Fawcett Society written evidence

1.    The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home, and in public life.

2.    Our vision is a society in which the choices you can make and the control you have over your own life are no longer determined by your gender.

3.    We publish authoritative research to educate, inform and lead the debate; we bring together politicians, academics, grassroots activists and wider civil society to develop innovative, practical policy solutions and we campaign with women and men to make change happen.

4.    Despite the progress made by successive Governments in tackling sexism, gender discrimination remains a deep-rooted problem in British society. Women continue to experience sexist norms and behavior, whether direct or indirect, that limit women’s opportunities, their economic independence, and their wellbeing.

5.    Advancing women’s rights is a matter not just of human rights but of economic necessity. The increase in women’s employment and training has been a boon to the British economy and household income. However, despite the fact that women are now more educated than ever, their potential all too often goes unused. Ending gender inequality in this country would mean not just that we would realise a society in which women are free to make the choices that suit them as individuals, but a more prosperous one for women and men.

Where does sexism exist?

6.    Sexism is endemic in modern Britain. It permeates all of our lives and shapes the futures of every one of us. Fawcett’s work focuses on three key areas within our society – money, power, and gender norms and stereotypes.


7.    Women are economically disadvantaged in a range of ways. These include the pensions gap, higher reliance on welfare payment and career progression. Fawcett particularly draws Bright Blue’s attention to the gender pay gap. The full time hourly mean gender pay gap excluding overtime is 13.9%. The motherhood penalty, occupational segregation, the continued concentration of men in the most senior roles, and discrimination all play a role in driving this aspect of women’s inequality.

8.    The motherhood penalty has a severe impact – although the gender pay gap is arguably very small for younger women in full time work (1.3% for 22-29 year olds) it increases dramatically for older women, hitting 17% for 40-49-year-old women.13 IPPR has found mothers at 42 who work full-time experience a wage penalty of 11% compared to women without children who are working full-time, whilst fathers who work full-time experience a daddy bonus of 22%.14

9.    Because of the fact women do most unpaid care and childcare, 41% of working women work part time in the UK, and this figure has remained roughly steady since

10.  Our labour market remains highly segregated: 50% of all women still work in ten out of seventy-seven occupational sectors identified by the ONS.16 This includes what is sometimes called the “pink collar” sector, and is composed of jobs such as cleaning, caring, culinary work, clerical work, etc. These jobs are typically low skill with limited opportunities for progression and low pay.

11.  In addition, areas such as skilled trades that women without degrees might want to move into are dominated by men – only 10% of workers in skilled trades are women. Whilst men 37% of men are in high medium skill jobs in the UK and only 18% are in low-medium skill jobs, the equivalent figures for women are 24% and 47%.517But even amongst graduates there is inequality – the IFS has found a 23% annual gender pay gap between male and female graduates.18

12.  The best paying jobs at the top of organisations are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Only 5 Chief Execs in the FTSE 100 are women, and women make up only 9.6% of Executive Directors in the FTSE 100.19 Women made up 67% of the management workforce in entry-level roles, but only 43% of senior managers and 29% of directors.20

13.  The proportion of the gender pay gap that can be attributed to discrimination is hard to quantify, but some studies have estimated is could be as high as 38%.21 Yet women’s opportunities to challenge unlawful unequal pay have been severely restricted by the introduction of the £1200 fee for sex discrimination tribunal cases. Since the introduction of fees the number of sexual discrimination cases brought to tribunal has plunged by 80% from without any increase in the success rate of claims brought. Genuine claims are being deterred and it has become harder for women to tackle the discrimination they face.22

14.  Solutions to the gender pay gap need to tackle these four areas. This is why Fawcett supports legislation for jobs to be advertised as flexible by default unless necessary for business reasons. This will allow employees to balance quality paid work with caring responsibilities. We call for strong regulations from the Government on gender pay gap transparency for firms under Section 78 of the Equality Act, including tougher penalties for firms that don’t comply. Non-transferable “daddy months” for parental leave paid at a decent wage replacement rate will encourage parents to share care more equally and decrease the motherhood penalty. A gender strategy for apprenticeships to end the situation where 4% of engineering apprentices but 95% of childcare apprentices are women23. The Government must abolish tribunal fees which are a barrier to justice.


