President's Message - November 2018
At this year’s Remembrance Day Parade in St Albans, I had the privilege and honour of laying a wreath at the War Memorial on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. It was a humbling occasion. But it was also uplifting to see so many young people taking part, whether in service or school uniform, standing side by side with those of more mature years, paying respect to the fallen.
The War Memorial in St Peter’s Street carries the names of 650 men who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalves. But as I stood in contemplation, I wondered what else those 650 would have gone on to achieve, both at work and within our community, had they returned home. What bright minds would have gone on to contribute to the growth of our communities and our businesses locally, nationally and internationally? What other legacies would they have left for us? And have we achieved everything they would have hoped for or expected of us?
While those men were fighting on the front line, our businesses and production lines were kept going by those women who entered the working world. WW1 is often seen as a major turning point in the role of women in British society. But while the 1918 Representation of the People Act enfranchised over 8 million women and life after the war offered opportunities for some, for many others the glass ceiling remained at ground level for many years.
It was only last month that the ban on women serving in close combat ground roles in the UK military was lifted, ending inequality on the front line. This wasn’t done for political correctness but to ensure recruitment of the right person for the right role. For the first time, the armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender. And in business that should of course also be the case. But 100 years after the end of the WW1 there is still a gender pay gap. A House of Commons Briefing Paper published just three weeks ago states that the UK the median hourly pay for full time employees is 8.6% less for women than for men. The OECD has shown that if we unleashed the true potential of women the economy could grow by an extra 10% by 2030, adding an extra £180 billion to growth.
The Government is proposing to reduce significantly the 250-employee threshold for gender pay gap reporting, perhaps to as low as 50 employees. This will affect more businesses in our district and more Chamber members and is only to be encouraged. According to evidence smaller employers have larger gender pay gaps so it makes sense to lower the threshold.
To all those young people that I stood alongside at the Remembrance Day Service, I’d like our generation to leave them a legacy of gender, ethnicity and disability pay gap equality. Equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population and a society at ease with itself. This is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a prosperous, sustainable and peaceful society.