It’s 2011 – the age of the commercial space shuttle and post-feminist equality – yet we still take a 10k pay cut for doing exactly the same job as men. Why? The difference is purely anatomical. Stylist’s columnist Tanya Gold investigates.
Every year we await the statistics and every year I blow a giant raspberry. I am speaking of the gender pay gap. Stay with me, reader, even though the gender pay gap sounds like an STD. It is an STD: it can affect your daughters, your sisters, your mothers and your friends. It impacts on your self-confidence, your liberty and your ability to live comfortably in your dotage. It affects your ability to buy the shoes on the Style List. Silence for the gender pay gap, ladies; your speechless rage would be appreciated.
The gender pay gap is the difference in salary that men and women can expect for doing exactly the same job. Do not be misled by statistics about part-time workers, or homilies about how much women love caring for their children, or the fantastical – but often suggested idea – that women actually like earning less because, well, I don’t know what to say to that, actually. The pay gap is the financial cost of being a woman. The statistics come out annually, like lottery results groaning in pain. And this year’s results are in. So what do we have?
The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) polled 34,158 male and female executives in the private sector and – tada! – the average pay gap between men and women doing the same job for the year February 2010 to February 2011 is £10,031. The average woman will be cheated out of £330,000 in her lifetime. That is 717 Vivienne Westwood Tartan Bedrock bags. Or 150,684 Big Macs. Or 1,571,428 packs of Sainsbury’s own-brand aspirin. And so on.
These statistics are for executives, but the painting is equally gloomy elsewhere. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970 – so prettily brought to life in the gender pay gap comedy Made In Dagenham – which was supposed to, well, give us equal pay, pay equality has stalled. Outside Executive Land, the gap is, on average, 15.5%, which means women sort of stop being paid on 2 November, while men get paid until Christmas. It is one of the highest pay gaps in the EU. It is a disgrace.
So why? Why do we get less? It is a buffet of history, psychology and sociology. First, we have what is called gender segregation. This is the tendency of women to congregate in traditionally low-paid occupations – cleaning, catering, caring. These jobs are not as highly prized as traditional men’s roles – construction, transport, skilled trades – and they are not as highly paid. Of the lowest paid workers in Britain, 64% are women. So why do we do it? We do it because women have always done it. We move, almost subconsciously, toward the roles that have been drawn for us, and it is an unusually driven woman who challenges these expectations. Must every woman who is fairly treated be a trailblazer and a heroine? Must we be warriors?
BABY, IT’S YOU
And so to the children which most of us want, who must be fed yoghurt. We live in a country that expects women to care for children and the elderly and disabled, even as it squashes our ambitions and our independence. (Want to leave a bad marriage? Good luck if you are jobless.) The nappies and snot and spat out tubs of yoghurt are all ours; almost 75% of those claiming carer’s allowance are women.
Although female executives start out earning as much, or even slightly more, than their male colleagues, as soon as children sprout out, the gap begins to throb. Women of childbearing age are often denied good jobs and, after maternity leave is over, it is common to find your job miraculously gone, or in the hands of an inferior male. Mothers are mistrusted; do they love the company as much as the baby?
Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, an organisation dedicated to equality for women, tells us, “Women who are juggling work with caring responsibilities, or whom employers think will soon have kids, are assumed to be less committed to their roles. [They] can find themselves passed over for bonuses or pay rises.” And we know it, and run away. Only 22% of MPs are female. Only 17% of the Cabinet is female.
So what to do? Get a part-time job? Well yes, do that, and watch the gap grow wider. Part-time work is less highly paid (by the hour) than full-time work and there is less scope for training and promotion and all those glittering prizes. Go home to the baby, your dreams are dust. It will get worse.
Currently, the pay gap is 20.8% in the private sector and 11.6% in the public sector. Ignore the dull statistics – just translate them into women you love. More women work in the public sector, because they have more progressive working practices. The Conservative-led government wants to prune the public sector of half a million jobs. They hope that the private sector will pick them up – ah, hope! – but even if they do, so the gap widens more in the naughty private sector. Childcare and social care support are also being pruned by this Tory-led government so women will move to part-time work, if they can get it, or take ever-declining benefits as the only way to care for their children. This is ever the way: women – who own less and earn less, who are more likely to live in poverty than men – suffer first in a recession.
