Could Women-only Strikes be Next on the Agenda in the UK?
France, Scandinavia and Argentina have been at the forefront of female labour strikes this year, as women down tools in protest over the lack of gender equality in business and the workplace. Insights investigates whether women-only protest could be coming to UK shores in 2017Jermaine Haughton
From as far back as the start of the industrial revolution, labour strikes have been a vital way for workers to collaborate in protesting against low pay, mismanagement and poor working conditions, and forcing employers to respect and protect the rights of employees.
The Chartist Movement of the late nineteenth century, the 1968 Ford machinists' strike and the Leeds clothing workers strike of 1970 are just a few shining examples for gender equalists, but while the working world of today is different to decades past, there are still large inequalities in the workplace, especially for female workers.
Current research shows, on average, women earn thousands of pounds less than men each year, while their career prospects of reaching the top jobs in their respective industry are substantially less likely than their male peers, both in nationally and internationally.
CMI’s own research has found that women managers earn an average of £8,964 less than men, and that men are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.
Launching CMI Women, a new initiative that aims to achieve gender parity across the UK’s management population by 2024, CMI aims encourage and train 1.5 million new female managers over that period to halt the bottleneck of women, who struggle to advance from junior roles - on today’s diversity forecasts we’ll still have 480,000 ‘missing women’ from UK management in 2024.
The economic cost of gender inequality is huge. The Women And Work Commission found that unleashing women’s full potential could be worth £23 billion a year. Eliminating gender discrimination in relation to occupation and pay could increase women’s wages by about 50% and national output by 5%.
Globally, it could take 170 years to close the gender pay gap, according to the World Economic Forum, according to the current pace of progress.
Around the world, women frustrated by their treatment in the workplace have been holding their own labour strikes to publicise the injustices they are facing, as well as to force change for the better from employers and legislators.
The strikes have revealed the wide variety of issues - from sexual harassment to underappreciation - that are prevalent across many different countries and working cultures.
In France, a campaign spearheaded by feminist group Les Glorieuses saw thousands of women, including many from Paris City Hall and other high-profile French political and cultural offices, stop working at 4:34pm on November 7th.
Attracting global attention on social media under the hashtag #7novembre16h34, and receiving backing from Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Education Secretary Najat Belkacem, the protest was aimed at raising awareness and sparking debate over the fact that women in France work the equivalent of 38.2 more days each year than men for the same salary.
The protests in France are partly inspired by women in Iceland.
For the last 11 years, Iceland’s female workforce has walked out on 24 October at 2.38pm, the time they could leave every day if they were paid the same as their male colleagues.
Famously, on the same date in 1975, approximately 90% of women in Iceland refused to work, cook and look after children for a day. Chaos ensued with banks, factories and some shops having to close, as did schools and nurseries - leaving many fathers with no choice but to take their children to work.
The event is widely recognised as a catalyst in the nation electing its first female President four years later, and introducing a stream of legislation protecting women in society and the office, earning Iceland the label of the “world’s most feminist country”.
The spotlight was also raised on to the issue of sexual and physical harassment of female employees at work by a group of women who took strike action on one of Buenos Aires’s major train lines.
Nearly half of the ‘A line’ subway’s staff are women, and female workers decided to hold a one-hour strike in a bid to raise awareness about their daily reality on the job.
Women-Only Walkouts in Britain?
Social media hashtags, TED-talks, corporate events and fundraisers, celebrity-featured campaigns, government initiatives, mentorship schemes, etc, etc have all been attempted to highlight the issue of gender inequality in the workplace. As of yet, none have truly succeeded.
So, is it time for a general women-only walkout in the UK?
With women being some 47% of the UK working population, the impact of having at least half of women stop working for a day would have a dramatic affect on British business.
In theory, a substantial strike would draw not just national attention, but also international eyes, to not only the glaring discrepancy in wages, but the economic impact of failing to recognise the power of women.
Programmes such as CMI Women, and other initiatives by government and professional bodies are working directly to address equality for women in the workplace, but many businesses are tackling the issue very slowly.
Denise Keating, chief executive at the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI), said the lack of long-term strategies to ensure women are paid and represented well across all levels of employment is worrying.
“Business is slow to change, and the government is slow to act, with short term thinking instead of long term action,” she said. “The Office for National Statistics’ Women in the Labour Market report found that just under a third of women aged 16-64 are not in work, and over 43% of those that are in work are part time. Society is still highly patriarchal and men dominate the positions of power.
“Although women in the workforce are much better off than their counterparts of 40 years ago, there is still a long way to go before women can go through their careers on an equal footing with men.”
Find out more about the work CMI is doing to support gender equality in the workplace at managers.org.uk/CMIwomen