No Small Change: The Economic Impact of Closing the Gender Pay Gap

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee has published a report on the gender pay gap in Scotland. Below are some individual's experiences.

Karen Pickering, Director, Page/Park Architects

Karen Pickering, a director with Page/Park Architects, joined the firm 25 years ago.

“We’re now an employee-owned architects firm, and for that reason probably more equal and transparent than other practices. But it wasn’t always like this. Back when I joined, I had only one female colleague. She left shortly afterwards, and I was the sole woman.

“I discovered a male colleague was being paid more than me. I was more qualified, we were doing the same job, and we had been with the company for the same length of time. I only found out because this colleague was also my partner – and still is. It took two years before we were treated equally. But if he hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known to challenge it.

“Being on construction sites and running my projects in those early days was tough. I was only 26 and regularly walked into all-male environments with topless calendars on display. I was referred to as ‘lassie’. I had to get men aged 50+ to listen to me. I found I had to be better than my male architect colleagues, just to be taken seriously. Architecture has improved. Today, our firm is made up of 35% women and 65% men. But construction still has a long way to go. There are still very few women in civil and structural engineering, and the occasional old dinosaur that thinks women have no place on a construction site.

“These days at Page/Park everyone knows what everyone else earns and how you can advance."

“These days at Page/Park everyone knows what everyone else earns and how you can advance. New starts are at level one, and someone at director level, like me, is a level seven. Each level comes with a certain salary. But if you come up with a great idea that improves our service; if you bring in more business; or put yourself forward as a team leader, and manage staff and run your area of work like a ‘mini business’, you accumulate ‘points’ that translate into remuneration.

“In my experience, men generally think they’re worth more, and ask for more. Women tend not to ask, and hope they will be recognised for their abilities. Our approach at Page/Park is, ‘You don’t have to be ‘strong’ enough to ask, we have a clear matrix in place’. If you go beyond your job by innovating and participating, you will be rewarded.”

"Susan Davies," Engineer, Oil and Gas industry

Susan Davies (not her real name), has been an engineer for nearly fifteen years. She is currently a principal consultant for a large oil and gas industry organisation.

“At the graduate level I find opportunities and pay relatively equal between men and women. Progression is based on a number of factors, but one observation I have is that men are more comfortable pushing for opportunities and promotion, while women often expect that promotion will be based on merit. Early in my career I was lucky to have a very supportive manager, he mentored both men and women, and he was good at promoting young and mid-career engineers based on merit.

“I’m with a different organisation now, in a senior role. It gets more subjective at this stage. You move up because you’re lucky, or someone knows and recommends you. Currently, I see no opportunities for progression for me, even though the company is large and growing. It’s mainly men who are in a position to promote, and they tend to give opportunities to other men with personalities very similar to their own. I’d describe it as ‘unconscious bias’. I see a lot of talented and able women in my industry who are not moving up, because they don’t ‘fit in the club’. It can be very frustrating seeing work that you are capable of doing go to others without a clear reason.

“In this industry, if you want a raise or an opportunity, you ask, or you get another job offer. All of my opportunities in senior positions happened either because I left and went somewhere new, or had an offer of a new job and got a counter-offer. But after you have children you start to value security more and perhaps become more risk adverse. Most senior women I work with ‘don’t want to rock the boat’. Oil and gas has been hit hard in the last two years; we’re still well paid compared to engineers in other industries, and many of us feel lucky to have a job at all.

"What I discovered is that on average most women on the same, senior band are paid around 40% less than male colleagues, doing the same job."

“But I still had a niggling feeling, and started to look into pay at my organisation, which operates a system of pay bands. What I discovered is that on average most women on the same, senior band are paid around 40% less than male colleagues, doing the same job.

“If large corporations were held more accountable I believe it could make a difference in helping close the gender pay gap. I think it is important to publish statistics on pay. I want to see organisations being open about men and women who do the same job, and where they sit on the same pay grade, and for that information to be available on a Government website. Then we could all draw our own conclusions about how well organisations are really doing at creating a level playing field for men and women.”

Karla Stevenson, Watch Manager, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

Karla Stevenson has been with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service since 2000, rising from part-time firefighter in the Highlands to full-time watch manager in Edinburgh.

