All of us benefit when women can participate equally in our economy. Supporting and empowering women and girls to reach their full potential is at the heart of our sustainable and inclusive economic growth ambitions. This approach supports the World Bank’s view that women’s equality in the labour market is a key driver of growth that works for everyone.
Our First Minister stated, upon her appointment, her hope that it would “open the gate to greater opportunity for all women and send a strong, positive message to girls and young women, indeed to all women, across our land – there should be no limit to your ambition for what you can achieve. If you are good enough and if you work hard enough, the sky is the limit and no glass ceiling should ever stop you from achieving your dreams.”
We are therefore committed to reducing the gender pay gap by the end of this parliamentary term and to tackle the labour market inequalities faced by women, particularly disabled women, minority ethnic women, women from poorer socio economic backgrounds and women with caring responsibilities.
We are making progress. Our young women are achieving high levels of attainment at school and higher education. The gender employment gap, inactivity and unemployment rates for women have decreased and our full time gender pay gap is lower than the rest of the UK as a whole.
Despite these positive trends, we know that we need to do more. It is clear that there is an appetite in Scotland for immediate action to step up the pace of change. Given Scotland’s changing demographics and the need to attract and retain the most talented workforce, closing the gender pay gap makes good economic sense. It also makes a statement about the kind of Scotland we all seek – an inclusive, fair, prosperous, innovative country, ready and willing to embrace the future.
Gender inequalities in the workplace reflect a complex web of issues related to ethnicity, ability and socio-economic identities as well as incidents of discrimination. Women’s choices, their opportunities, their age, education, skills, household characteristics, caring responsibilities, access to childcare and more, all need to be considered.
It is because of this that we are taking a whole systems approach: closing the gender pay gap in Scotland will require collective action, political will, and using a broad range of levers including legislation and gender budgeting. This Action Plan responds to that challenge, building upon many existing Scottish Government strategies, and setting out a number of ambitious yet achievable actions. The aim is to tackle the gender pay gap from all posasible angles, rather than singling out only one factor or cause. These activities will mutually reinforce each other.
The Action Plan highlights the early and sustained action we and our partners will be taking throughout a young girl’s life to break down gender stereotyping. Stereotyping which can eventually lead to occupational segregation is one of the main drivers of the gender pay gap. The Plan also demonstrates our continued determination to tackle discrimination and sexual harassment across all learning and workplace settings.
This Plan is not just about supporting girls and women to participate equally in our labour market. It is also about promoting and installing fair work principles and the benefits these can bring to all individuals, employers and the Scottish economy. It sets out how we can break down barriers which currently constrain individual’s and household choices.
Tackling the gender pay gap is also key for tackling child poverty, another Scottish Government priority. Poverty and gender are closely linked, with women facing a range of barriers to paid employment and progression, also taking on most of the paid and unpaid caring roles in households. In recognition of this, our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan included many interventions directly targeted at alleviating women’s poverty; this action plan develops and deepens some of those interventions.
While some of the tools we require to adequately address the gender pay gap such as employment and social security laws remain under the control of the UK Parliament, we will continue to press for additional devolved employment powers to provide the Scottish Parliament with the ability to strengthen employment rights that work for Scotland. In the meantime, we will also call on the UK Government to improve or develop policies that can help tackle gender inequalities.
We will not tackle all of the drivers of the gender pay gap with short-term fixes and I recognise that not all of our actions will have an immediate effect on reducing the headline gender pay gap statistics but they will lay the foundations for a serious, committed and long-term approach to achieving our aspiration of closing the gender pay gap in Scotland within a generation.
Indeed, I am clear that we all have a duty to support the next generation of young people who will be entering the labour market to reach their full potential and to have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and for society by 2025, as outlined in the Fair Work Framework.
This Action Plan is not only the Scottish Government’s first in setting out how we plan to tackle the causes of the gender pay gap but it also marks an historic landmark in the long march to gender equality.
Last year we celebrated the centenary of the first women being enfranchised to vote. However, in recognising that anniversary we must also acknowledge that this was only the beginning of the process of equal voting rights for women and not the end. So too must we recognise that the reduction in the gender pay gap in Scotland has not yet achieved equality in pay in Scotland. Only by our continued efforts through this action plan will we achieve this outcome.