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Lucy Mangan: It’s up to us to fight the gender pay gap

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Stylist's 24-hour issue: 12PM

Hello! having a good day? Excellent – glad to hear it! So, you don’t mind working for free then? What? You didn’t know? Yes, the average woman will be working for free until the end of the year.

Women on the whole earn 15% less than men, which works out at about £5,000 a year, or a quarter of a million pounds over a lifetime – a sum which equates to an unwitting donation of two and a half months’ work.

I didn’t know. I mean, I knew that despite there being legislation dedicated to ensuring wage equality between the sexes, there is still a gender pay gap. But the thing about a system’s stubborn, persistent inequities is that they sometimes become so widely known, such common knowledge, so apparently intractable and immutable that they start to seem normal. Just part of the scenery. Trees obscuring the legislation from view, maybe.

And it’s not until someone finds a new way of looking at them that you are jolted back to consciousness of the infuriating madness of it all. and I don’t know about you, but when you reframe the difference between men and women’s pay in terms of me working for nothing for two and a half months because I have a noo-noo rather than a ding-dong, that gets my attention.

When I was younger, more naïve, more hopeful, brighteyed and trusting, I used to think that the law would provide the answer, even if it took a bit of time for actual business practice to catch up. And it is indeed an answer – it has to be there, as a signal, a bulwark, a buttress, a banner reminding everyone that someone, somewhere takes this thing seriously even if it’s not the people in charge of your particular payroll. But as I get older, wiser, more cynical of mind and more cankered of heart I have come to realise that the law means little in daily life.

You’re working for nothing at the moment. Are you worth nothing?

Pay is about people. It is about what your boss thinks of you but more than that, it is about what you think of yourself. It is the latter, I suspect, where most of us come a cropper. In most cases, I don’t believe there is a kind of top-down conspiracy at work in every company where a gender pay gap exists to ensure that women are paid less than men. (Obviously we know that some of it derives from the fact that women tend to take career breaks to have children and then more frequently than men go back part-time in order to tend to the little ankle-biters thereafter. That’s a systemic disadvantage that involves a different set of factors than we have time to go into here.) I think that more often it comes down to those face-to-face moments when you have to enter into pay negotiations and suddenly ask for what you know you’re worth – or even, ideally, a little bit more, to give you some room for manoeuvre – that seem impossible. a lifetime of training overt and covert, of lessons deliberately applied by others or subconsciously intuited by us suddenly clamps down and immediately curtails our abilities and our options. It’s a lifetime of being taught in how not to draw attention to ourselves, not to take up more space than we absolutely have to, not to take instead of give, to be quiet instead of loud, to be modest not brash.

We must learn to disapply these lessons, thoroughly and permanently in a multitude of areas, but until then, pay negotiation meetings will do. modesty works brilliantly in social situations; nobody wants to be stuck with the selfaggrandising male or female bore – but it’s bugger all use professionally. So. You’re working for nothing at the moment. Are you worth nothing? Are you worth something? Good. Are you worth as much as the man next to you? Or even, possibly, a little bit more? go on, answer honestly. Just to yourself. no-one can hear you. Good. Now go home and repeat it in front of the mirror until it becomes part of your psyche. This is how men feel all the time. That’s not a criticism, that’s a good thing. But it’s bad for you if you work with people whose self-belief is more persuasive than your own.”

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