Thirty years after the Sex Discrimination Act 1976 (updated in the Equality Act 2010), the wage gap still exists. Some employment solicitors are wringing their hands and the media has recently taken an interest.

Media coverage and government initiatives focus almost exclusively on the pay gap between men and women. But an area of the pay gap that has been mostly overlooked is the motherhood pay gap.

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) points out that men are paid almost 33% more than mothers.

What causes this? How can society claim equality as a value and yet still be plagued by wage gaps? But most importantly, how do we go about ending this sex discrimination?

What is the pay gap and why is it important?

Before we look at how to fix the pay gap, we need to understand what it is. The gender pay gap is not really about men and women being paid differently for doing the same job, it’s that as you get higher up the career ladder, fewer women are represented. Men are simply more likely to be promoted to higher-paying jobs.

Sex discrimination and mums - the pay gap 1
Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver, used under CC

The gender pay gap reaffirms stereotypes about roles of men and women. Women mostly look after children, interrupt their careers and this adversely affects mothers’ pay.  The longer this has gone on, the more entrenched it has become and the more we take it for granted. Pay gaps are the natural consequence of the glass ceiling.

How does the pay gap adversely affect mothers?

Up to twelve years after the birth of her first child, a mother’s pay falls by about 33% compared to men. It falls by about 7% less than her childless female colleague.

Bizarrely, fathers are often perceived to be more hard-working and this is reflected in their pay. Fathers are paid on average 15% more than childless men . This is because working mothers are usually considered to be of less value to a company. This was illustrated when Nigel Farage made headlines for baldly stating that mothers are worth far less to their companies on their return to work. This continues to perpetuate the idea that women have to make a choice between work and having a family.

Sex discrimination and mums - the pay gap 2
Image courtesy of Nagarjun Kandukuru, used under CC

When returning to work, mothers often feel they have no choice but to return in a part-time role, because family care and domestic responsibilities are still not equally shared. Far more women than men choose to take parental leave.  Employment solicitors and commentators on sex discrimination observe that changes need to be made to allow women to make the decision to have children and not face repercussions for it.

What can be done?

There has been some progress in reducing the gender pay gap, the IFS notes. The current 18% gender pay gap is down from 23% in 2003 and 28% in 1993. Suggestions have varied from earlier childcare opportunities to combining education and the workplace. But things are unlikely to change until fathers take equal shared parental leave, allowing mothers to return to work. And they don’t.

By Ebunoluwa Bamgbade

Main image courtesy of Reynermedia used under CC