostility that women face regarding the impact of this data; of just how sensitive it is for people to talk about what they earn in this country; and of the presumptions and cultures behind the gender pay gap, which we have to deal with.

Let us try to deal with some of those presumptions. At the moment, it is true that we have only half the story with the data, and many commentators both online and offline, including in The Spectator—I am sure Toby Young is watching—will try to fill in the rest of the blanks for us. They tell us that it is about women and their lifestyle choices—bluntly, that women have kids, therefore they want to work flexibly and to take time out, so of course they are going to be paid less.

As my hon. Friend says, her husband has kids. She pre-empts what I am going to say: this is not about women, but about parenting. One of the challenges for us is to support both parents to be equally culpable for the child that they have created, including looking after that child, because that is one of the things that would help women in the workplace. There is an impact on women’s earnings when they become parents, but there is not as much of a gap for fathers. For mothers the pay gap is 30%; for fathers it is around 10%. We also recognise from figures provided by the Office for National Statistics that having children can only account for a third of the variation in gender pay. One of the things we have to nail in this debate, if we are to close the gender pay gap and get that economic benefit, is the idea that this is all about having kids. A big chunk of the variation cannot be explained by childcare or caring commitments.

The second thing people say is, “This is about women putting themselves forward. Women do not ask for pay rises; women do not seek promotion; women do not want to be in charge.” Thankfully, we also have research showing that is simply not the case—that, as much as we might admire her in many other ways, Sheryl Sandberg is wrong. This is not about leaning in; this is about systematic discrimination against women in the workplace. An Australian study. Clearly shows that men and women ask for pay rises, just as much as each other, but that men are four times more likely to get one. That is the same for men and women of similar attainment or qualifications, and for men and women of certain ages. Let us stop blaming women for the gender pay gap, because it is not their fault; it is the fault of the environment they are working in.

That environment is what we need to tackle, and that is not just about getting a few more well-paid women at the top—although, if we are honest, we have seen over the past eight years that that is not going brilliantly either. Britain’s public companies will need to appoint women to 40% of their board positions over the next two years if they are to meet the voluntary target that the Government have set, and 100 companies in the FTSE 350 have either no women or just one woman on their board. However, if I am honest, it is not women at the top who I am really concerned about, because the vast majority of the gender pay gap is about low pay and women. It is about the value that we attribute to certain sectors, and the fact that those sectors are dominated by women. The silent majority in this country that we need to speak up for is not the women who we are going to see on the back page of the Financial Times. This is not about getting a few more women in top positions, although some companies have worked out that that would skew their figures; this is about the millions of women working in jobs that are systematically undervalued and underpaid.

We see a lower pay gap within low-paid industries, but we still see a pay gap. Over one in five female workers are low paid, earning less than two thirds of a typical hourly wage or just £8.55 an hour, compared with just 14% of men. That silent majority needs us to recognise that challenging the gender pay gap, and getting the better productivity and the economic benefits of doing so, comes about through how we think about those industries. It comes about through how we think about progression and flexible working within them, and not taking no for an answer; not thinking that this is somehow just about women being more confident or more articulate, or even a bit of anti-bias training, welcome though it would be.

My hon. Friend is making a fantastic and powerful speech. Some 80% of administrative and secretarial staff tend to be women, and when a construction company in my constituency of Midlothian went bust, the men who were the engineers and had the manual jobs found further employment quite quickly. However, the women who were in the admin roles did not, and found themselves unemployed. Does she agree that is another issue that is creating gender inequality in the workplace, on top of the gender pay gap?

Absolutely. One of the things I want to come on to is the rise in self-employment, and in particular how that affects a lot of women who have lost their jobs in industries where self-employment is now the norm. A lot of our equal pay legislation and gender pay work is out of date because of the way in which people are now working, and I would love to hear the Minister’s thoughts on whether we need an equal pay Act for the 21st century that can take account of what a comparator is for somebody who is self-employed. Certainly, for a lot of those women, that will be a live issue.

Equal pay is still a problem. The Equal Pay Act 1970 is older than I am, but we know that women are still facing basic problems in being paid the same as men to do the same jobs. We know that the 84% drop in the number of cases is more to do with the cuts in legal aid than with an end to the problem, as the legal cases involving the BBC and Asda prove all too well. However, the gender pay gap is not illegal; it is just immoral and, frankly, inefficient. That is the issue that we have to get right, because it is an issue that our competitors are getting right.