15.  Women are under-represented in powerful organisations throughout British society. This includes the media, where Fawcett research has found that only 20% of people quoted in the media about the economy are women, and the world of business, where just 26% of directors on FTSE100 boards are women.24 Primarily, Fawcett’s work concentrates on the lack of women’s political power.

16.  Britain in July 2016 is only 48th in the world for women’s parliamentary representation, as only 29.4% of our MPs are women.25 21% of Conservative MPs are women.26 The commitments by both major parties to increased female representation on the Cabinets and Shadow Cabinet are admirable, but we have still never had a female Chancellor of the Exchequer or a female Defence Secretary. Despite our second female Prime Minister only 35% of the Cabinet are female, up from 32%, driven by the Government having one additional woman in a Cabinet which is one additional role larger. Whilst the number of female MPs has climbed in recent years, only 30% of our councillors are women, and this number has stayed stable for over a decade.27Women from minority backgrounds are especially unlikely to advance into positions of decision making – only 20 MPs are ethnic minority women.28

17.  This is not just a matter for politicians though – more women in politics affects the nature and quality of our politics and policy making more generally. Devolution in Wales and Scotland in the late 1990s saw unprecedented numbers of women elected to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, resulting in 50:50 representation in Wales in 2003. Within the first two terms of the Welsh Assembly, female legislators were responsible for raising childcare 62 percent of the times it was debated, for raising domestic violence 74 percent of the time, and equal pay 65 percent of the time. This resulted in tangible changes in policy: from longer maternity leave for teachers to housing priority for women fleeing domestic violence.29

18.  To address the imbalance in women’s representation it is necessary to take a multi- pronged approach. We must deal with the current political culture where women in public life face high levels of abuse and threats of violence, and Fawcett supports the new Reclaim the Internet Campaign to tackle online abuse against women. Media and commentators must appraise female politicians on the basis of the views and competence not on their appearance or outfits. . In this context it is perhaps unsurprising that a survey conducted by the Girl Guides found that only 2% of girls said they wanted to be Prime Minister when they grew up.30

19.  It is also necessary to change the processes and institutions that prevent women participating. Political parties have a responsibility to ensure their selection processes genuinely identify the best candidates from a diverse pool of talent. Fawcett advocates the use of all women’s short lists. In particular it is essential that women are selected in winnable seats. Sex and Power 2015 found that while 53% of Labour’s candidates in target seats at the 2015 General were women only 29 percent of Conservative candidates and 33 percent of Liberal Democrat candidates were women in such seats.

Gender Norms and Stereotypes 

20.  Gender norms and stereotypes remain powerful in our society. Whether it’s how women dress at work or the toys children play with, we often have different expectations for women and men – this is damaging to women and men.

21.  These norms have a direct impact on women’s progression. For instance while equal numbers of boys and girls study science GCSEs (and girls do better), women are only 21% of Physics A Level students. Consequently women make up only14.4% of all people working in science, technology, engineering and maths roles. 20

22.  These sexist stereotypes don’t disappear as an adult either. For instance, in May this year, Nicola Thorp was sent home from work as a secretary for not wearing high heels. Although her firm claimed it was enforcing a dress code, there are clear double standards here – men’s dress codes rarely cause physical harm to their feet or have the implicit objective of making them adhere to a norm of what is considered sexually attractive. Thorp then established a petition asking Parliament to ban this kind of discrimination, and got over 150,000 signatures, with many women sharing their own stories of the same double standard and the physical harm it causes.21 Fawcett’s #FawcettFlatsFriday, where women posted photos of the shoes they were doing their jobs in, saw thousands of women protesting against sexist dress codes.

Solutions in Summary


  • Tackle occupational segregation, starting with gender segregation in apprenticeships
  • Flexible work by default when advertising for a job
  • The elimination of tribunal fees to help tackle sex discrimination at work
  • Daddy months in parental leave to encourage more equal sharing of care
  • Tougher penalties for the gender pay gap transparency regulations, and applying them to firms with more than 50 workers


  • The increased adoption of all-women shortlists by political parties
  • Time-limited quotas on corporate boards to get women’s representation at the top above 30%
  • Tackling online abuse against female politicians

Gender Norms and Stereotypes

  • Addressing double standards at work for men and women
  • Make childhood more gender-neutral, both in schools and in the home