Call to halt gender pay gap and for better business support funding for women

Helen Burkinshaw

A Liverpool women’s social enterprise is demanding urgent government action to address widening pay inequality and a shortfall in business support funding.

The Women’s Organisation says the Government’s ‘Build Back Better’ initiative could be turbo-charged if inclusivity was put at the heart of its strategy. It claims an investment into women-led businesses could benefit the UK economy to the tune of £250bn.

Today (November 18) marks Equal Pay Day – a national campaign which highlights the point in the year when women, on average, stop earning relative to men due to the gender pay gap.

Led by the Fawcett Society, Equal Pay Day 2021 is particularly poignant as the gender pay gap has widened markedly throughout the pandemic.

The organisation said it is yet another setback for women. It was predominantly women who carried the burden of care throughout lockdown. Additionally, women were disproportionately affected by furlough and redundancies and there has been a significant increase in domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.

But the gender pay gap (GPG) is nothing new. It is an historic and ingrained issue and goes hand in hand with inequalities within the labour market itself. However, COVID-19 has widened the GPG and exacerbated inequalities within society, the organisation said.

And although the GPG has been gradually declining over time, this year the GPG for all employees across the UK – including full time and part time employees – is 15.4%. This has risen from 14.9% in 2020.

Helen Burkinshaw, policy and research co-ordinator at The Women’s Organisation, said: “The gender pay gap is nothing new, it’s an age-old problem – which certainly doesn’t make it any less of an issue, in fact quite the opposite. And it is as much an economical issue as it is societal. What is called for here is not policy – it is action.

“I would firstly urge the Government that what is required here is a sex disaggregated approach to policy making. We need to see the implementation of specific employment, retraining support and childcare investment if we are to make a start on ironing out imbalances in the labour market. This is imperative as part of the levelling up agenda and overall economic recovery plan.”

She added: “While it is heartening to see the gender pay gap has become a priority for policy makers, as yet there’s no real impact being felt – in fact, as figures demonstrate, we’ve taken a massive backwards step. What is required is a strategic, direct and mandatory action plan.”

Helen suggests an ideal starting point would be a focus on start-up funding for women-led businesses.

The British Business Bank recently reported that female-founded business start-ups in the UK receive less than one penny for every £1 of venture capital investment, compared with their male counterparts who get the majority 89 pence.

And a report from The Female Founders Forum, in association with The Entrepreneurs Network, revealed a 15% funding gap between male- and female-led start-ups – a shortfall of £1.6bn per year in terms of funding being allocated proportionately between genders.

The report also concluded that if women founded companies as frequently as men, the UK economy would be £250bn better off.

And Helen says it is not lack of appetite preventing women from starting up and scaling successful businesses, rather financial barriers and access to support. She said: “During those difficult months in lockdown, at The Women’s Organisation we were encouraged to record more than double the number of enquiries in relation to women starting up in business – a clear indication of women’s resilience and their determination to be economically active.

“We’re experiencing a shift in the traditional barriers that have typically held women back in business – aspiration is rising, confidence is growing and we have a whole raft of successful female role models that didn’t exist a decade ago.

“And we’re seeing women making major strides in industries like GreenTech, where female-founded companies make up 34% of businesses in the sector, but are raising 42% of all equity funding. Still, overall progress is still frustratingly slow and the gender funding gap is still cause for concern.”

She said: “More must be done on the ground to remove financial barriers and ensure we are providing the right support and mentoring for female entrepreneurs. As a matter of urgency, the Government must put gender equality at the heart of its economic strategy.”

The Women’s Organisation is the largest developer and deliverer of training and support for women in the UK. It has supported more than 60,000 women and helped to create in excess of 4,000 businesses since it was established in 1996. It has operations in Liverpool and Manchester.