Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

New report on reducing the gender pay gap for women with a learning disability

The gender pay gap for young women with SEND who take part in DFN Project SEARCH’s supported internship programme is consistently narrower than the national average, according to a new report.

The report by the employment charity DFN Project SEARCH, analysed data between 2016 and 2021 and found that autistic women and women with a learning disability often have lower employment rates and work fewer hours per week in transition-to-work programmes.

Towards Full Gender Parity offers a set of recommendations for reaching gender parity in the workforce for young women with a learning disability or autism.

Bucking the national pay gap trend

Claire Cookson, CEO of DFN Project SEARCH, said: “We already knew that young women we support often bucked the national gender pay gap trend securing great employment opportunities just like all young adults we work with, and at times earned more than men. But we really wanted to drill down into our data to see how that gap could be reduced further towards full gender parity and help inform positive social change. We paid very close attention to employment rates and working hours and identified the best evidence-based strategies to reduce this gap in these areas.”

The report confirms that strategies applied across all DFN Project SEARCH supported internship sites have been successful and with the correct interventions, young women and their employers can successfully tackle gender gap issues. The latest figures from more than 100 organisations that run DFN Project SEARCH programmes show:

  • Women supported by DFN Project SEARCH programmes had proportionally higher employment rates than women in general in the UK, and also that the gap in working hours and wage was much smaller at DFN Project SEARCH than in most regions in the UK;
  • The weekly hours of work for women and men employed by DFN Project SEARCH’s host businesses were almost exactly the same;
  • The overall working hours’ gap within the programme dropped from four hours to one hour since the research was initiated in 2021.

Report aims to help inform positive social change

Based on the report’s findings and their wider expertise in effective employment strategies, DFN Project SEARCH is sharing a set of guidelines for all organisations working in the transition-to-work sector to help ensure gender parity in employment:

  • Provide local authorities, businesses and supported employment partners with a breakdown of their outcomes by gender (as well as ethnicity and primary disability), to help monitor any potential gaps.
  • Share successful practices in the public domain to recruit more women into your programmes and promote transition to employment from an early age.
  • Take advantage of courses on how to identify and address unconscious bias.
  • Engage with families to raise their expectations and dispel worries so they can better support young people.
  • Closely engage with employers, both within your programmes and external to them, to improve their outcomes.
  • Engage with key stakeholders, in and outside of Government, to review Education and Health Care Plan assessments so that more young women are able to receive them.
  • Investigate complex findings – the gender gap is the result of contextual and societal challenges that warrant careful consideration.

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