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Four ways to close the gender pay gap

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So, Stylist can exclusively reveal that the pay gap between men and women doing the same job has shrunk.

Should we be patting ourselves on the back? Clinking glasses of champagne and toasting our hard-won battle for fair pay in the workplace? Hardly. The gender pay gap has decreased, yes, but by a mere £486.

According to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), last year the annual salary difference between male and female executives was £10,546. It has narrowed to the marginally more palatable £10,060, which still adds up to more than £400,000 over our working lifetimes. The gap is persistent, too – it occurs across all levels of management with female directors suffering from the most acute disparity.

Women in the top jobs on average enjoy annual salaries of £127,257 for their years of experience and hard work. That sounds reasonable until you discover that men in the same position bank an extra £14,689 for their endeavours. And all this is despite the fact that women outperform men at university and go in greater numbers; unless women suddenly become stupid on entering the workplace, and their brains mysteriously fall out and make puddles on the floor, this is raw sexism. Research tells us that companies with senior women are more profitable, but who cares? The government resists female quotas on boards because it does what business wants it to do.

Forty-two years after the UK ruled it unlawful to be paid less simply because you are a woman, it’s beyond comprehension that we are still discussing the issue. It stretches the limits of incredulity and also hammers home how complacency or ‘putting up with it’ does us absolutely no favours. In a recent Stylist survey, 67% of you said you had never asked for a pay rise. That number has to drop. Stylist has spoken to experts across the employment spectrum so that, if you feel you’re being underpaid, you can do something about it.

1. Know your rights

So you think you’re being paid less than your male peer. But how do you start getting equal pay? Firstly, know what you’re entitled to under UK law. As it stands, The Equal Pay Act 1970 means you have a right to be paid the same as someone of the opposite sex doing the same or similar work, or different work that is of equal value to your employer. This means you have to be able to prove that you and your male counterpart have jobs that should demand equal wages. And this is not an easy process.

Harmajinder Hayre, head of the employment team at Ward Hadaway Leeds, spells it out. “There can be justifiable reasons why some staff are paid more that have nothing to do with gender: skill, flexibility, length of service, or clients may pay more for another worker’s services.” So don’t let outrage push you into hasty – and perhaps career-damaging – decisions.

“Ask for an informal meeting with the HR manager and ask to be reassured,” says Angela Ward, HR manager at charity Eaves. If that doesn’t prove fruitful, HR Magazine editor Siân Harrington advocates using free services before bringing in the legal big guns. “Legal action should be the last resort – it puts up a barrier straight away. Seek help from a union rep, Citizens Advice (citizens advice.org.uk) or ACAS (acas.org.uk).”

If court is looking like your only option, you have to be crystal clear about how much your job or principles mean to you. If you choose to take the legal road, make sure you have a watertight case and take your claim for equal pay to the Employment Tribunals service. As a rule, you can make your claim at any time you’re in the job or within six months of leaving that employment.

2. Do your homework

The next step is all about research and detective work. If you work in the public sector, unearthing the correct pay grade for your job should be straightforward as it will be published in the public domain on websites linked to your area of industry, such as unison.org.uk for NHS pay scales or tes.co.uk if you’re a teacher.

However, if you work in private business and don’t have regular pay performance reviews, it can be tricky to work out precisely what the gap is and why it’s there. Harrington advises to tread carefully. “Approach your HR department or boss in a non-aggressive way. I would suggest saying something like, ‘It’s come to my attention that Dave earns more than me. Could you take me through the reasons why?’” You don’t want to get a reputation as an agitator – plus, there can often be solid, legal reasons behind disparities in pay. “Don’t rush in,” explains Harrington. “For instance, if your company bought another company and kept the staff, those staff may be historically on contracts that pay more. Or, it may be that your colleague takes on extra tasks or works longer hours that you just don’t know about.” You have to get your facts straight.

