Daughters and sisters have made Laois TD and Minister conscious of barriers women face

Charlie Flanagan addresses National Symposium on Ireland’s gender pay gap

women pay charlie flanagan

Former Laois County Council Cathaoirleach Tom Mulhall with Mary Flanagan and husband Minister Charlie Flanagan. Pic: Michael Scully

Having two daughters and three sisters has given Laois TD and Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan an insight into 'the barriers and inequality that women face', he has told a conference in Dublin.

Minister Flanagan made his remarks in an address to the National Symposium: Rising to the challenge – addressing Ireland’s gender pay gap.

"On a personal note, I’d just like to say that this event and this policy area is very important to me. It is now over 20 years since I was appointed Vice-Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women’s Rights.

"As the only male in my family with three sisters and as the father of two daughters, I am conscious of the barriers and inequality that women face," he said.

Minister Flanagan outlined what steps are being taken to see women achieving pay equality but said it would take time.

"As an old Irish proverb puts it, you must sow in Spring before you can reap in the Autumn. You have to undertake the preparatory work in order to achieve the desired results," he said.

Speech in full below.

Deputies, Senators, moderator and distinguished speakers and guests,

It gives me great pleasure, with my colleagues, Heather Humphreys T.D, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and David Stanton T.D, Minister of State with special responsibility for equality, immigration and integration, to welcome you this afternoon to this symposium,  here in Iveagh House.  One advantage of being a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is that I am very familiar with this building and I formed the view that it would be an ideal location for today’s important event.   

I would like to extend our thanks to Mr Cathal Mac Coille, who has agreed to take on the task of steering us through today’s programme, and to all the speakers who are kindly giving of their time today.  I look forward to what promises to be a dynamic sharing of expertise and diverse perspectives.  

In acknowledging my Oireachtas colleagues, I want to particularly recognise the work of Senator Bacik in promoting greater gender equality over many years and thank her for agreeing to speak at this symposium.  

On a personal note, I’d just like to say that this event and this policy area is very important to me.  It is now over 20 years since I was appointed Vice-Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women’s Rights.  As the only male in my family with three sisters and as the father of two daughters, I am conscious of the barriers and inequality that women face.  Significant progress has been made in Ireland, much of it as a consequence of our EU membership, but we still have a distance to travel. This year, a century after women in Ireland achieved the right to vote, it is now time for a great stride forward.

We have brought you together for this symposium as experts in your own individual fields - from the worlds of politics and government, of business, trade unions, the professions, academia and civil society. Today’s symposium is intended to raise awareness of the factors underpinning the gender pay gap.  However, it seeks to go further than that.  We want to set you a challenge, to begin the process of identifying the actions that can be taken to address the gender pay gap in Ireland.

Over the past twelve months, the gender pay gap has gripped the public imagination as never before. This is the case not just in Ireland, but across the EU, in the US, in Canada, Australia, India and so on. It has indeed become a global concern. The gender pay gap has been highlighted in public discourse, in the media, and in social media, as a reflection of an imbalance of power in our societies to the disadvantage of women. However, the current interest in the gender pay gap offers us a welcome opportunity to harness public awareness of the issue and to recognise that we each can play our part in combating it.  We need to seize the opportunity of the present moment to identify what needs to be done and to undertake a plan of action.  

When this Government took office, we placed the objective of empowering women as a key theme in our Programme for a Partnership Government. We knew that the gap in the average earnings of men and women – the gender pay gap – has a significant impact on economic independence for women.  We know that, over a lifetime, the gender pay gap can reduce women’s pay and pensions significantly.  Our Programme for Government therefore commits us to “take measures to reduce the gender pay gap - inclusive of increasing investment in childcare, and reviewing the lower pay of women and gender inequality for senior appointments”.

In the past year, my party colleagues Frances Fitzgerald, the former Tánaiste, and Minister of State David Stanton, published a National Strategy for Women and Girls, setting the direction of Government policy to 2020 to advance equality for women and girls. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Frances’ work in promoting measures to address inequality over many decades as a politician and as an advocate and social worker.  

My very hard working colleague, Minister Stanton, chairs the Committee steering the implementation of the National Strategy for Women and Girls.  The Strategy reflects the priorities identified through consultation with members of the public, civil society organisations, employer and employee representatives and others.  As expected, economic empowerment and the gender pay gap featured strongly in the consultation process as issues of concern.  In response, three actions have been included in the Strategy with the stated outcome of reducing the gender pay gap.  These are as follows:

Action 1.21 Undertake a package of measures to tackle the gender pay gap.

Action 1.22 Initiate dialogue between union and employer stakeholders to address the gender pay gap. Develop and promote practical information resources to explain and increase understanding of the multifaceted aspects of the gender pay gap and its causes (i.e. traditional role models, gender-segregated education and labour market, the challenges of balancing work and family life, the difference in participation of men and women in family responsibilities, the availability of quality, affordable childcare facilities and out-of-school hours care, and processes within organisations where imbalance needs to be addressed). Develop practical tools to assist employers to calculate the gender pay gap within their organisations and to consider its aspects and causes, mindful of obligations regarding privacy and data protection.

