Today's challenges towards equality

To honour International Women’s Day, Judge & Priestley has produced three articles looking at the struggle to overcome discrimination and to create a more equal society. In this third piece, we look at how, despite huge strides to overcome prejudice and discrimination, there is much work to do to ensure that women enjoy full equal rights with men. 

We’ve come a long way since the days of the 1950s when women had few rights and were often subjected to the ‘marriage bar’ in which they were expected to give up their jobs after getting married and stay at home. Thanks to a succession of legislation over the last 70 years women now enjoy increased protection against discrimination in the workplace, when dealing with public bodies like the health service and the police, and society in general.

There is still a long way to go, however, to achieve full equality at work and in nearly every other aspect of life.  

Gender Pay Gap

One of the enduring challenges facing women in the UK is the gender pay gap, which persists across industries and occupations. Despite the enactment of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, women are still paid less on average than men and are less represented than men in management roles. 

The ‘motherhood penalty’ still exists meaning time out of work during pregnancy and subsequent childcare mean that women continue to fall behind in their careers and earn less during their working lives.

Both Conservative and Labour governments have funded some hours of free childcare but so far it has never reached a sufficient level to enable women to compete equally in the workplace. In many cases, women have to pay so much for childcare that it isn’t worth going to work. This means they often fall even further behind in their careers and are unable to catch up when they do return to work years later.

To address the gender pay gap, women’s rights campaigners point to the need for more pay transparency, more child care provision, greater maternity rights and a willingness by employers to make it easier for mothers to return to work by providing more flexibility over working hours and refresher training for those who have been out of the workplace for an extended period. 

Underrepresentation in Leadership Roles

Research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has found that while women make up 48% of the UK workforce, they only hold 41% of management roles. The figure is only 38% in senior business leading positions. This applies across all sectors, including politics, professions, business, and academia. 

Work-Life Balance 

Achieving a sustainable work-life balance remains a significant challenge for many women, particularly those juggling caregiving responsibilities alongside their professional pursuits. Women often bear a disproportionate burden of caregiving duties, including childcare, care for elderly relatives, and household responsibilities, which can impact their career progression and opportunities for professional development. 

Addressing the problem requires supportive policies including flexible working arrangements, affordable childcare options, and family-friendly policies such as greater parental leave and caregiving support. 

Gender-Based Violence 

Despite legislative efforts to address domestic abuse and sexual violence, gender-based violence remains a pervasive issue affecting women in the UK. Women continue to experience high rates of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and harassment, with devastating consequences for their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. 

Tackling gender-based violence will require a multi-faceted approach that combines legal protections, support services, and prevention strategies. This includes robust enforcement of existing laws, enhanced provision of support services for survivors, and comprehensive education and awareness campaigns to challenge attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate violence against women.


Women from marginalised and underrepresented groups, including women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, disabled women, and migrant women, face compounded barriers to equality due to intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalisation.

For example, a House of Commons Committee report found that maternal mortality for black women is almost four times higher than for white women. Significant disparities also exist for women of Asian and mixed ethnicity. These disparities have existed and been documented for at least 20 years, but only received mainstream attention and government action since around 2018. More work needs to be done to ensure equality for BAME women in healthcare and most other aspects of life.

So much achieved, yet much still to do

As we commemorate International Women’s Day it’s right that we acknowledge the progress that has been made in advancing women’s rights over the last 70 years. It is equally important to recognise that there are still major discrepancies to address if women are to achieve the full equality that they deserve. This will require sustained efforts and collective action to address these ongoing obstacles, dismantle systemic barriers, and create a society where all women can thrive and fulfil their potential. 

to chat