Today is Equal Pay Day in the UK. What does that mean? It’s not just another opportunity to talk about the gender pay gap, 10 November 2016 marks the day from which women in full time jobs will in effect be working for free until the end of the year. Last year’s Equal Pay Day was 9 November, so we’ve made pretty much zero progress over the last twelve months in reducing a pay gap between men and women of almost 14% (13.9% to be exact).
What’s shocking about this is that it’s been 46 years since the Equal Pay Act enshrined in law the rights of women to be paid the same as men if they were doing the same job. 46 years! It’s shocking that today in 2016 there is still this huge disparity in the way that women are valued in the workplace as opposed to men.
Now, here’s a question for you. Do you think Theresa May is paid less than David Cameron was for the job of Prime Minister? Had Hillary Clinton made it to the White House, would she have been paid less than President Obama? Seems unthinkable, doesn’t it. The thing is, these are high profile roles where salary is a matter of public record, and it’s simply not a level playing field for many women working across a broad spectrum of industries.
Only a month ago, supermarket giant ASDA found itself braced for a class action suit, when an employment tribunal found in favour of 7,000 shop workers who complained that they were being paid between £1-£3 less than staff at distribution centres (most of whom are men). The company had tried to argue that because shops and distribution centres were in different locations, separate pay arrangements were justified. The tribunal found that ASDA could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to, according to law firm Leigh Day, which represented the women. And they’re not alone – a similar action is being brought against Sainsbury’s on behalf of 400 workers in a similar situation.
Over the years I have read many articles and manifestos that place the blame for the pay gap on demographics and cultural issues, claiming that women choose lower stress lower pay roles, or that they prefer to be family carers, quite aside from any workplace discrimination. The truth is that there are a combination of factors which influence the gender pay gap, many of which need to be tackled long before girls reach the workplace.
The Women’s Equality Party (WE) is calling for a new approach to widen the conversation, with a new three part approach to tackle inequality:
First, to address workplace discrimination WE is calling for companies to publish pay data broken down by gender, ethnicity and disability as well as by pay, employment status and working hours, including retention rates during and after parental leave.
Secondly, WE believes that remodelling the UK education system to ensure all girls get an equal education – and to do this it asks that schools conduct a gender audit of the curriculum to ensure they promote role models challenging gender stereotypes, as well as offering quality, independent careers guidance that encourages girls to do science and boys to think creatively.
Finally, WE is calling for further investment in childcare to enable more women to return to the workplace without being penalised financially for doing so, and has made concrete proposals for how this could be funded. It also wants to encourage men to share in parental leave by breaking down both financial and cultural barriers, with fathers receiving non-transferable 6 weeks of parental leave at 90 percent of pay.
At the current rate of progress, it will take until 2069 to close the gender pay gap, and longer if you are a black or ethnic minority woman, or indeed an older woman. We can’t wait that long. If you are in a leadership role, man or woman, make time to examine and address this issue within your workforce – you might be surprised what you find. And of course, if you’re working in an organisation that employs more than 250 people it will shortly be a matter of public record anyway, as you will have to publish details of pay gap data in 2018. We cannot take progress for granted, it is our collective responsibility to make sure our workplaces represent the very best practice, for both men and women.