That is the third thing that I want to say to the Minister. We can argue about the data—I press her to improve the quality of the data we get with the second lot in 2019, because there is more we can do—but data is not enough. Indeed, the data and the reaction to it shows that people are quite comfortable with the idea that we should have a gender pay gap, in a way that they would not be comfortable with poor productivity in their firms. We have to change that culture, and when our competitors are doing that we have a real problem.

On the matter of culture, does the hon. Lady agree that the erroneous and inappropriate misuse of non-disclosure agreements is making a massive contribution to poor culture, with women particularly being silenced, resulting in the suppression and oppression of women and their voices in the workplace?

I absolutely agree. Indeed, that hostility to women’s voices being heard at all is one of the things that has come out of the #PayMeToo data. The fact that someone is powerful and has the money to silence someone else does not mean that that person’s voice should not be heard. I will support any of the measures on non-disclosure agreements that I know the Select Committee on Women and Equalities is looking at, not just about sexual harassment but about harassment in the workplace, because it is clear from the data we are getting that women do not feel able to come forward and do not feel protected. Indeed, when we see the BBC—a major public employer—trying to silence women, what message does that send to women who want to talk about equal pay?

We can learn lessons from our competitors. We can learn from Iceland, which has brought in some very serious fines to make sure that there is enforcement of equal pay. It is no good having legislation if there are no real teeth to enforce it. In Germany, employees can now get the details of six of their colleagues’ pay so that they can do a direct comparison, which has had a big impact on changing conversations about the worth of women in the workplace.

However, I am also here to say to the Minister that time is up for asking nicely, because we have been asking nicely for some time for these issues around pay and progression to be dealt with, and the pace of change is glacial. When our competitors in Germany, Belgium, France, and elsewhere across the EU—even in California, for Christ’s sake, which is hardly a bastion of socialist public policy—are introducing quotas and recognising that pushing those quotas helps push the pipeline, the question for us is, “Why do we want to be left behind as a nation?” Left behind we will be, because even if we can struggle to get a few more women on boards to meet that target for 2020, we are not doing anything about that pipeline. We are not doing anything fundamental to ensure that the talent that exists on the shop floor that is currently underpaid is being picked up and fast-tracked. That would help change the country.

That matters because of the economic impact of failing to pick up that talent. It matters when we hear companies saying that when it comes to promoting women, “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board.” Of course, we know that women do not deal well with pressure, obviously. They say, “All the good women have already been snapped up. That’s why you can’t find them,” or, “We already have one woman, so that’s enough, surely.” Of course, all women can be represented by one woman on a board. They say, “Shareholders just aren’t interested in this issue.” Frankly, if shareholders are not interested, they are not watching the world or their bottom line.

A global analysis of more than 2,000 companies showed that companies with women in at least 30% of leadership positions had profits that were on average 15% higher. If shareholders are not pushing for and demanding change, clearly they do not want to make any money, but that is what is happening now. We can keep asking nicely and trying to improve the data, but even if we improve the data there is that comfort with having a gender pay gap that means our economy is going to be held back, and that needs to change.

We should be asking about part-time work and whether we need to lower the threshold, at least from 250 to 100 employees. We should hold to account those companies that try to avoid putting in their partnership data, and we should get the data on black and ethnic minority employment and disability within our workplace. But we should also make a commitment that we will act, and acting means doing what our competitors are doing. It means setting some clear targets and having consequences for those firms that fail to act.

We know that next April we might see data that is a little bit better. After all, they will have had a year to try to figure out how to game the system, but gaming the system does not get the economic benefit. Let us stop apologising for wanting to close the gender pay gap and start demanding that we do, because this country cannot afford not to. What will the Minister do to ensure that the data we get next year is better, clearer and more diverse? What does she think is the appropriate timescale to keep asking nicely? Will she commit to when we might bring in quotas if we do not see change? She will find friends and champions across the House if she does. I also know that if she does not, Britain will not get the productive workers it needs. Blaming women for the problem will not help our economy. Helping ensure that every firm, every public sector organisation and every charitable organisation makes the best use of its staff will give this country the brighter future that the Prime Minister claims she wants. We want more than one woman at the top; we want many. That is what Britain deserves.

