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  • 8th Mar 2019

International Women’s Day: when gender is your work

What challenges stand in the way of a balanced workplace, government, home and society?

Today – 8 March – is International Women’s Day (IWD), a public holiday across more than 25 countries. It is a day when millions of people across the world come together to celebrate the achievements of women and to challenge inequalities on the basis of gender.

This year’s campaign theme for IWD is #BalanceforBetter which advocates for creating a gender-balanced workplace, government, home and society. What does the data tell us about the challenges facing women today?

Paid work

At work, women continue to have lower rates of participation, progression and reward for the hours they put in compared to men. The World Economic Forum’s latest figures put the remaining global gap at 41% for economic participation and opportunity. The UK is ranked 52nd (down from 32 in 2006) in the world on this index with a gap of 29.5% still to close, though this masks recent improvements in the gender pay gap specifically, which fell to 17.9% last year and which is practically zero for those aged between 18-39. For some today (China and Madagascar, for example), women alone are granted the day off from (paid) work – though the first country is yet to declare a national holiday from housework!

Unpaid (house)work

It will surprise few readers of this blog that women bear the brunt of housework burdens worldwide – even in much-lauded Sweden, where women continue to do 45 minutes a day more on average than men at the last count. The imbalance is greatest in Japan, Korea and India where women can expect to do up to 5 times the number of hours of housework as their male counterparts. The UK isn’t worlds apart: here women average 10 hours more per week on household work than men, the value of which has been estimated by the ONS at £1.24 trillion. This is equivalent to 63.1% of the country’s GDP, or more than the UK’s retail and manufacturing sectors combined.

When gender is your work

The persistence of these imbalances for women and men at work – paid or unpaid – has spurred the development of a gender programme at BIT in partnership with and funded by the Government Equalities Office. The Gender and Behavioural Insights (GABI) programme analyses detailed datasets from large UK employers and addresses the differences in outcomes at work for men and women. The programme has had considerable impact in its short lifespan, not least through the publication of What Works evidence guidance on reducing the Gender Pay Gap.

So what’s it like when gender is your work? Here, GABI’s newest recruit – Research Advisor Vivek Roy-Chowdhury – shares his thoughts on what it is like to work on this programme:

“I joined the GABI programme late last year, and it’s been a really busy few months so far. Most of my work has involved analysing large employers’ personnel data to investigate what kind of biases or other behavioural factors may have been driving their gender pay gaps. This analysis will help the team to pin down the issues that we can combat using behavioural science.”

“I’ve felt very lucky to have the opportunity to see behind the curtain of gender gaps within large organisations – because gaining access to such granular data is uncommon, it often feels like this work is treading new ground. That has also meant we’ve had to fight to keep innovating, frequently challenging our own expectations and approaches in the process.”

“Having spent so much time immersed in the knotty detail of what causes gender inequality in large workplaces, it’ll be a relief for me to start thinking more about what we can do to change things. But it’s already been both interesting and rewarding to see how employers have engaged with the issues we’ve been finding.”

Companies UK-wide are currently preparing their submissions for 2019’s gender pay gap reporting deadline on the 1st of April. Recent analysis has found that pay transparency requirements in Denmark were associated with a 7% reduction in the pay gap over the following two years. We look forward to seeing whether the UK’s gender pay gap has shifted in the last 12 months, though we expect several more years of concerted effort will be needed before change truly sticks.

The WEF recently forecast that, on current trends, the world’s economic participation and opportunity gap will take over 200 years to close. Though sobering, this is exactly the kind of data which gives us the motivation to carry on.


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