View From Westminster

Last week, companies with more than 250 employees were forced to published their gender pay data. This revealed, for the first time, hard data that showed the discrepancy between pay levels for men and women.

Equal pay laws have been in force for some time. For an equal job, men and women must be paid the same for their skills and experience and there are very few cases (except, maybe, amongst BBC reporters?) where this is not happening. The problem identified by the publication of the data is that women do not get to have the same highly paid jobs as men.

Take, for example, a budget airline, whose data showed a stunning difference between men and women pay. Their pilots are highly paid and there seems to be little evidence that women pilots are paid less than men. Similarly, their in-flight attendants are fairly paid between men and women. But the problem is there are very few women pilots in this airline, whilst there are very few men attendants. With the majority of lower paid jobs held by women, and the majority of higher paid jobs held by men, the maths means women are paid far less in this airline than men.

The challenge facing society is answering the questions of why more women don’t get the higher-grade jobs. Is it aspiration, determined early in life by school and family, that is the problem? Is it an approach to risk? Training to be an airline pilot costs the student a six-figure sum – quite a big bet for many people. Is it life choices, taking time off from hustling a career to start a family?

In politics, we have the same problem. Too few women are in Parliament, or in government. When I co-chaired the Conservatives Women 2 Win campaign, we were up against some old-fashioned views. But the biggest problem lay in the fact that just one third of all potential MPs coming forward are women. We are now running the #AskHerToStand campaign to get more women candidates, but it can be an uphill challenge when a woman sees her sisters so hideously abused on social media.

In publishing this inequality data, we know more about the problem, but I’m not sure we know the answers yet. Importantly, no individual, for whatever reason, should be held back from his or her potential, and that is a goal worth working for.