I want to get to the Front Benchers by 5 o’clock. There is only one Member standing, but there is not much time in a one-hour debate.

Thank you, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) on securing this debate and on her speech, which she delivered with characteristic passion and peppered with huge quantities of data. I start by reflecting that the gender pay gap is at an historic low of 8.9%. We should acknowledge that, but also that it persists—we do not want it to persist; we want it to close and to end up without a gender pay gap—and that practically, most women’s incomes are still hit by having children.

When I was a new mum, I was lucky; I had a supportive employer that allowed me to work flexibly. It was working hard to encourage women to stay at work, having children, and to move up the organisation. I benefited from that, but I recognise that a huge number of women do not have that. In fact, only 11% of jobs that pay more than £20,000 are advertised with flexible working as an option, while the demand is estimated to be closer to 90%. That means that many women are not able to continue working in the job they were working in, and have to make choices that are not the ones they want to make. We know that by the time a couple’s first child is aged 20, mothers are earning on average nearly a third less than fathers.

Does the hon. Lady agree that one way we could stop some of these problems with the gap between men and women would be to pay men more to stay off work? If we gave men 90% of their pay for the first six weeks of their baby’s life, as we do with women, it might encourage a different atmosphere. Does she agree?

I will say a bit more about maternity and paternity pay later, but we absolutely must ensure that it is equally possible for men to take time off work when they become new dads, and that there is a more equal sharing of childcare responsibilities between mums and dads. One reason why that is not happening is that there are financial barriers to doing so.

I acknowledge the work that the Government are doing to tackle the gender pay gap. For instance, last year it was made mandatory for companies with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap. There was some speculation at the time as to the difference that would make, and that companies would not bother to comply. I imagine the Minister will confirm this, but my understanding is that there was 100% compliance and that companies did report it, even if it often did not reflect very well on them. That reporting is making a difference. I checked on what my previous employer was doing, because its reporting did not make it look that great. It did a whole report about the actions it was going to try to take to close the gender pay gap on the back of that reporting. If companies across the country are all doing that, that will make a difference. Now that we have had large companies do that, I am keen to see smaller companies do the same.

The headline point is that it makes good economic sense to close the gender pay gap. It makes sense for companies. We know that companies with greater gender equality do better. They perform better for their shareholders, it is good for their reputation and it helps them attract better candidates. When companies are struggling to recruit for the skills they want, clearly they need to ensure that they attract good women as well as good men. Greater gender equality also makes economic sense for the whole country. If we fail to make the most of the capabilities of women, we are failing to make the most of half the country’s workforce.

It is not just about women, however. Making things better for women has knock-on benefits for men, too. I know lots of dads who wish they had been able to spend more time with their children in the early years. Shared parental leave was introduced by the Conservative-led Government in 2014 to enable dads to do exactly that, but as Members have alluded to, there are barriers to men’s taking up paternity leave. There is more to be done to ensure much more equal taking up of maternity and paternity leave, to help dads play that greater role in their children’s early years and mums to keep their careers going.

I welcome the fact that the Government are looking at placing the onus on companies to assess whether a job could be done flexibly, and to make that clear when advertising it, rather than just relying on people—particularly women, but men too—coming forward asking for their job to be flexible. Anecdotally, I have heard that it is men who come across particular barriers when asking for a job to be flexible. We need to address that, too. I would also like to see greater transparency from large companies in publishing their parental leave and pay policies, so that they are absolutely clear to potential job candidates. There is a whole question around maternity discrimination, which we know is illegal, but is still pervasive. Too many women are forced out of work, whether that is having to take maternity leave early because they are pregnant, being made redundant while on maternity leave, or one way or another finding that they are unable to return to the workplace after having children.

Just to sum up, bearing in mind the time, I urge the Government to keep on pushing to close the gender pay gap. I urge them to keep pushing employers, business, the public sector and Parliament itself to do better.

