By James Durie, Chief Executive of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative at Business West
We’re a pretty forward-thinking bunch here in Bristol. As the first English city to vote in favour of an elected mayor, the city of Banksy and Britain’s only green capital, we have a proud history of pushing against the status quo, not just accepting what’s offered but often following our own path when it comes to realising a better future.
Since the late 1980s, business has organised itself to be a powerful driving force behind a number of positive developments for our city region and its communities, playing a key role in efforts to make Bristol a fairer and more inclusive place, which is open and welcoming to all but also focused on enterprise and increasing prosperity. One of the latest developments to have galvanised business support is the project to recognise Bristol as the UK’s first real living wage city.
In January 2020, we were proud to see that the ‘Bristol Living Wage Action Group’ was launched to raise awareness of the economic and social benefits of the real living wage and to encourage local businesses to get accredited by the Living Wage Foundation. As it stands, 165 employers across the city region are committed to paying the real living wage of £9.30 an hour (including my own organisation Business West), and the group aims to double that number by 2023.
If, as a city region, we are able to meet this bold and ambitious target, it will lay down a marker for just what can be achieved to tackle economic exclusion and improve people’s lives at a city region level.
Bristol is unique among UK cities in that it has in place the key fundamentals to tackle economic exclusion on the ground: an engaged business community, strong city leadership and a clear long term agenda for change in the shape of the One City Plan.
Realising our ambition of becoming a real living wage city, then, is not the end game, it is a springboard to achieving our long-term vision of tackling a whole host of interrelated issues such as the gender pay gap, for instance.
What's it got to do with the Gender Pay Gap?
Real living wage city status will be a step in the right direction in terms of narrowing the gender pay gap, as tackling the issue of low pay and the gender pay gap are closely intertwined. However, solving the gender pay isn’t simply a question of paying women the same or more than their male counterparts.
The gender pay gap is a much more complex issue, which stems variously from occupational segregation (i.e. more men in higher paid industries), vertical segregation (too few women in senior positions), women's overall paid working hours and barriers to labour market entry. Various factors contribute towards the gender pay gap in society and it requires a fundamental shift in terms of education, legislation and corporate governance to begin to narrow it. Yet, despite the seemingly gargantuan task of closing the gender pay gap once and for all, I am optimistic that this is an issue upon which Bristol can take a lead.
Our strong city leadership and engaged business community, gives me great hope that we can begin to tackle issues at a city-region level that we would not have even dreamt about tackling previously. Our unique position means that Bristol has to be bold and lead - like it has done so many times in the past - on the issue of the gender pay gap to carve out a pathway toward a more open, inclusive and sustainable future. What’s more, we already have two incredibly inspirational entrepreneurs leading change in our city: Kalpna Woolf and Dr Zara Nanu.
Kalpna Woolf heads up BeOnBoard - a Bristol inspired programme that identifies emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity and gender and supports their development by providing the training required to make them board-ready, whereas Dr Zara Nanu is the brains and driving force behind Gapsquare - a leading cloud based software company that has been incubated in this city and enables organisations to analyse and solve their gender pay gap. In her words, ‘for impact to be long-lasting and far-stretching, it needs to focus on the local context and build outwards. Somewhere like Bristol - which we know is sold on the fairpay agenda - is a perfect place to start.’
With such committed business leaders and an engaged, responsible and progressive business community that wants to see change – we believe that local innovation can tackle economic exclusion and shrink the gender pay gap in a way that reaches beyond the regions we are in. We believe that local change can transform work on the global stage.