Solving the gender pay gap means making stay-at-home fatherhood sexy

Sophie Jarvis
Germany Debates Expanding Parental Leave
Source: Getty

If we are going to solve the gender pay gap in the workplace, more women need take the role of men in the home seriously.

All too often, women are quick to deem men useless or incompetent when it comes to childcare or housework. But while division of labour is a factor, this should not be dependent on gender.

The idea of “boy jobs” and “girl jobs” in the home is damaging for the gender pay gap, and must be consigned to history.

Depending how you measure it, the gender pay gap ranges from 22.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent. But the data is unequivocal that the gap only really starts appearing after the age that women have children.

Parenthood, rather than sexism in the workplace, should be at the centre of the gender pay gap discussion.

Women take more time off work than men, both in terms of parental leave, and leaving work early to care for the children. But this isn’t because men can’t take the same amount of leave.

UK law currently stipulates that both parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay. This is called shared parental leave, and it could be the answer to the gender pay gap – or rather the motherhood pay gap. But this won’t solve the problem if it’s not taken up.

Some 700,000 babies are born in the UK each year, but according to law firm EMW, only 8,700 new parents used the scheme between April 2016 and March 2017.

Why the lack of take-up? Some women in the UK and US find the prospect of a stay-at-home man unattractive, viewing it as emasculating. Until women start valuing men who stay at home, the take-up of shared leave is likely to be low.

In more gender egalitarian countries, like Denmark, rates of shared parental leave are very high, and the gender pay gap is essentially non-existant.

Alongside breaking down gender stereotypes, other useful steps include measuring salaries for male and female employees in the same position, instead of the current data collection where firms list average male and female salaries across the business.

More than 500 firms published their pay gap figures last Saturday, but this data doesn’t measure like-for-like. Instead it reflects the life and work choices men and women take, skewing the picture.

Sky-high childcare costs don’t help either. In fact, many families are better off with one parent staying at home.

Regulations designed to improve quality impose strict staff-child ratios at nurseries, despite there being little evidence as to their effectiveness.

If we moved to French, Swedish or Norwegian staff-child ratios, the cost of childcare would plummet.

The UK has the second highest childcare costs out of all the OECD countries, with overzealous regulation harming women’s careers by driving prices up.

A recent study has found that a one per cent increase in the price of childcare results in a decrease in employment of single mothers of between 0.3 and 1.1 per cent.

Not every office is a den of misogynistic men guarding the keys to the C-suite like Cerberus – most men actually want women to do well.

Blaming the pay gap on workplace sexism is misguided. If we really want to end the motherhood pay gap, we need to cut regulation and make being a stay-at-home dad seem as sexy as having a successful career.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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