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Brexit, #metoo and equal pay: the hidden links

09 March 2018

The polling people at YouGov have published a fascinating survey  on the British public’s attitudes to #metoo, equal pay and women in the workplace.

Asked about media reports of women in the US and UK being sexually harassed by men, 47% of respondents said that they “raised serious issues about the treatment women receive from men in many sectors of our economy and national life”, while 34% said they “reflected the tendency of the media to sensationalise issues, especially where sex is involved, and exaggerate problems that matter less than much of the media make out”.  However, when the results were broken down by reference to how people voted in the EU referendum, a stark divide emerged.  61% of Remainers plumped for “raise serious issues”, and only 27% for “media exaggeration”, whereas among Leavers the position was reversed: only 37% said “raise serious issues”, while 44% went for “exaggeration”.

On equal pay, 14% of all respondents said “in general, men and women growing up in Britain these days have broadly equal career prospects, there is no need for further action by the government or employers”, while 47% said “some inequalities remain, but women these days have considerably better prospects than they used to; further measures to achieve equality are desirable but no longer a priority”.  Only 27% plumped for “the gap between men and women, in pay and career opportunities, is still far too great and action to close it should be a priority for government and employers”.  There was more of a consensus between Remainers and Leavers on this one, though still a gap, with 36% of those who voted to stay in the EU saying “more action needed”, and just 21% among those who voted out. 

Respondents were then given a list of ten measures aimed at improving workplace equality, and asked which two or three they supported most.  “Employers allowing working parents to work flexible hours, to fit in with their childcare arrangements” came top, with 33%, and was top of the list for both Remainers and Leavers, followed by “tougher enforcement of laws against sexual harassment and violence towards women” (27%), although here there was a divide with Leavers placing “schools doing more to persuade teenage girls to pursue ambitious careers and to study subjects such as science and engineering (28%) second.  Bottom of the list for both sides of the EU divide was “action by employers to appoint far more women to senior positions in careers such as business, politics, medicine and the law”, supported by just 11%.  “Equal parental leave rights and pay for fathers and mothers” was supported by a quarter of all participants, putting it well ahead of “tougher enforcement of equal pay laws”, supported by just 18%.

So the Great British Public wants sexual harassment taken seriously and is keen on flexible working, but is far less interested in “boardroom quotas” and more women in senior roles, and tougher action on equal pay.  As the Will of the People must be respected – a proposition surely the Leavers would agree with…? – over to you, the Government…

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