Action 1.23 Promote wage transparency by requiring companies of 50 or more employees to complete a wage survey periodically and report the results.

My Department and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation have been working together to advance the implementation of these commitments.

As an old Irish proverb puts it, you must sow in Spring before you can reap in the Autumn.  You have to undertake the preparatory work in order to achieve the desired results. Conscious of the wisdom of gathering knowledge, last August, Minister Stanton and I launched a public consultation on measures to tackle the gender pay gap.

The consultation paper two important  questions. In order to reduce the gender pay gap, it is important to understand why it exists. So we asked for views in particular on the factors creating the gender pay gap. We also asked for views on the actions needing to be taken. We then asked respondents to consider how they personally, as an individual or an organisation, could contribute to implementing the actions that they had suggested.

This consultation process closed on 4 October. In all, we received 38 written responses. 14 came from individuals and 24 were made on behalf of organisations.  Submissions were received from employers, unions, civil society, professional bodies and individuals from varied backgrounds.   I would like to thank all of those who made a submission 

My Department has now analysed these responses.   I want to outline some of the key points made in the submissions.  

In relation to question of why the pay gap exists, there were no real surprises. Responses largely reflected six of the contributory factors identified by the EU Commission in its research as the main causes of gender pay gap. These are:

· occupational and sectoral segregation – whereby women and men carry out different jobs and often work in different sectors, with more women than men in lower-paid employment;
· undervaluing of work and skills associated with women;
· a lack of women in senior and leadership roles;
· difficulties balancing work and family responsibilities, including access to childcare;
· gender roles and traditions, such as the association of caring responsibilities with women; and
· perceived discrimination in the workplace.

Respondents came back with a nuanced range of issues associated with another of the factors identified by the Commission, namely workplace practices and pay systems. The issues highlighted were:

· that more women than men were in part-time employment;
· the prevalence of precarious work and zero-hour contracts;
· unconscious bias;
· lack of flexible work practices;
· non-transparency of pay structures; and
· initial and unequal salary negotiations disadvantaging women.

Turning to the second question, in all 253 suggestions or 172 individual actions were proposed to address the problem of the gender pay gap:

· 45, or a quarter of the suggested actions, were directed at non-transparency of pay structures;
· Occupational and sectoral segregation, including the prevalence of women in low-paid work, was referenced in 25 suggested actions, or 14% of the total;
· 24 actions, or 14% of the total, were directed at gender roles and traditions, such as at the association of caring responsibilities with women;
· A further 17 actions, 10% of the total, addressed difficulties in balancing work and family responsibilities and in getting access to childcare; and
· Unconscious bias was addressed by 16 actions, or 9% of the total.

Actions relating to pay transparency were raised repeatedly in submissions.  These included improving data collection and Government statistics, undertaking company wage surveys disaggregated by gender, encouraging transparent pay scales, promotion of information and awareness of the gender pay gap, and sector-specific recommendations.

Other examples of actions put forward were:

· suggestions to increase paternity leave and to introduce mandatory shared parental leave;
· promoting continuous unconscious bias training at all levels in business and education;
· introducing gender-neutral job evaluation criteria, and introducing affirmative recruitment systems;
· promotion of STEM subjects and apprenticeships to girls and young women, and reviewing the subjects offered by girls’ schools to ensure a full offering of STEM subjects;
· various actions to address the availability and affordability of paid childcare; and
· tracking gender trends against economic cycles.

This is just a very brief overview of the response received.

These submissions, as you will have gathered by now, have provided a very rich source of ideas, all of which will reward more detailed consideration.  A summary of the findings is being published online today for the information of the public.  Hard copies are available for participants today.  

The results of this consultation will inform the development of a package of measures to tackle the gender pay gap, and will help to identify issues to be advanced through further discussion with union and employer stakeholders.

A number of organisations also offered assistance with actions to address the gender pay gap, which is very encouraging, and we will be following up as appropriate in due course.

The Government is planning a multi-faceted response, ranging from the substantial increase in investment in childcare announced in Budget 2017 to legislation to introduce paid parental leave.  Legislation to improve pay transparency will be a key part of the Government’s response and the shape of that legislation will be influenced by factors including this Symposium. In this regard, I want to refer to the Private Members Bill introduced in the Seanad by Senator Bacik and her colleagues, and recognise the important work the Senators have done on the issue.  

I will conclude by encouraging you all, not only our speakers, but also our audience participants, to give freely today of your knowledge and experience. Today is an occasion for listening and sharing insights, and enriching our common understanding of the gender pay gap as it is manifested in the Irish economy and labour market.

In conclusion, I’d just like to say that I hope you will find this event valuable; I know we will.  

Thank you very much for being here.

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