Lower career aspirations are accumulated through formative years ©Image Source/Getty Images
Lower career aspirations are accumulated through formative years ©Image Source/Getty Images

Keep challenging the social norms

11 October 2019

Workplace sexism may have reduced and gender pay gap reporting is now a ‘thing’, but systemic failures are still being made 

Many companies recognise there is a gender pay gap in their business, but most don’t know what to do with it, Elysia McCaffrey, deputy head of the Government Equalities Office, told an audience at a CIPS London branch event on Women in Procurement in September. 

The findings come from the figures collated since April 2017, when employers in the UK with more than 250 staff were required to publish gender pay gap figures. “And we’ve had 100% compliance from all businesses required to report,” McCaffrey said.

However, parity is not reaching senior levels even in sectors that attract women. Despite 43% of people in finance being women, it has the biggest gender pay gap, said McCaffrey. “It’s more than 35% – that means [women] are just not progressing.

“There are no neurological issues, no reasons why women can’t do as well as men. The issues are cultural, societal and systemic. And it starts at school.”

Despite outperforming boys in education for more than 20 years, when girls move into the labour market they immediately face a gender pay gap, she said. “We know 67% of girls aged between 11 and 21 think women don’t have the same chances as men.”

Lower career aspirations and cultural approaches are accumulated through small experiences in the formative years, citing rescued Disney princesses and stereotypical advertising. These can negatively impact men too, she adds.

With missed promotions, time off to have children and difficulty returning to a level commensurate with their skills, the pay gap grows with time, says McCaffrey, and by pension age is most pronounced.

Take a stand, be a positive role model and challenge the social norms, she told the mainly female audience. “We need to fix the foundation for the future and make sure the generation coming through are the first generation who don’t have that story to tell about sexism and the promotion they were overlooked for.”

Three senior procurement leaders – Shirley Cooper, commercial director of law firm Tapestry Compliance; Clare Jones, group procurement director of Mace; and Amelle Mestari, procurement director at Bouygues Energies UK – shared their stories about the sexism they have dealt with as they rose through the ranks in procurement posts, which included being asked to make the coffee at a supplier meeting and a suggestion that they must have slept their way to the post of CPO. 

The gasps from the audience proved that things have moved on, but there were still questions from the floor on how to manage inappropriate situations. 

The speakers offered tips and advice for women to progress in procurement today, including getting help with cleaning, gardening and other tasks at home so as not to have more chores than male colleagues; learning to say no; ensuring you complete your training; and challenging somebody else’s underestimation of your achievements.

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