Gender Pay Gap – Myth or Reality

Unless you have been living under a rock, it is likely that you will have heard about the BBC wage gap scandal for its top presenters. Whilst perhaps an insight into the lives of those we see most regularly on our screens or hear on our radios, the salient point is this: a gender pay gap exists.

It is worth noting at the beginning of this article that there is a difference between the gender pay gap and equal pay. The gender pay gap is a reference to the average pay differences between men and women over a period of time, regardless of the job they do. Equal pay refers to the differences in remuneration between men and women who carry out the same, or similar, job.

The question is simple: in a modern age, celebrating diversity and equality, why does a gender pay gap exist? Why are men and women paid differently for doing the same, or similar, job? It seems somewhat draconian for an individual to be paid less, simply because of their predetermined biological sex. According to the most up-to-date figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the current overall pay gap between men and women is 19.2% in favour of men (full and part-time workers).

In ages gone by, there was a misconception that women possessed fewer mental faculties than their biological counterpart and were therefore less skilled and deemed to deserve lesser remuneration. However, in twenty-first century Britain, the newly appointed President of the Supreme Court of England and Wales does away with such a view. Baroness Hale of Richmond will be the first female president of the UK’s Supreme Court. A woman, of great intellectual rigour, being rightfully paid the same as her predecessor.

Whilst societal attitudes are changing, the fundamental issue at hand is that even in 2017 there exists a difference in pay between men and women. How can this be challenged? How can we try to tackle the gender pay gap?

There are a number of ideas floating around on the world wide web ranging from the sensible to the strange and here are a few for your consideration:

1)    Government reform to force mandatory pay data reporting. We live in a society where there is a great deal of secrecy around how much we earn for what we do. If business were forced to be transparent about how much each employee earned for the job that they do, they would be unable to hide any discrepancies. Companies would be forced to explain themselves as to why female employee A, was paid less than male employee B for doing work of a similar nature. The risk of facing legal action for non-compliance with equal pay would likely force the hand of many businesses to end this practice.

2)    Enforce paternity leave. There is the argument that by making men take more paternity leave, women will be able to return to work for more hours and earn more money. This also promotes flexible working hours to be a non-gender-specific issue. A working example is in Sweden where the father is allocated, on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, 90 days of paid leave. This allows for a greater share in parental responsibilities and greater equality between both of the parents. It seems that not only do the Swedes make affordable furniture, they get it right with shared parental responsibilities too.

3)    Give women a pay rise. Whilst this may seem obvious, it is worth addressing. Marketing agency, Brainlabs, voted to eliminate the overall pay gap by increasing women’s salaries by 8.6%. Similarly, the University of Essex introduced a one-off salary hike to raise female professor’s pay in line with their male opposites. These examples were not met with disdain by the male colleagues of those effected, it was welcomed and celebrated. It would be rare to find a man who would openly contest a woman of equal skill and ability being paid the same amount of money as him.

Unfortunately, the pay gap still exists. Unless there is widespread legislative reform forcing pay data transparency within businesses or an adoption of non-selective shared parental leave then it seems likely that any changes will be slow and scarce. Undoubtedly the recent BBC exposé will have brought this issue to the forefront of popular culture but, unless something meaningful is done about this issue, it may once again fall by the wayside.


By Jack Davies

SMQ Legal Intern

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