Equality Issues

The Gender Pay Gap – why does it matter?

UK organisations with 250 or more employees, have until midnight on Wednesday 4th April, to met their legal requirement to report their gender pay gap data.  Of those who have already published their findings, 78% pay men more than they pay women.

The Pay Gap is not the same as as equal pay: since the Equal Pay Act of 1970, and the more recent Equality Act of 2010, it is unlawful for a company to pay people unequally because of their gender, and this applies to all employers no matter how large or small.

So a gender pay gap might exist where more men than women are in top level jobs (and vice versa of course).  Now, this might prompt some people to say, well if men have worked hard and risen to the top of the management tree, don’t they deserve a salary to reflect that hard work, experience and responsibility?  And surely no-one would deny paying someone in line with the requirements of the job?

So why are the government asking companies to assess and publish data? Why does it matter?

There’s no simple answer to this; it’s a complex issue and one which is reflective of societal issues as much as anything else.

The Fawcett Society (which is a group that campaigns for equality), says that caring responsibilities play a part, as it is more likely that a woman will care for young children, or for the elderly, meaning they are more likely to work in lower paid, part time roles, and which often have fewer opportunities for career progression.  We have a divided labour market (women are still more likely to work in these lower skilled / lower paid jobs than men), and discrimination is another likely cause: it has been reported that one in nine new mothers were either made redundant (or dismissed) or treated so poorly they felt that they had no choice but to leave their job.  This of course creates a gap in experience, and so when those women choose to return to work at a later date, it can lead to lower wages.  And in general, more men than women, hold more senior roles in more companies, and the more senior a role, the more likely it is to have a higher wage.

A number of the companies who have already published their data, have said that their gap is due to that final reason: they have more men in top level jobs. Of these companies, some chose to add that men and women working in the same role are equally paid (which shouldn’t really need to said, as already mentioned above, it has been illegal to not do so since 1970!).

And so again, it might prompt some people to ask, why does this all matter? Why force companies to publish such sensitive data?

Because we can’t to do anything to address these differences (and their reasons) until we establish what the differences are.  Why are there more men in senior roles than women?  Why are around 54,000 new mothers losing their jobs each year?  Why do 44% of managers feel that mothers could become a burden to their team?

I’m not alone in thinking that it’s because we live in a fairly unequal society, which starts in childhood.  Boys and girls and treated differently from the moment they’re born.  Girls are sugar and spice and all things nice, and boys are encouraged to be the leaders of tomorrow, confident and loud and strong! If we continue to tell girls to sit nicely and be quiet, we’ll have another generation of young women who don’t have the confidence to argue their place in either society or a company.  If we continue to tell boys that they have to be strong, and lead and that girls are not the same as them, we’ll have another generation of young men who might think this pay gap isn’t a issue that needs addressing.

Some people of course won’t agree with this; some will say let kids be kids, stop putting your own labels and issues on them!!  Some people will also say that addressing the pay gap issue by forcing companies to publish data, and encouraging firms to set recruitment targets or quotas, means that hiring the ‘right person for the right job’ no longer applies, that someone will only be hired because they ‘ticked a box’.  That particular argument implies that currently, the right person is always in the right job!  The simple law of odds means that can’t be the case!  In a society that is roughly 50/50 men/women, why is it 54,000 mothers lose their jobs due to maternity discrimination each year, but the 54,000 men who become new parents don’t?

Companies who are shown to have a gender pay gap, won’t be ‘punished’ when their data is published.  But it is likely that society, and the media, will ask them why?  That potential employees will have concerns about working for them.  That other businesses will have concerns about working with them.  And given that a report published in 2016 stated that improved  gender parity could add £150 billion to the UK economy, why wouldn’t both companies and society, want to close the gender pay gap?


Click here to read more about the work of The Fawcett Society.  And do read about the wonderful #flexappeal campaign run by Mother Pukka, who has also recently teamed up with Pregnant then Screwed to set up and run the #Workitout forum, a space for working parents to find support and solutions.



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