COMMENT:Flexibility is the key to reducing the gender pay gap

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So here we are, 48 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and eight years after the Equality Act, 2010, still wondering why there is a pay gap between men and women.

Last year the government decided all companies with 250 or more employees must publish information about the gap between men’s and women’s pay.

But let’s be clear. The gender pay gap isn’t the same as equal pay. Equal pay — that men and women doing the same job should be paid the same — has been a legal requirement for 48 years.

Since those laws were passed it is illegal to pay people unequally because they are a man or a woman. This applies to all employers, no matter how small.

Unlike pay inequality, which compares the wages of men and women doing the same job, a gender pay gap at a company is not illegal, but could possibly reflect discrimination.

So a company might have a gender pay gap if a majority of men are in top jobs, despite paying male and female employees the same amount for similar roles.

The Fawcett Society, a group which campaigns for equality, says caring responsibilities can play a big part. Women often care for young children or elderly relatives. This means women are more likely to work in part-time roles, which are often lower-paid or have fewer opportunities for progression.

Women are also still more likely to work in lower-paid and lower-skilled jobs. Women currently make up 62 per cent of those earning less than the living wage, according to the Living Wage Foundation.

Discrimination is another cause of the gender pay gap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) has previously found that one in nine new mothers were either dismissed, made redundant or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.

As we report today entrepreneur and blogger Ursula Tavender, a mother from Warsash, believes companies need to be more flexible and accommodating.

The days of the nine-to-five job are long gone and we are a 24/7 society.

Ursula is right that there needs to be a culture change to encourage mothers to return to work after children with flexibility in hours and days of work.

That is also something many men might welcome, and could go a long way to cutting the gender pay gap.