Closing the gender pay gap

Liz Willis discusses the gender pay debate and the need for transparency to bring change.

With the Suffragette film in cinemas and the newly formed Women’s Equality Party signing up new members in droves, Equal Pay is back on the agenda. How did it ever fall off it? How could a so-called civilised, Western democracy ever collude with the practice of men and women doing the same work being paid differently, simply because of their gender?

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When the women machinists at Ford, in Dagenham, went on strike for Equal Pay in 1968, it resulted in the Equal Pay Act. We all cheered and thought that the battle had been won. Paying people the same rate for the job, regardless of gender, seems such an obvious thing to do, so obviously reasonable and common sense. It shouldn’t even require debating. But there were people opposing it back in 1968 and, 47 years later, there are employers still resisting.

The gender pay gap is currently 19 per cent. This is appalling and shocking.

In our work development work with women in the UK we come across this discrepancy almost daily, regardless of the woman’s type and level of work. Even women graduating from Oxford University — no less immediately encounter this denigration of their ability. For example, in a recent research project, just six months after graduating, 50 per cent of Oxford’s Social Science male graduate leavers were earning £27,000 or more, while 70 per cent of similar females earned this amount or less, despite having the same, or sometimes a better, class of degree in the same subject.

Now we discover that some employers are getting around the need to be transparent about salaries, by being discriminatory in the awarding of bonuses. Private sector employers will now have to reveal the payment of bonuses as well as salaries.

Opposing Equal Pay is simply indefensible. One third of working women in the UK are the main breadwinners in their household. Why should they have to work harder and longer to support their families, than their male colleagues doing the same work? Pay should be related to the value of the work, not the employees’ gender or domestic circumstances.

These new rules are welcome, but they will only apply to organisations employing more than 250 people. As most of the UK workforce works for organisations employing less than 250 people, most working women won’t benefit from these new regulations  and won’t even know whether their male colleagues, doing the same work, are being paid more. They’re being kept in the dark.  

Surely it’s long overdue that every employer, regardless of size, should be required to conduct and publish a transparent Equal Pay Audit, including bonuses and other employment benefits. That information will reveal what’s happening enabling another step towards putting Equal Pay into place once and for all.

Liz Willis is joint CEO of The Springboard Consultancy

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