In a one-hour debate, the mover of the motion gets the opportunity at the end to briefly wind up. I would appreciate it if the Front Benchers would give the hon. Lady that opportunity.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who delivered a characteristically eloquent and detailed speech. I hope that some of the statistics in it get picked up by the media, because they are so stark and so incredible. As she said, the Equal Pay Act 1970 preceded her entry into the world. Clearly legislation can be introduced, or repealed, as in the case of section 28, but that does not necessarily change culture.

It is the duty of any Government and their politicians to ensure that we introduce not only legislation that creates equality, but policies and cultures, and sometimes that requires affirmative action. I am somebody who is avowedly pro quotas. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister about Sarah Childs’s report on Parliament. Some of this must start from within. We must hold a mirror up to ourselves and ask whether we are doing enough as politicians, and within our legislatures, to ensure that there is gender equality, and equality across the board.

We are in the 100th year of women’s suffrage, but incredibly, when I was elected in 2015—I know that others in the Chamber were elected that year—there were more men in that Parliament than there had ever been female parliamentarians elected. We should never tire of reminding ourselves of that statistic. We have come a long way. We now have a rainbow Parliament of different cultures, with many people from black and minority ethnic communities, LGBT politicians, and politicians with disabilities, but we still have a very long way to go.

I want to pick up on some of the statistics that the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned. Some 60% of the British workforce work part time, but she eloquently made the point that women in lower-paid jobs in particular face inequalities. I met representatives of Asda recently, and discussed their equal pay challenge. In fairness to them, they said that they were trying really hard to address it, but the fundamental point was the difference between people who work behind the scenes in warehouses and those who work on the checkouts. Although one job involves more manual labour, the other involves much more emotional labour. That is the crux of the issue: do we really value manual labour over emotional or interpersonal skills and soft skills?

That is something that we sadly lack, across business and across politics. Think about the G20 photo in which Christine Lagarde and our Prime Minister were the only women. We have a global problem with patriarchal structures. It is not about attacking men and saying, “You’re rubbish, you’re not good enough, and you’re to blame for all the problems,” but there is a reality to be faced. If we have so little gender diversity, and so little diversity in the leadership of countries across the world, and collectively in an organisation such as the G20—if only two of those 20 people are women—then we have serious problems.

That brings me to the financial sector. The Independent Evaluation Office, an arm of the International Monetary Fund, published a really interesting report about the run-up to the financial crisis. The report said that two key failures led to the almost complete failure of the regulatory system: No. 1 was groupthink and No. 2 was a reluctance to speak truth to power. The reality was that in the run-up to the financial crisis we had largely men around the table, largely from similar backgrounds, who were unwilling to challenge each other and challenge the groupthink that ensued; and that eventually brought our financial system to its knees.

It is scarcely necessary to open any financial paper any day of the week to see that, Brexit aside, we are heading for another financial crisis. I agree with the hon. Member for Walthamstow that we should not always couch the argument in financial terms, but we must tailor our message to those who are listening. I was heartened that when the data was released, Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Standard Life Aberdeen, said:

“I’m welcoming new gender pay gap regulations despite the uncomfortable reading.”

We need to take men with us. We need men to come on the journey.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) spoke about paternity and maternity leave, and I agree with so much of what she said. I hope that we can work cross-party on this issue, because men need to have the opportunity to take the time that they would like to take with their partners, to be with their children. They are parents as well. So often we hear men referred to as “baby-sitters”. They are not baby-sitting their own children; they have an equal responsibility.

Very often, having a missing parent of either gender, in terms of that parent being in the workplace, brings about huge challenges and issues for children. I am from a single-parent family. My mother worked full time, and she did a pretty decent job. I know she found it challenging. Whatever make-up a family is, in our modern society we must ensure that our structures encourage those families, and that every workplace, whether in the public or private sector, encourages families to flourish and staff to take the time that they need with their children.

In Scotland, we passed legislation in January 2018 to ensure that we have 50:50 gender representation by 2020 on our public boards. Our gender pay gap is smaller in Scotland; it is only 6.6%, as opposed to the UK gender pay gap of 9.1%. Our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has done an incredible job, but in Holyrood we still have significant challenges. Interestingly, the gender representation of the press lobby in Holyrood is much worse than that of the UK lobby. That is also an issue. They are the people who report on our politics and help to shape the political arguments. I look up at the press Lobby every week at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and there is a serious lack of diversity, particular regarding gender. We must do everything that we can to close that gap.

