A fairer Scotland for women: gender pay gap action plan

Our action plan setting out a list of actions that will be taken to address the many drivers of the gender pay gap.

This document is part of a collection

Chapter 5 Post School and Skills Training

We know that as young people progress through the education system, their ideas about gender and work become increasingly fixed. This results in their concentration in subjects based on gender stereotypes which along with employer practices can lead to occupational segregation.

What we are doing

That is why our DYW Strategy is focussed on improving equality and diversity. The DYW’s 4th annual report published in December 2018[42], highlighted the progress being made across a number of key performance indicators.

The SFC[43], further and higher education institutions, SDS[44] and contracted training providers have been making some inroads in improving equality and diversity through their Equality Action Plans, which were developed in partnership with key stakeholders

These plans have clear targets on reducing the gap between male and female participation in apprenticeships and undergraduate study. SDS have published their third annual report and the SFC have published their second annual report in January 2019[45]. Colleges and universities are developing their own gender action plans on the back of this. However gender segregation in further and higher education and within apprenticeships is significantly ingrained in the system and in workplaces. We will continue to work with the SFC and SDS to ensure progress on their Action Plans.

In relation to STEM, we know that the proportion of female graduates remaining in the sector has increased from 27% in 2012 to 30% in 2017[46] while in academia the number of Scottish STEMM (including medicine) departments holding Athena SWAN awards which recognise efforts to enhance gender equality rose from 3 in 2012 to 73 in Spring 2017 and the number of female professors in maths and chemistry have significantly increased.

A joint Scottish Government and Young Scot social media campaign has been launched to increase gender balance participation in STEM study at college and university. It will encourage young women to study traditionally male subjects at college and university by challenging stereotypes and highlighting possible career paths and advantages to studying STEM.

Scottish Government funds Equate Scotland to take forward a range of activity aimed at addressing the under-representation of women in STEM sectors. Actions will enable women studying towards and working in these key sectors to enter, develop and progress in their STEM career. 

“There are so many career options within engineering and placements allow you to try different things” 

Oana Sala, 3rd Year University of Glasgow on Careerwise placement with CH2M Hill.

However such improvements, while welcome, are only incremental and not consistent across all STEM subjects, we therefore need to continue to do more. 

We recognise that we also need to encourage more young men to study care, health and well-being subjects at college and university by challenging stereotypes and highlighting possible career paths and advantages to studying such subject areas. We will be looking for institutions and the SFC to consider this within their action plans and for this to be reflected within implementation of the 15 – 24 Learner Journey Review’s[47] recommendations relating to careers, information, advice and guidance.

Work to address occupational segregation by gender is being undertaken across some parts of the further and higher education sector. To achieve this within the higher education sector frameworks such as Aurora and Athena SWAN are being used and there are examples in institutional Gender Action Plans of further pro-active and creative measures to support women’s progression into more senior roles, for example targeted mentoring, women-only development events around promotions rounds, and reviews of promotions criteria. The level of consistency and impact across the whole sector is however, not year clear. We would therefore urge institutions, in consultation with the relevant trade unions, to careful consider the recommendations contained with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association report[48] into intersectional gender and ethnic gaps in higher education.

Overall minority ethnic women tend to attain higher levels of education than white women, however they are less likely to be offered university places than white women[49]. Evidence in research also highlights experiences of discrimination and racist behaviour while at university, for example assumptions made around career aspirations, shaped by racial and gender stereotypes.

Other issues within the further and higher education sector include the continued need to improve the gender balance within College Boards[50], the lack of transparency around senior pay in the higher education sector and a range of gendered barriers which prevent female academics, particularly black female academics[51] from progressing with their careers. Research has highlighted the need for University and College Union (UCU) and higher education institutions, to provide dedicated support for black female academics, establishing clear and transparent progression criteria on the steps towards obtaining a professorship, and commissioning research into alternative routes to heads of department and into how line managers approving professorship applications. It also calls for UCU to establish a culture of no tolerance to bullying that speaks to both explicit and more subtle forms of harassment. 

We are determined that our university and college campuses should be safe places for students and staff to live, work and study free from sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

In April 2018 the Scottish Government launched the Equally Safe in Higher Education Took Kit which provides resources for institutions to tackle gender-based violence. All institutions in Scotland are expected to adopt the Tool Kit and factor a gendered analysis into their approach to this issue. Our Letter of Guidance to the SFC requires that institutions assess their own policies and practices against the Toolkit and use this to make improvements.

Research undertaken into the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland highlighted the particular barriers faced by women in rural areas to accessing appropriate and accessible training opportunities[52]

Whilst research so far has mainly focused on women in agriculture, the need to address these barriers in all sectors of the rural economy was a recurring issue highlighted during the discussion at the Scottish Rural Parliament held in November 2018.

We will in 2019–20 and beyond

  • Publish a Future Skills Action Plan (FSAP) which will set out our strategic response and approach to ensuring Scotland has a skilled and productive workforce, both now and in the future. In implementing the plan, we will address gender-specific issues in the labour market, to ensure that the specific inequalities and barriers women face are addressed in the future.
  • Ask the SFC to work with the colleges, universities and the relevant trade unions to address both horizontal and vertical occupational segregation in their workforce, in line with their Public Sector Duties, with the aim of supporting women, including those with other protected characteristics, to progress into more senior roles.
  • Work with the College Development Network to identify opportunities to increase gender equality, including intersectionality, awareness in the training programme they run for board and staff members. 
  • Work with the SFC to learn from the development and publication of institutional Gender Action Plans and identify good practice and areas for improvement to inform the next phase of work to address gender inequality, particularly that faced by women with other protected characteristics.
  • Work with institutions, SFC and research funders to promote flexible working as standard practice (including working with UK counterparts and bodies, where required, to influence practice in the UK HE sector), ensuring that flexibility is consistently available and widely promoted to all staff, including those in research positions.
  • Work with SDS and Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board to realise the outcomes of the forthcoming Commission into occupational segregation by gender within Apprenticeships. 
  • Build on and improve the range of gender-disaggregated data used to develop skills planning policy, and ensure that the new skills planning and provision model addresses occupational segregation, and the under-utilisation of women’s skills as a central aim.
  • Ensure closing the gender pay gap is prominent in the development of a Performance Framework for the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board. 
  • Explore the opportunity to access intersectional gender-disaggregated data on employee beneficiaries of the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, including sectoral information and the type of training accessed. This will inform future policy development with the aim of addressing occupational segregation in future rounds.


Email: lorraine.lee2@gov.scot

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