“Starting out as a part-time firefighter in Beauly, I was part of a small community where everyone knows everybody else. When you were called to a house fire you knew exactly which home to go to. When Fire and Rescue was recruiting in my area, everyone knew about it and men and women were equally encouraged to apply. Inverness is the only station in the Highlands with full-time firefighters, and there were many women who were part-time firefighters in their local communities.

“As soon as you know you’re pregnant, you can no longer attend incidents as an operational firefighter. There are too many risks, like potentially inhaling noxious gases and heavy lifting. You can, of course, return after maternity leave.

“I wasn’t an operational firefighter when I was receiving IVF treatment, I was training other firefighters. I told my manager about my plans and they made sure everything was in place. I didn’t have to worry about time off for appointments. It felt like a big weight off my mind.

“There were no issues around my pregnancy – my colleagues and my managers were just pleased for me."

“There were no issues around my pregnancy – my colleagues and my managers were just pleased for me. I had shared parental leave with my partner, which worked out really well. While you’re on maternity leave you have ‘keeping in touch’ days where you can keep up your contacts and skills and find out if there are any changes in the organisation, and I found that really useful.

“When I returned to duty after my maternity leave, the opportunity to apply for a substantive watch manager’s role came up, and I was keen to apply. The service encouraged me to go for it, and when I was successful I was delighted.

“I encountered some comments from the public at the beginning of my career about being a female in the service and working in a predominantly male service, but the public perception has changed so much since then. I think it helps that everyone you work with knows you’ve gone through the same training. We all pass the same tests and lift the same equipment. The men you work with know you wouldn’t be there if you weren’t capable, and I think that helps create a feeling of equality. The guys on shift see you perform and it’s fine. They let your work do the talking.”

Debbie Crosby, Chief Operating Officer, Clydesdale Bank

Debbie Crosbie is Clydesdale Bank’s Group Chief Operating Officer and an Executive Director. She has been working in the financial industry for more than 25 years.

“I’d say my experience has been very positive. I’ve always worked closely with people who have forward-thinking attitudes, who actively want to encourage young women and their potential. It’s not always been easy. Retail banking is fairly gender balanced, but during our Initial Public Offering in 2016, I was often the only woman in a room full of investment bankers. There were situations when it was clear people did have preconceived ideas about what role I was playing, so I did I have to make sure I spoke up, but also think carefully how to make my point. There was no advantage in getting annoyed. It took development of my softer skills. I believe women are good at that.

“Talking to my peers I hear mixed experiences. Their careers are going well, then they get into their late-20s and early-30s and start making decisions about children and that’s where the very difficult experiences can start. The received wisdom is often that women shelve their ambitions to have children. The reality is that sometimes they feel they have no other realistic options.

“I had my daughter at 32 – she’s a teenager now. When I was pregnant I was one level below executive level. I wanted to maintain my working relationships, my experience and my confidence, and still care for my daughter. I asked to come back when my daughter was 10 weeks old and work part-time, three days a week. At that time no senior women worked part-time at Clydesdale Bank. But I put my plan to them and their attitude was, ‘We want you to stay and retain your knowledge and expertise, let’s give it a go.’ The important factor for me was my colleagues at Clydesdale Bank wanted my idea to succeed. They didn’t want me to feel like a burden because I’d chosen to have a family. My husband and my mother-in-law shared the child care. You have to make adjustments emotionally to ensure you are best equipped to strike the right balance between becoming a new mother and still being a bank executive.

"The received wisdom is often that women shelve their ambitions to have children. The reality is that sometimes they feel they have no other realistic options."

“I was fortunate. Many parents are single and have no access to that kind of support. Creating policies is important. We need realistic childcare options. But unless it’s backed up by a cultural shift it just won’t work. It needs to be underpinned from the bottom up.

“I think a number of women don’t value their skills highly enough. I would love more young women to see the possibilities that are open to them and for the media to present more women in business as decision makers, in jobs that count and as role models.

“One of the areas I am responsible for is digital development at Clydesdale Bank, and I’m seeing huge opportunities, and women coming through in STEM subject areas. I believe women should think of themselves as leaders in the digital age. We need to graft a change in the law on the gender pay gap to the opportunities that this presents. From my experience, there is no reason why Edinburgh and Glasgow can’t be the digital hubs of the future, with women in leadership roles.”

