Christopher Banks has a unique insight into the gender equality in further education, writes Sarah Chard, Diversity and Equality Correspondent for FE News, both as chairman of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and with his involvement in the Women and Work Commission. The Commission has recently published a report “Shaping a Fairer Future” which sets out its recommendations for addressing the gender pay gap.
Britain currently has the widest pay gap in Europe with women receiving a great deal less remuneration. Despite the legislation which has already been in place for some time, which requires equal pay for both men and women, there remains a huge discrepancy in actual pay. Not only are women underpaid but many of their skills are unused and therefore their contribution limited. Women need to not only be paid more for the work they do but also need to be encouraged into careers which are better paid. Traditionally women have been encouraged into positions which are not as well remunerated as those which are traditionally male.
Further Education to the Rescue?
In order to address this pay gap, Mr. Banks feels that the FE Sector has an important part to play. Half of the recommendations made by the commission relate to learning, training and development. In conjunction with good career guidance and advice, Mr. Banks feels this could halt the pay gap and begin to change the injustice of our social circumstance. 14 ““ 19 year olds are a key age group in order to affect change in the current pay discrepancies. Building up value in vocational training will also further encourage the necessary training.
FE has a unique position offering women the opportunity to work and train, concurrently giving them experience of the world of work as well as the ability to earn. The commission suggested pilots training programs which would encourage women to return to work and gain up to Level 3 qualifications. The recent budget has freed up funding to support these pilots and the LSC hopes to be closely involved.
Women Who Want it All?
In order to encourage more girls into formerly male orientated industries it is important to give the opportunity of more informed choices. According to the EOC, when given the necessary information two thirds of girls would choose higher paying careers. Women need to be encouraged to continue their training and also need to receive the necessary support within their new roles.
A number of conflicting reports have recently made their way through the media regarding women balancing both a work and family life. This balancing act requires a great deal of flexibility and Mr. Banks suggests that it flags up the need for access to high quality part time work. Currently, part time employees are 4 % less likely to receive on the job training. Mr. Banks feels that “better training and development allows for more people with more balance.”
Report Under Fire
There were some criticisms that the commissions report did not go far enough in some areas with the University and College Lecturer’s Union, NATFHE, labelling it “weak” for not demanding a more immediate review of pay. Mr. Banks defends the report, as he feels it was important for the views represented in the report to be agreed unanimously by the commissioners.
Although a range of proposals were suggested, he feels it was important to reach a consensus in order to realise a “long term sustainable difference”. The Commission “will regroup in a year to ensure that progress is being made for a better and fairer future.” An emphasis was also placed on the need to monitor if original commitments had been turned into action.
Looking to the Future
Historically, British society has shown a discrepancy in pay between men and women. This is an issue which cannot be fixed overnight. In order to see change Mr. Banks feels it is necessary to reach two groups of women, those who are already working need to be encouraged to train further, and extent the opportunities available to them. On the other hand young women need to receive information and guidance which will allow them to make informed decisions about their careers and their likely pay for such choices. FE plays an important role for both groups of women.
Value needs to be given to different types of work, for both men and women, encouraging both genders to explore careers traditionally outside of their gender stereotype, allowing for a balancing out over time.
Sarah Chard, Diversity and Equality Correspondent
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