Nicola Sturgeon has announced a new strategy to tackle the gender pay gap in 
Scotland in a speech on International Women’s Day.

The First Minister revealed the plan to reduce inequality as she celebrated the progress made in Scotland.

But she stressed how much more still needed to be done.

“Women’s equality isn’t just an issue of principle and fairness for women – if we have gender equality the country does better and we have a better world,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“It’s in everybody’s interest and we should never lose sight of that.”

Speaking to businesswomen at the City Chambers in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government’s Gender Pay Gap Action Plan, pledging “a whole range of ways in which we will tackle the causes of the gender pay gap – in our education system, in workplaces and across society”.

The policy outlines more than 50 steps to reduce the disparity between men and women, including £5 million of funding over three years for a programme providing advice, training and placements for women who want to return to work after a career break, having children or caring for elderly relatives.

The Scottish Government will also carry out an equal pay audit to look at pay in the public sector, as well as expanding the Workplace Equality Fund, including support for women during menopause and for victims of domestic abuse.

Ms Sturgeon said: “While the gender pay gap in Scotland is now the lowest on record and lower than the UK as a whole, we still have much progress to make, which requires long-term solutions not short term fixes.”

Giving examples of disparity in business, she said: “It is still the case that more than three-fifths of new businesses are being started by men and less than two-fifths by women.

“That matters as a basic issue of principle – a basic issue of equity – but it also matters for a really hard-headed reason as well.

“That disparity harms the country and our economy overall.”

She added: “Research suggests that if the level of female ownership of businesses in Scotland matched the level of male ownership the size of our economy would increase by around 5 per cent.

“To put that into context, that equates to £7.6 billion.

“So getting more women into business isn’t just good for women, quite simply it will make our economy richer and make all of us more prosperous.”

Susan Harkins, head of Business Gateway Scotland, which organised the event to mark International Women’s Day, welcomed Ms Sturgeon’s pledge. She said: “It’s not an easy task but it’s good for business, it’s good for women and it’s also good for men.

“Women-led businesses are contributing £8.8 billion to the Scottish economy and they make up about 11% of the total employment in the private sector in Scotland – imagine if we got more women starting up and growing their businesses?

“It makes good economic sense.”

According to the Scottish Government’s first Gender Pay Gap Action Plan, the gender pay gap in Scotland for full-time employees has decreased from 6.6% in 2017, to 5.7% in 2018.

The plan aims to help the Scottish Government meet its commitment of reducing the gender pay gap by 2021.

Those proposed actions include supporting 2,000 women to return to work after a career break through the new Women Returners Programme following a pilot project run since 2017.

Improving workplace practices, including support for women during menopause and for victims of domestic abuse, through the expansion of the Workplace Equality Fund is also a key plank.

Another key area is urging the UK Government to strengthen and enforce the protection of women and carers against discrimination and dismissal. 

This should include strengthening paternity leave rights and introducing “safe leave”, which would provide victims of domestic violence with additional leave.

Other initiatives propose promoting gender equality within early learning and childcare, schools, colleges, universities and within employment support and the social security system.

Emma Ritch, Engender’s executive director, said: “It is rare to see a national strategy on women’s workplace inequality that gets to grips with some of the critical systemic influencers like social security, employability programme design, and violence against women.  

“The Scottish Government’s laudable approach to developing the plan included strong engagement with pay gap specialists Close the Gap and Engender, Scotland’s feminist policy advocacy organisation. 

“Engaging with gender experts is key to ensuring that policymaking advances women’s equality, and we are pleased to see the Scottish Government continue to develop innovative approaches to policy.”

Anna Ritchie Allan, who is executive director of Close the Gap, said: “There’s never been a cohesive strategic approach to tackling Scotland’s pay gap, so it’s refreshing to see the breadth of ambition in this seminal plan which contains a number of bold actions.

“It critically recognises that the causes of the pay gap reach far beyond the workplace, with change also necessary in education, in the distribution of unpaid care, and in the way the Scottish Government and delivery agencies develop policy.”

Professor Patricia Findlay, of Scotland’s Fair Work Convention, said: “These measures to advance gender pay equality can deliver for Scotland’s people, economy and society.”