The World Economic Forum predicts that it could take 217 years to close the gender pay gap. That is an incredible amount of time. We should not have to wait any longer. We must act, and what I always say to folk when I talk about quotas is that, as much as people may have problems with them, they are a temporary measure to redress the balance. They are not something that any of us want to see over the long term, but whether in politics or in business, they are absolutely the kind of policy that the UK Government and devolved Governments must introduce so that we can have fair representation.

I finish by quoting Talat Yaqoob, the director of Equate Scotland, who said:

“What we can be hopeful of is that the demand for fair representation is growing. Lobby groups, academics and women in parliament will, rightly, be vocal about the need for progress. But the evidence of women’s under-representation, the reasons for that under-representation and the positive impact more women in parliament have, is all well documented. The time now, is…for action. By the next election, we can and must have processes in place for fair representation.”

None of us knows when the next election may come, so now is the time to act. I hope that the Minister will be on board, and on side with us. I am sure that we will be able to work together on these issues to close the gender pay gap, and to ensure that our businesses, our Parliaments, our shop floors and our warehouses are representative of our society.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) on securing the debate. It is always great to collaborate with her on the work that she does on women and equalities to try to move the agenda forward.

We have heard some really great speeches today. I think we are almost in agreement that something needs to be done; I suppose it is about how it will be done, and when it will be done. Labour introduced the Equal Pay Act in 1970, but nearly 50 years later we are still discussing unequal pay, and women are still earning less than men. I loved the fact that on 10 November a lot of women put “out of office” messages on their email to show that they work for nothing from that day onwards. I thought about doing that myself, but the consequences would probably have been rather different.

We are still talking about the pay gap. The UK has slipped from 14th to 15th in the ranking of 33 OECD countries based on the five indicators of female economic empowerment. We really need to do better. There is a lot that we can and should do, so there is no excuse for not addressing the problem. After all, 51% of people in the country are women and the other 49% would not be here it were not for women. It is time we made those adjustments rather quickly.

Women have borne the brunt of Government cuts—87%—and everywhere we turn, women are struggling and suffering. My hon. Friend cited some really stark statistics that show that things are continually getting worse. Sometimes there are marginal gains, but they are really far too slow to work. The gap is at its lowest for women aged 18 to 21; I would call that good news, but the gap opens up significantly—to around 26%—for women in their 50s. What could that possibly be down to? Obviously it is a combination of sex and age, and we know that if we add race into the equation, the gap widens.

We need to take into consideration what is at the heart of the gender pay gap: discrimination. A lot of injustices globally are caused by the undervaluing and devaluing of women and the roles they play. The hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) mentioned the issue of manual versus mental labour, which really drives home the point about the jobs women do, the roles we play and the way we are talked about. Our body, our hair, our looks, how we speak, how we walk—all those are additional barriers that men often do not face.

We really need to think intersectionally and look after other women who do not look white or middle-class or have kids. If we are really going to move the agenda at the pace it needs, we have to think about all women, in the round, so that we are not still having this discussion in 50 years’ time. Tackling these issues should be the Government’s main priority. I have sat opposite the Minister many times, and I know that she will say that the Government have done this report and that audit—but audits and reports are just not enough, because they are not getting the job done. We need solid action.

Hon. Members may ask, “What would Labour do?” We will ensure better provision of parental leave and more affordable childcare. We will encourage women and girls to go into male-dominated sectors so that they can achieve high salaries. We will also look at mental versus manual labour—I quite like that concept, so I might nick it from the hon. Member for Livingston.

The hon. Lady is very welcome to nick it; we can share it and make it a cross-party tag line. Does she share my concern about comments from chief executives—particularly in the aviation industry, which has one of the worst pay gaps? Ryanair said that its gender pay gap of more than 70% was just because more men are pilots. We must call that out, but we must also encourage the industry to do more and work with organisations such as the Civil Aviation Authority to make sure that we have more female pilots and better support for women to get into such roles.