While employers can’t tell you precisely what your colleagues are paid or what the details of their contracts are, they can tell you why there are discrepancies, if you know they exist. In the UK, private business can pay what they want as long as it meets the national minimum wage. However, websites such as payscale. com can give a ball-park salary for your role.

And, be wary of bringing in the old complaint of your 50 hours of overtime and steely Victorian work ethic. Unless you’re on a performance-related contract (where, for instance, the more you sell, the bigger bonus you receive), whether someone is performing better or not than you has no standing in an equal pay claim. You can swear blind that Mike next to you doesn’t work as hard but that’s just a matter of opinion. “For an equal pay claim you need to prove you are doing a like-for-like job and being paid less. Performance doesn’t come into it,” explains Harrington.

3. Make a killer case

Put simply, there is no reason why men should be paid more than women for doing the same job. Unfortunately, it’s ingrained in society. Women traditionally leave work for childcare reasons, come back on a part-time basis, then move back to full-time work. During that period they often fail to get paid on a parity with male colleagues.

Yes, men may have worked for 15 years without career breaks but it’s inevitably women who have to bear the next generation. If the argument does arise that your male counterpart has three years more experience because they didn’t duck out of their jobs to raise children, that point of view is simply not legal. “You can’t treat a female less favourably in terms of pay because she has had or is going to take maternity leave,” says Hayre.

But as true as this is, ranting about reproductive organs in your boss’s pristine office isn’t going to bring the bearers of equal pay running to your door. Build your case to show that you do as much as your male peers. Find your job description, illustrate how you meet every target, how you have the necessary experience and the qualifications, that you can perform with the best of them. As nice as it would be to have constant appreciation for your efforts, you can’t assume that everyone in the office is following your daily progress and logging all your achievements.

You have to do that yourself. So note down the important wins and clearly illustrate how you’ve developed projects, then tell your boss. “Point to one or two recent examples,” says Harrington. “You have to tell people how good you are at your job. Learn how to shout about it.” Slot in a time with your manager with the explicit purpose of discussing your salary; no-one responds well to having a pay rise demand foisted on them at 9am on a Monday.

“Ask your boss for a meeting to discuss future opportunities. There is a view that a good time to bring up pay is when you have done something exceptional, such as saved the company money,” says Harrington. So, did you just bring in a brand new account on Tuesday? Ask for a meeting on Friday after lunch and state your case.

4. Negotiate like a man

Women traditionally aren’t comfortable asking for more money. Sara Laschever, in her book Women Don’t Ask, believes this is because women are raised to be undemanding where the virtues of being “pliable, pleasant [and] accommodating” are valued. Men, on the other hand, tend to have no qualms about demanding a salary hike. “For women to feel they’ve done a really good job, they need to put in 120%,” says Harrington. “Men get the same sense of achievement if they put in 70%.” And she explains how it’s the same pattern with promotions. “Consider a job advert. Women tend to look at all the skills the employer asks for and say to themselves, ‘Oh, I haven’t quite got enough experience so I shouldn’t apply.’

Men will tick seven out of the 10 boxes and decide that’s enough to go for it.” You have to take a good, long look at yourself. If you do a good job and deserve more money – or certainly equal pay – have some confidence in your ability and your value to the company. Take the list of your achievements into the meeting and use it to explain why you are valuable to the company. Show how you meet every point on your job description and state clearly that you’re unhappy that male colleagues who you consider to be equals get paid more.

Remember, if you’re good at your job and you’re important to the company, it’s a far better business decision for them to keep you. Losing good staff is not something employers want to put into practice, due to the cost of recruitment alone. If you can communicate that you’re unhappy in a constructive way, without causing unbridgeable rifts through the office, the chances are they’ll bend to accommodate.

The idea that pay inconsistencies are born of malice or ingrained misogyny is often misguided. “More often than not, employers just aren’t aware of the discrepancy and you could be pleasantly surprised by the reaction,” says Harrington. The mantra here is that if they value you, they’ll pay for you. Go into negotiations with self-belief and you may just come out a little better off.

Picture credits: Rex Features

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