Yesterday saw the publication of PwC's Women in Work Index, which measures progress in women’s employment outcomes across 33 OECD countries. The UK climbed from 16 to nine on the overall index, as a result of the gender pay gap temporarily narrowing during the coronavirus crisis. Scotland has kept up its record of having a smaller pay gap than the rest of the UK, at 11% compared to the UK’s 14%.

As part our International Women's Day series, Gillian Martin, MSP, examines the gender pay gap and why she is calling for employment law to be devolved. 

"Progress on gender pay gap is nowhere near good enough, and it frustrates me that we aren’t being bold enough in tackling it UK wide.

As it stands the UK Government have put a compulsion on companies with over 250 employees to report their gender pay gap. That’s all they have to do, publish a report. There is no requirement for them to put in any measures to reduce that gap. It’s toothless and its also been suspended in the pandemic. If a company has a wide gender pay gap the worst they can expect by way of consequences for their inaction to tackle it, is one day of critical press coverage. That’s only one aspect of the law, and there are of course many other legal ways to strengthen the parity of women in the workplace across employment law. I’ve long argued that employment law should be devolved so that our parliament can make changes that reflect the values of the Scottish Government of the day.

Scotland has a smaller pay gap than the rest of the UK. It’s difficult to be sure exactly, but I would hope that surrounding progressive policies around childcare are already making an impact and allowing women to work more with that additional support. If that is making an impact so soon then it’s exciting to see how they might grow to affect the stubborn systemic problems like career progression and to the so-called “leaky pipeline” of the points at which women feel they have to drop out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities or an inability to afford to work because of the high cost of childcare.

I do think that an increased focus of the Scottish Government in affecting change for women in the workplace is having an impact. Even measuring progress can have a positive effect- so having the Gender Equality Index and asking companies who are accessing public money or are procured for services by public bodies to commit to certain conditions around fair work are going to have an impact.

I would also point to the good work in raising awareness that certain organisations like Close the Gap and Engender are doing. Economic gender parity being widely discussed in public forums, in the media, in parliament makes a big difference. In a tight labour market sensible companies will want to attract the best talent- and female talent will be keen to work for organisations who can walk the walk on good working conditions and progression routes for women.

I always tell the story of the Norwegian Prime Minister who was asked by a journalist the secret of their economic success. I think the journalist might have expected the answer to be oil and gas reserves. But the answer was Norway’s women having the state provided free childcare support to be able to work and progress in their careers, meaning that they had economic parity with men. If a country makes the decision to offer universal free childcare, it takes the biggest economic burden away from women, but it also means those women contribute more in tax revenue, and have more disposable income. It makes massive economic sense. The UK government isn’t even close to taking that leap. Scotland is, and I’d like to see us in a position to do even more."