Stacey Hodge, firefighter, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

Stacey Hodge, a firefighter with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for 9 years, was recently promoted to the role of crew manager.

“I was a foreign exchange adviser on maternity leave when I heard Scottish Fire and Rescue was recruiting. I was looking for a real change, and I went for it. The travel industry is pretty much female dominated, and the majority of fire service staff are men, and I was concerned about what it would be like.

“There were 88 on my training course, and only 8 of those were women – although every one of those 8 women passed the course. On my first shift, I was the only woman. But women are now starting to come in and move up the ranks. I’m based in Glenrothes, and there are now twenty women firefighters across Fife. Thirty years ago there were around four or five women firefighters in the entire service.

“My experience is, I’ve always been treated equally, and as part of a team. You start to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses – someone is great at heavy lifting, someone else is great at squeezing through tight spaces – and you work together. You need to prove to the guys that you can do the job, and once they see that, you get respect. But I think that happens between men as well.

"The Service is working to recruit women and support them."

“The Service is working to recruit women and support them. They hold recruitment days that are specifically targeted to women. Women firefighters are there to speak directly to women interested in joining the service, and we directly address any concerns and share our personal experience. We are all equality trained and there’s an understanding in the Service that women are moving into many walks of life that were considered traditionally male.

“I think the next step is to see women at the most senior level. The difficulty is, if you’re a station manager, you need to be available around the clock, and for women with young children that’s not really an option, because the childcare just isn’t there. Better childcare could really help more women apply for promotion.

“In my experience, the biggest hurdle is not the way women are seen inside the Service, it’s changing public opinion. When I tell people where I work, they usually say, ‘Oh, do you work in the office?’ Then they’re usually amazed when I say, ‘No. I’m a firefighter.’ I tell them I drive the truck and they can’t believe it. We need to re-inforce the idea that the Service actively wants to recruit women, and that women can – and are already having - successful careers here.”

"Natalie Harvey," Civil engineer

Natalie Harvey (not her real name) began her career as a sixteen year-old apprentice. She has been working as a civil engineer for local authorities and the private sector, both as consultant and contractor, for more than 25 years.

“When I began my apprenticeship, my new boss asked to meet with my parents. He wanted to make sure I fully understood the kind of atmosphere I would be dealing with, as the only woman on a construction site. He was a really kind man who understood some of the prejudice and gender challenges I would face, and he wanted to make sure I had a good support network at home. Since then I’ve seen it all and heard all the comments. You develop a very thick skin, especially in contracting. There certainly wasn’t any point moaning about it, that would single you out as ‘weak’. For years I decided the best approach for me was, ‘put up and shut up, or go home’.

“I’ve worked on some of the biggest projects and most interesting jobs during my time with local authorities and in the private sector. I’ve had to argue my case to get these roles, but I secured them. But I’ve also definitely experienced a glass ceiling. Most civil engineering senior teams in local government have one female member, maximum, and more usually none. I’m still dealing with a generation of men with little or no experience of working with women in their industry.

“I found the gender pay gap even more pronounced in the private sector. The Old Boys’ Network very much still exists. I worked at a firm where men had an annual Golf Day, while the women who worked in the front office had a Girls Day Out. I didn’t belong in one camp or the other - and I don’t play golf - so I was invited to neither.

“Just a few years ago, a male colleague was offered a high profile, career-changing project. I had more experience, and asked my manager why I hadn’t been approached. His response was, “Well, this job involves regular travel, and we know you have kids.” I was a working mother, so he hadn’t seen the point in even asking me. When I pointed this out he was mortified. He realised his mistake. But by then it was too late, the role had gone to someone else.

"I’m still dealing with a generation of men with little or no experience of working with women in their industry."

“Right now I think the Government is focussing on encouraging women into engineering. But I think it’s even more important to look into retaining them. There are huge issues with ‘drop-off’ in my industry. I’ve discussed it with friends, and the reason we’ve come up with is, perhaps we get so far in our careers, get sick of banging our heads against a brick wall, and finally decide to take our management skills to a different sector.

“But I’m encouraged by what I see with the next generation. My daughter is 18, and I can see signs in her interactions that the barriers are coming down between the genders, and in employment. Sadly, for my generation, I think we just have to wait for the old guard to retire, before women can really start getting into those upper echelons.”

To read the Committee's report, go to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work website.

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