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'Pay gap at the multiples shows gender equality is some way off'

Gender attitudes have improved, but the pay gap at Boots and Well reveals continued inequality, says lawyer David Reissner

This year, International Women's Day marked the centenary of women getting the right to vote in the UK, and saw an escalation of the #MeToo campaign highlighting widespread sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace. But gender equality is still some way off.

Sexual misconduct in the workplace is one of the ways in which women have not been treated as equals, but a recent High Court decision shows that attitudes have changed. The case concerned a hospital doctor, Dr Mohammed Yasin. Within two hours, Dr Yasin hugged two young, female nurses from behind, rubbed his hands on their bodies, pressed his erect penis against them and made inappropriate comments to them. There had been no other complaints against him during his eight years as a doctor.

Ms Justice Yip dismissed his appeal against erasure from the medical register, holding that although Dr Yasin's conduct did not amount to the most serious sexual assault, his behaviour could not be minimised. The judge commented on the shift in attitudes towards, and public perception of, low-level sexual offences, which are now regarded as being more serious than they once were – and rightly so.

Inequality is also apparent in what women get paid for equivalent work. Last year, the government introduced world-leading legislation that made it statutory for organisations with 250 or more employees to report annually on their gender pay gap. Boots has just reported that the average pay gap between male and female employees is 21%. Although 78% of its employees are female, they represent just 68% of the highest pay quartile.

Shortly after Boots, Well published similar pay gap figures. If the Boots and Well gender pay gaps are typical of community pharmacy, then there is a long way to go in terms of achieving pay equality. Nevertheless, identifying the problem is at least a step in the right direction.

Gender equality is not just about pay. Some women have held notable leadership roles in the pharmacy profession – Sue Sharpe, Helen Gordon, Nanette Kerr, Janice Perkins and Tricia Kennerley come to mind – and they have each made a significant contribution. However, it is still rare to see many women at the top table in pharmacy organisations or in ‎larger chains.

Amid the coverage of the Boots and Well gender pay gaps, we shouldn’t lose sight of other inequalities in healthcare and elsewhere in business. Equal representation in senior management positions should be a key target.

David Reissner is senior healthcare partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP

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