As a father of two daughters, I want them to experience complete gender equality in the workplace when they start their careers. For those of us committed to that goal, there has been a recent slew of good news. Two months ago, we returned to a House of Commons in which the number of women MPs had risen by a third, and one third of those around the cabinet table are women. Last week the army appointed the highest-ranking woman in its history, Major General Susan Ridge. And this week we reveal that women now make up at least 25 per cent of all FTSE 100 company boards — a target set by government, a target met.
That’s a cause for celebration. But the job is not complete. The Commons is nearly a third female; it should be half. The armed forces need more women in all ranks. Boardrooms need more female members. As a result of our jobs revolution there are more women in work than ever before, but one problem persists: the difference between men and women’s pay.
Under the coalition government, the gender pay gap narrowed. For full-time workers under 40, it is almost zero. But overall, a woman still earns just 80p for every £1 earned by a man. That is a scandal — and I’m determined to close the gap. For me, this comes back to the type of government I want to run: a One Nation government, which brings our country together and helps everyone, whoever they are, get on in life. So here’s my plan.
One: transparency. We have already introduced equal pay audits for those companies that have lost employment tribunals. But today I’m announcing a really big move: we will make every single company with 250 employees or more publish the gap between average female earnings and average male earnings. That will cast sunlight on the discrepancies and create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up.
This goes back to what we announced in the budget last week. Our aim is to fundamentally rebalance our economy — to transform Britain from a high-welfare, high-tax, low-pay economy into a lower-welfare, lower-tax, higher-pay society. Higher pay is something we want for everyone. That is why the chancellor announced the national living wage, which starts next April at £7.20 and will reach over £9 by 2020. This will primarily help women, who tend to be in lower-paid jobs. It will help close the gender pay gap. But we need to go further, and that’s why introducing gender pay audits is so important. It’s part of a new British contract: we give businesses the lowest corporation tax in the G20, increase their national insurance allowance and cut their regulations; in return, they pay their staff properly, and fairly.
Two: we must widen girls’ horizons. It’s great that, for instance, nearly half of our medics, biological scientists and chemists are women. But just 7 per cent of engineers are female. Women are just a fifth of IT technicians. There’s only one female Supreme Court judge. We need to show schoolgirls that there are no no-go professions. That’s why our new careers service puts businesses at the helm and why we are campaigning to drive up the number of girls doing science, tech, engineering and manufacturing. It’s working: since 2010, girls doing maths A level is up by 8 per cent and those doing physics is up by 15 per cent.
Three: we must help more women to reach the top. While they are 47 per cent of the workforce, women are just 34 per cent of managers, directors and senior officials. Today I’m speaking at the Times CEO summit. Those bosses have shown that, without legislation and without arbitrary quotas, you can bring about change. In just five years, women on FTSE 100 boards have increased from 12.5 per cent to a quarter. I’ll be congratulating those CEOs and asking them to keep up the momentum.
Four: we need to address childcare. The pay gap flows from the fact that, when women have children, many cannot afford to go back to work full time — or even at all. That then prevents them from moving up through the ranks. That’s why affordable childcare is the centrepiece of this One Nation government. One of the first things we’ve done is legislate for 30 hours of free childcare for all three and four- year-olds, doubling the existing allowance. And we are making childcare tax-free, too, worth up to £2,000 per year for every child.
Transparency, skills, representation, affordable childcare — these things can end the gender pay gap in a generation. That’s my goal. In past centuries, the Brontë sisters published their novels under men’s names; Marie Curie released her research as her husband; Ada Lovelace made great leaps as the first computer programmer but watched her male colleague get the credit. Then came the First World War. Women more than proved their mettle in the world of work. The vote came in 1918. Nancy Astor was the first female MP to take her seat. The first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, transformed the country. That happened in just a few decades. So just think what we can do over the next generation.
When my daughters, Nancy and Florence, start work, I want them to look back at the gender pay gap in the same way we look back at women not voting and not working — as something outdated and wrong that we overcame, together.