I absolutely agree. It is easy to reverse those roles; it is a proven fact that women are very calm under pressure, which is one of the traits that pilots need. There is an organisation in the airline industry—I cannot remember which—in which the woman who is chief exec is making great strides in encouraging women to become pilots. Why not? And why not equalise things the other way by having more male cabin crew? I totally agree that silly excuses are made. Men continue to dominate the most senior and best-paid roles. I know that that will take time to change, because they may have been in the job for a while and discrimination has being ongoing for years, but there is no excuse—we must tackle equality.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that 54,000 mothers a year are forced to leave their jobs early because they are pregnant. It is outrageous that that figure exists. To address such deep-rooted inequalities, we must ensure that we mandate that employers put action plans in place. It is great that employers now have to tell us their gender pay gaps as a result of regulations made under the Equality Act 2010, but they need to do more—just telling us that there is a gender pay gap without doing anything to address it is not enough.

The Government could do more. They could say—as a Labour Government would—that if an organisation pays its employees well and has an agenda to close the gender pay gap, they will ensure that it has access to Government contracts. If not, it should not get a Government contract, because it does not deserve one.

There is so much to be said, but I know that time is short and I am sure that hon. Members from all quarters of the House will secure more debates on the subject. It has been said that it has been very difficult to win the hearts and minds argument on the gender pay gap because companies are often not interested—they just ask what the bottom line is. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow cited a figure of £150 billion that closing the gender pay gap could generate for our GDP. That figure fluctuates, but without a doubt, paying women well will ensure that we add billions to the economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) on securing the debate. We all know how committed she is to this important issue and to gender equality generally. It is a pleasure to discuss it with her in this forum, as it is to meet her behind the scenes to try to get things done.

I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions; I am delighted that so many strong women contributed. I was particularly delighted that the hon. Lady seemed to describe my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) as a unicorn—she said there were discussions about unicorns in the main Chamber and he was on his feet at the time. I will treasure that comment and keep it close to my heart.

This year has been one of milestones: data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the gender pay gap has fallen to a record low; more than 10,000 employers have published data for the first time under the new reporting regulations; and the pay gap became one of the biggest news stories of the year. Those are all indications that the issue has climbed up the agenda, which we know is being translated into conversations in industry and business. People are finally talking about this injustice.

I recently met some senior businesspeople who run some of the most powerful businesses in the country—indeed, the world—to discuss modern slavery. One of them told me, “I was at a meeting in New York recently and, in a room full of investors and businesspeople, we talked about the gender pay gap regulations in the UK.” It is not just us in this country who are having this conversation about the regulations and the injustices they have revealed; other countries and businesses around the world have noticed too. We are under no illusions that this is just the first step, but it is still a huge step forward. Employers across the country are now aware of the challenge that they face, and we are committed to supporting them and tackling the issue together.

I want to start by discussing the women who are perhaps most affected by gender pay gaps—those who are the lowest paid—which is an issue raised by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. The emphasis has tended to be on well-paid women and on directorships, because we want to get the symbolism right and put the message out there that women can run businesses and so on.

I commend the Government’s record on trying to narrow the gender pay gap. It was a pleasure for me to address female electricians in this place on Monday. One of the top issues that came up in discussions with them was the engrained workplace cultures that really curb female progression. Can the Minister update us on what she is doing to solve that?

I was at the same event, and a female electrician corrected me by saying that only 1% of electrical engineers are female. As in our earlier discussion about pilots, there is no reason why more electricians and electrical engineers should not be women.

Let me turn to the work we are doing to help the lowest paid. The Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), recently announced that the work of the Government Equalities Office will be broadened to include an explicit focus on low-paid, low-skilled women, who have often been left out of the conversation, despite possibly requiring the most support, given the multiple barriers they face. The message that she wants to give, and which I echo, is that this is not a question of forgetting about directorships or the highest-paid women; this is about multitasking and ensuring that we reflect the whole economy and women’s contributions to it. We know, for example, that the lowest-paid women tend to feature in four industries: retail, childcare, caring and cleaning. We are looking at those sectors to ensure that the figures for the gender pay gap translate into real-life policies that have the greatest impact for the lowest-paid women.

The shadow Minister mentioned some figures quoted by the OECD. She will have to forgive me—obviously I am doing this on my feet—but just to put them in context, we understand that the OECD figures use a different methodology and go much wider than our gender pay gap measures. We are working with colleagues across Whitehall to increase women’s economic empowerment. In terms of Government recruitment, those factors are very much taken into account when we look at contracts. I hope that reassures her.

