On the centenary of women’s suffrage, the Tesco case, alongside other recent headlines, is a timely reminder that equality of and for women is sadly not a given….

In 1968, a group of women workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant struck for equal pay and their actions led directly to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Legislation ensuring equal pay for women has been on the books for nearly half a century. Yet last week, Tesco became the subject of a new claim from its store workers (predominantly women) that they should be paid the same as warehouse workers (predominantly men). The claim is a complex one, involving the issue of whether different work should have the same inherent value, but it is still a sobering reminder that such cases are still coming forward.

Some cases are more straight forward. Last month, the BBC head of Asia desk, Carrie Grace, stood down from her position, accusing the corporation of breach of pay laws. Carrie has garnered a lot of support from rights and equalities groups as she was being paid less that her male counterparts for the same job. Again, this is fifty years after the Equal Pay Act….

There has been progression, but seemingly we have not yet reached the goal of equality after three generations. We often hear people asking whether the ‘battle is won’ now or is there much else to do now that legislation is in place? The usual response is exactly to point out that women are still bringing equal pay cases 50 years after the legislation was passed.

I write this as a minority. As the CEO of an insurance provider designed to ensure equality of experience, service and product, whoever you are, I struggle with only 5% of CEOs in the financial services sector being women. Women are saving 70% less than men outside work-based pension schemes. How has a sector that is built to provide financial protection and security managed to fail 50% of the population and fail them so badly?

There are two sides to this. The first is more obvious. The financial services sector has long been run and dominated by white, straight men. This has resulted in the savings and insurance industry propagating and marketing a singular, aspirational view of a monochromatic society where the majority are the “white, straight, 2.2 children” model. Non-traditional families, women, LGBT customers or single people are not represented in imagery, anticipated in call centre scripts or, most importantly, identified as Heros. From the government’s latest figures though, the number of UK households that identify with the stereotypical 2.2 model is just 18%. Yet the financial services sector behaves as if it is 100% of the potential market.

The second issue is about women’s empowerment and levels of comfort discussing financial services. From an early age, it is often assumed that men are ‘breadwinners’ or ‘heads of the family’, so women find themselves incredibly unconfident about making financial decisions (where as men are often taught to have the confidence of their choices). There has been some excellent work done on this topic by the team at boringmoney.com.

The result of these two – to be frank – is that many women in this country will struggle financially as they grow older. If a women in her 40s or 50s does not now have sufficient savings, she will, in all likelihood, never be able to overcome the savings gap to have sufficient funds for retirement.

As this country has become more diverse in its family make-up and living arrangements, the financial services sector has not kept up. For some it is too late, but we must do more for younger women in terms of education on financial matters and also support from the financial services sector.

Women got the vote 100 years ago, giving them a milestone measure of independence. It is critical to continue to enable and empower women to have a much better chance of economic independence as well.


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