The Equality Act of 2010 clearly outlines the provisions for both men and women to receive equal pay for equal work in the same employment, applying regardless of their status. Whether they are on full-time, part-time, casual or temporary contracts the provision also disregards the length of service and was designed to put key legislation in place to tackle the gender pay row. Despite the clear law in place, 78% of the UK’s biggest companies are still paying men more than their female colleagues while a study from the Fawcett Society found that two in five people did not know that women were legally entitled to equal pay. Immediately, this suggests a complete systematic lack of awareness surrounding the anti-discriminatory and equality laws amongst a significant proportion of businesses operating in the country.
This is not just an issue exclusive to the UK, countries in Europe and around the world are systematically failing to address this moral and ethical issue. As per figures from the European Commission, the gender employment gap in EU stands at 11%, with 8.2% of women across the EU being employed compared to
79.2 % of men. The gender pay gap is far wider at 16%, meaning women earn 16% on average less per hour than men. Over time, this equates to the fact that women work up to 2 months a year for free. Within the EU, the numbers are even more shocking – while the gender pay gap is less than 8% in Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland and Romania, it is more than 20% in Czechia, Germany, Estonia and United Kingdom! Efforts to lower the gap have not been successful, with the European commissioner in charge of equality admitting that the gap has been stagnating.
A complex issue
Firstly, it is important to understand that the gender pay gap and equal pay are two separate issues. While the gender pay gap encompasses the difference between what men typically earn in an organisation compared to what women earn irrespective of their role or seniority, equal pay is a legal right and pertains to women being paid less than men for doing the exact same work. The UK’s Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 to close this gap, however a survey in November 2018 by Young Women’s Trust (YWT) found unequal pay is widespread, with 20% of women reporting less pay than male colleagues for the same or similar work.
Another report from the UN revealed that women are doing 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. This suggests that a woman’s work is seen as less valuable giving them little chance to grow their careers as they are not taken as seriously as men. This filters down from the top to the bottom and into wider society, where women are being told they are not equal to men and will have to settle for that regardless of a role being in the same position.
The issue of the gender pay gap is not simple – it is understood that women are more likely to assume roles of primary caregivers in families, and historically work in sectors that are lower paid generally. But the issue of inequal pay is a legal, moral and ethical let down by organisations unwilling to fairly treat female employees for doing the same amount of work as men in similar roles.
Recent cases of progress
In recent times, there have been examples of progress, with women making extensive efforts to address the issue of unequal pay. For example, the BBC’s Sarah Montague was awarded a £400,000 settlement and an apology from the company after filing a complaint about unequal pay and conditions. She was paid considerably less than her BBC Radio 4 co-host John HumZphrys by around £500,000, despite doing the same job. Although the BBC is likely to face more cases in the future, the development is an early sign of the right steps being taken to ensure widespread change.
Another example was the case regarding Glasgow City Council, who have been paying out £548m in compensation to around 16,000 workers. The vast majority of these employees are women in roles such as catering, cleaning and caring, who had been earning as much as £3 an hour less than their male colleagues who were on the same job level. These roles, such as refuse collection, are male-dominated and although the same work, women were still getting paid less. As a result, the council have had to take out several property-backed loan deals to help finance this major settlement which means repayments will take decades. This should appear as a striking example to companies who are still not paying both males and females equally.
The pathway to progress
Beyond the fringe cases of progress, a systematic long-term plan needs to be set in place that can foster and create the path towards reducing inequalities in the workplace. While the equal pay act has been in place for over five decades, organisations are still failing to meet the requirements. The government should expand on the powers of the equal pay act to mandate all organisations irrespective of size, to publish transparent annual reports detailing recruitment policies, salary ranges for roles, standardized assessment models and equal pay status within the company. Organisations should also take the lead in refining the culture by training staff and managers to get rid of unconscious bias and ensure transparent practices.
Another key aspect to address is the culture of relaying the burden of childcare responsibility solely on mothers. More often, women are forced to take extended leave of absence to several months or years for maternity and childcare, having to part away from the workforce for long periods. This further affects their work life and adds up in widening the gender pay gap as men with more experience tend to move forward onto senior management roles. This is visible in the fact that in the FTSE 250 companies, only 23.6% of board roles are held by women and about 100 companies in the FTSE 350 either have no women or just one on their board. By actively promoting a shared responsibility for childcare, though paternity policies, women can have the opportunity to get back into the workplace quicker post maternity. Companies should also invest in offering better childcare facilities as higher-paid management roles often require extended or flexible working hours, leaving many women accepting lower-paid jobs as the price for regular
Finally, our education system needs to change completely to create a value-based learning system that instills and fosters the principles of gender equality right from
Year 1. By promoting equality and raising awareness on the current gender bias in society and workplace, children will be better equipped to understand the problem early on and can prepare themselves to create change required in the society. The next generation can be the flagbearers to correct and clear the current generation’s problems.
By promoting such polices, we are best positioned to tackle the issue of gender diversity quicker. Remember, the World Economic Forum estimates it is expected to take another 202 years to close he economic gender gap at the current pace of change!
Natasha Mudhar is the Founder and Global Chief Executive of Sterling Global, the multi-disciplinary, international business consultancy with a robust communications backbone, established in 1995. Natasha also runs The World We Want, a global impact enterprise established with the mission of unlocking the collective impact of people, ideas, networks and technologies to accelerate the pace of progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.