I turn now to the drivers of the gender pay gap. This is clearly just one of the steps we are taking to tackle the gap; other steps include introducing shared parental leave and pay, and running a £1.5 million campaign to promote the scheme. Hon. Members have made the point about fathers wanting to play a much greater part in raising their children, particularly in the early years. I think there is a lot more that the scheme can and should do. We want to raise awareness of it, so that employers understand the regulations and can ensure that their male employees can contribute to family life in as powerful a way as their female employees do.

I thank the Minister for her extremely positive contribution, which I know will be followed with actions. I have spoken to a number of male constituents who have asked their employer about paternity leave and received quite negative responses. Education and engagement with businesses across the UK is important in enabling men to take paternity leave without facing stigma and discrimination as a result.

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. This is about changing conversations and attitudes in the wider society as much as it is about what we do in this place, which of course is important. Frankly, it is about ensuring that society modernises the way it treats men and women in the workplace. We know that some employers are better than others. I hope that employers who are not doing such a great job will recognise the business reality: given the choice, good people will not want to work for bad employers. This is very much part of us all contributing to the conversation to ensure that employers know how they should treat their workforce.

There is more to supporting people in the workforce. In addition to shared parental leave, we are extending the right to request flexible working. We are creating a £5 million fund to support returners and spending about £6 billion on childcare support by 2019-20. We know that closing the gap will require a collaborative effort from Government and businesses, but I am convinced that, to truly solve this, employers must be the driving force. Every single employer who was supposed to have reported has done so, which means that 10,500 businesses are having conversations—sometimes for the first time—about how they treat women in their workforce.

I absolutely accept what the shadow Minister and others said about the need for action plans. As she knows, we take a slightly different approach to this. I want businesses to come up with their own action plans—indeed, we understand that about 40% of eligible employers have done so. I want to bring businesses with us, but if in due course that does not happen, that option remains open. At this stage, we want the transparency created by reporting figures to be met and addressed further by businesses doing that for themselves through their action plans.

Will the Minister consider fining companies that refuse to make action plans or change their way of working, as is the case in Iceland?

That is an interesting idea. As I said, I want to work with businesses on this. The figures suggest that they are getting the message, but we are all impatient for action and for pay gaps to be closed, so that is a very interesting thought.

I am drawing towards the end of my speech. I am conscious of the time and want to give the hon. Member for Walthamstow a minute, so if I may, I will canter through some of the other points raised. Hon. Members have rightly raised the issue of extending the regulations. We have had only one year of reporting, and I urge them to allow us a little more time to assess the impact of the regulations. We need to consider any changes fully, given the impact on the comparability of the data year on year. We want a foundation of data before considering whether or how to change the current requirements. I am conscious of the wish to lower the threshold at which employers have to report. Again, let us have a couple of years of reporting at the higher level and with big companies, which have human resources departments that can deal with this, with the hope that it trickles down—which I know it is—to smaller employers as well.

In order to give the hon. Lady time to respond, I will end by saying that we know that pay gaps are not restricted to gender. That is why the Prime Minister announced a consultation on ethnicity pay reporting in October, setting out a number of questions that need to be resolved to allow meaningful action to take place. We are mindful of those aspects of fairness in the workplace.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walthamstow for this fantastic chance to reflect on a truly momentous year on this agenda, and I am extremely grateful to her for her continued interest in this issue.

I do not have long. I had asked the Minister whether she would consider the Government Equalities Office doing its own survey of the direct experiences of women of the impact of the data. I again make that plea to her. It is absolutely no use us talking about that here without the data. We did that through the #PayMeToo campaign, which I hope the Government Equalities Office will look at. We know that 9% of organisations submitted data with impossible outcomes; there was 1% with bonus payments of essentially more than 100%, which does not make any sense. There are questions about the data.

The Minister talks about 40% of companies having action plans, which means that 60% do not. We could have several years of trying to refine the data, but fundamentally, women in this country are being underpaid, and our economy is suffering as a result. Please, Minister, do not think that this is just about trying to explain to Ryanair that you do not, frankly, need a penis to fly a plane; this is about what drives change. If it is not quotas, it is not asking nicely—that is what the data tells us. I really hope that she will recognise the change.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No.10(14)).