UK Government

Government Equalities Office: Vera Baird: Women need better part-time work

Press Release   •   Feb 10, 2010 10:16 GMT

Women's employment strategy launched

More women than ever before are working part-time (42 per cent of working women or 5.8 million women) but too many have to downgrade when they leave full-time employment.

We need more highly skilled quality part-time jobs for women, for men involved in caring and for businesses and the economy to flourish, according to the new cross-government women's employment strategy launched today.

Vera Baird, Solicitor General and lead Minister for the Equality Bill, called for flexible working to become the norm, and an end to the outdated assumption that the 40/40/40 model - where we work forty plus hours per week, for forty plus weeks, over forty plus years - is the top career choice.

Ms Baird said:

"This is important for women, who still have the majority of caring responsibilities at home, but need and want to work. It is also good for men, who share in caring, and for businesses that will benefit more fully from a wider pool of talent. By not opening up more senior roles to part-time work, business is missing a trick. We can't miss tricks when our economy needs vigorously to re-grow after the recession.

"Today's strategy contains a range of non-statutory measures that will support more businesses in offering flexible working. We need to break away from the 40/40/40 principle - where we work forty plus hours per week, for forty plus weeks, over forty plus years."

More than half of all women in part-time employment are working below their potential, and a shortage of suitable opportunities means that women are crowded into a narrow range of lower paid part-time jobs1.  New research published alongside the strategy found this was a major reason behind differences in women's and men's pay.

The overall pay gap between men and women is 22 per cent2. But the gap is much wider for women working part-time - median hourly earnings of part-time workers are 36.5 per cent less than full-time workers - which has a negative impact on the household income for many families.

Ms Baird said:

"It is time to move our labour market assumptions on into the modern era. Working and caring are not separate spheres now. We need a labour market framework which encourages them to be flexibly mixed so that individuals have maximum choice and businesses have satisfied employees."

Angela Eagle, Work and Pensions Minister, said:

"It is important for women to be able to balance work and family life. We want them to be able to care for their children and progress their careers, which is why we have established a Family Friendly Working Hours Taskforce with employers, to look at how we can encourage more organisations to create high quality, flexible part-time jobs."

The Government today published Working Towards Equality: a Framework for Action, which demonstrates how it will work to tackle the gender pay gap, and ensure our labour market is one:

* Where being a parent or carer is not a barrier to opportunity or success;
* Where a person's aspirations and opportunities are not constrained by their gender; and
* That is transparent and free from gender discrimination.

The Government today also agreed to implement the majority of the 43 recommendations made by the Women and Work Commission in their report 'Shaping a Fairer Future - a review of the recommendations of the Women and Work Commission three years on'.

Baroness Prosser, Chair of the Women and Work Commission, said:

"I am pleased to see our suggestions of new areas where action should be taken to narrow the gender pay gap are being pursued.

"As the economic recovery gathers strength, it is vital that the Government continues to work closely with businesses to capitalise on the skills and experience of women. The economic benefits of more women participating in the labour market should not be overlooked at this crucial time."

Some of the new commitments made in the new strategy and action plan include:

* Challenging gender stereotyping in education;
* Investigating the barriers to sustainability in the childcare sector; and
* Stimulating the supply of quality part-time work.

Last year Ms Baird joined ministers, unions, businesswomen and others at a roundtable to identify what more could be done to tackle the gender pay gap including widening access to childcare and training, breaking down gender stereotyping in the education system, promoting quality part-time work and flexible working.

The new strategy and action plan complements measures in the Equality Bill and will help deliver a labour market which offers women genuine choices, equal opportunities and career structures which enable them to progress and to fulfil their potential.

* In the three months to November 2009, 5.8m women were working part-time
* 42 per cent of women work part-time compared with 12 per cent of men
* Comparing part-time women with full-time men, the gender pay gap is 39.4 per cent
* Part-time employment is expected to continue to increase in prevalence for both men and women
* Women work part-time mainly because of caring responsibilities
* A high proportion of those working part-time work below their potential
* A shortage of "quality" part-time work across sectors & occupations means many women crowded into narrow range of low paid part time jobs.

* Working Towards Equality: A Framework for Action is a joint publication from the Government Equalities Office, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Department of Children, Schools and Families, and the Department for Business. The document, and related research, is available at
* The Women and Work Commission was reconvened in October 2008 to assess how well its original recommendations from 2006 had been adopted by the Government. Its most recent report, and recommendations, were published in July 2009 and can be found at
* The Gender Pay Gap is a measure of the difference between the hourly earnings of men and women. It is determined by calculating women's median gross hourly pay (excluding overtime) as a percentage of men's, and taking the difference between this and 100 per cent. So, for example, the gender pay gap is 15 per cent if women's pay is 85 per cent of men's pay. The Office for National Statistics' (ONS) principal source for earnings statistics is the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). The ONS headline on a set of measures to look at the differences in men's and women's pay: 
* All female employees' average pay compared with all male employees' average pay, i.e. the overall gender pay gap, 22.0% as of April 2009
* Female full-time employees average pay compared with male full-time employees' average pay, i.e. the full-time gender pay gap, 12.2% as of April 2009 and
* Female part-time employees' average pay compared with male part-time employees' average pay, i.e. the part-time gender pay gap, -2.0% as of April 2009.
* The Government Equalities Office is responsible for the Government's overall strategy, legislation and priorities on equality issues. The Office also has direct responsibility for policy on gender equality, sexual orientation, and for integrating work on race. The Prime Minister announced the establishment of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) in July 2007 and it became a Department in its own right in October 2007.  It works to Ministers Harriet Harman, Maria Eagle, Vera Baird and Michael Foster.

1 Flexible Working and Quality Part-Time Work, National Institute of Economic and Social Research 2009. Commissioned by Government Equalities Office.
2 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, ONS.


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