As of 1 April 2020, 10.9 per cent of the UK Regular Forces were female (15,900 personnel). The Office for National Statistics reported in August 2019 that the UK workforce is more gender diverse than ever before with the number of women climbing to a new record high and making up 51 per cent of employment growth. More women are working now than before, and as of June 2020, more than two-thirds (72.7 per cent) of women aged 16-64 are employed.
According to government data, the most common sectors of employment for women in the UK are health and social work (accounting for 21 per cent of the jobs held by women in September 2019), then wholesale and retail trading (14 per cent) and education (12 per cent). Some of these areas, e.g. retail (but not online), were hit hard by the Covid-19 epidemic in March 2020.
In 2019 Parliament reported that the gender pay gap was 17.3 per cent in the UK, which means that on average, women were paid around 83p for every £1 men were paid. This is especially relevant in part-time work where more women are employed, mainly to fit around childcare and caring responsibilities. However, the gender pay gap for both the bottom and top 10 per cent of part-time employees has decreased. With full-time work, the gender pay gap is wider in the private sector than the public sector, particularly in the top 10 per cent of earners.
In June 2019, McKinsey published a report: The future of Women at Work in the UK. They stated that an estimated 22 per cent of employed women in the UK could find their jobs displaced by automation by 2030. The sectors where most women’s jobs are likely to be replaced are retail and wholesale trade, healthcare and administration and government, accounting for 44 per cent of job displacement.
As female Service leavers, where does this leave you, and what steps can you take to secure worthwhile, fulfilling employment when you leave the armed forces?
The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), in conjunction with Cranfield University and the Institute of Employment, recently commissioned a report: Female Service Leavers and Employment. In his foreword, the chief executive of FiMT, Air Vice-Marshal Ray Lock, makes these recommendations:
• Prepare early and prepare well.
• Speak to those who have travelled your road ahead of you.
• Believe that your service has given you skills and experience most employers would dearly love to acquire.
• When faced by those who do not understand, help them to do so.
The report goes on to state that ‘employers are favourably disposed to recruiting female Service leavers, and indeed Service leavers generally, regardless of gender. The benefits are perceived to be work ethic, self-discipline, self-motivation, resilience, loyalty, adaptability, communication skills, and experience of shift work and of other countries. However, employers recognise that male and female Service leavers will lack commercial and market experience, and a minority think some Service leavers find it hard to adjust to more flexible, less structured environments.’
Apart from domestic and childcare responsibilities, there may also be the issue of self-perception, which is a matter of being female, rather than being a Service leaver. Women often deselect themselves from positions unless they are sure they can do them, while men will put themselves forward in a more speculative way, even if they think they can only do some of the role.
Most, if not all, reputable companies in the UK want to employ women, and in some areas, where they are under-represented, e.g. financial services and STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and maths) companies want to increase the balance of female employees.
There are some strong examples of women reaching the highest positions within organisations - Dame Carolyn Fairbairn is the current director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, and Dame Cressida Dick was appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 2017. Closer to home, Major General Sharon Nesmith is the first female Army officer to command at Two-Star level. As General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command, she leads over 6,000 staff to ensure British military training remains world-class.
Your next steps moving forward
At the OA, our advice is always to plan, prepare meticulously and prepare well to put yourself in the best position to compete in the civilian jobs market. Identify any skills gaps and get qualifications where necessary – use your resettlement grant and ELCs. If you can, find some work experience in your chosen area. Think about growth industries, particularly in 2021, when we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Which sectors are still recruiting, and what will happen in the future? Which jobs are most likely to be automated? What sort of new skills could you learn around say AI and cyber security? Be alert and think ahead and talk to others who have already made their transition.
Above all, believe in yourself and, as Laura Blair, former Army Major and OA’s Director of Employment says, “It is important to take every opportunity to discover what employers are looking for from future employees so use events and career opportunities to hear what they have to say. We know employers are keen to address gender balance inequalities in their workforce so be confident that your application and skills will be of value.”
The future is bright for women in employment, employers are open to flexible working, and the past year has shown that many roles can be undertaken working from home.