15 % is the average male to female pay discrepency in the UK
This is not entirely a gender issue; it is also a class one. Men are routinely screwed by big business, who value attendance (sitting at a desk googling) over flexible working hours and employee happiness. But they get screwed less. We win the contest, statistic for statistic, year for year. Don’t hate us for it.
It is also a disaster for our national productivity. What happens when you exclude millions of clever women from senior positions? Business is less profitable. When Norway stuck women on corporate boards by law (40% was insisted on) productivity increased, as Stylist discovered when we investigated the matter in one of our first issues. Management consultants McKinsey learned that when women were promoted to senior positions, the stock price rose by 53%. One study announced that ignoring female talent costs British business £23bn a year.
So what can we do except rage, or accept? Publicity of course! There was a clause in the 2010 Equality Act that would have made it law for companies to publish their pay gaps after 2013, if they employed more than 250 people. When women know they are paid less than the man at the next computer, it helps. Business swore at the clause, saying it would ruin the economy, so the Cameron-led coalition, which depends on business for its posters in election years, shelved it. So you could email your MP and ask: what happened to Section 78 of the Equality Act? And keep asking. And make your friends and family ask. Politicians fear voters in gangs. They think we are evil bats.
Section 78 of the Equality Act was championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour Party and she did manage to secure it for the public sector – that is why the gap is smaller. For her trouble, she was roasted in the press. She was called a “patronising cow,” and one columnist announced he would not shag her. I thought that you should know.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
And so to flexible working hours, which are also a necessity, but they need to be legislated. Business does nothing by itself. In this, it is a bit like a big yoghurt-smeared baby. Women are entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever, but because of their responsibilities they will be denied promotion unless flexibility, for both men and women, is insisted on. But we can’t afford it, business will scream. Yeah right.
They said that about the minimum wage. The Long Hours Macho Club must be broken. The idea that a man who cares for children is a liability really needs to end.
And what about maternity and paternity leave, which progressives, who don’t live in 1956, call parental leave. This needs to be shared by parents, not all given to the mother, who promptly goes mad with nappy-hate, and denied to the father, who promptly becomes an ashen workaholic who sees his children so rarely he feels divorced. This is the cost to families. Mothers are bored and thwarted; fathers over-burdened and exhausted. Children, who see their parents ever as role models, look at their parents. And so it begins again…
Parental leave should be divided fairly. This will stop women of childbearing age being discriminated against, because employers will not hire them, or give them decent jobs, because they believe that the bovine women will leave to care for their children, which, if no-one else does, of course they will – because they are not psychopaths. Although, perhaps they ought to be: psychopaths, I suspect, would get equal pay.
It has been 41 long years since the Equality Act of 1970. It’s time women demanded justice. Don’t wait to be asked if you want it; take it as a right. Because if not now, when?
Michelle Mone, founder of Ultimo says:
“If a man and a woman are doing the same job, the same hours and putting in exactly the same level of performance then there is absolutely no reason at all for this pay gap to exist between the sexes. If the pay gap still exists when everything apart from gender is equal then that is blatant discrimination and I would not stand for it in the workplace. I would urge women within these companies to question this gap at any level. If your male colleague is getting £10k more than you for undertaking the same role – you need to be challenging this state of affairs and asking ‘why’.”
Laura Tenison, founder of Jojo Maman Bebe says:
“I find these statistics astounding. If they are based on like for like job specs, then women should be paid on a par with men at every level, in every job. I would never consider gender when recruiting, any more than I would consider nationality, race or sexual orientation. These issues are totally irrelevant to the salary or the suitability of a candidate to a role. Simply put, we recruit the best person for the role. If the statistics show that women are consistently paid less than men for similar roles then I am shocked and disappointed that some British industries are stuck in the dark ages.”
Sophie Cornish, Found of notonthehighstreet.com and Stylist’s Business Ambassador says:
“It’s miserable reading. It’s not only that the gap remains, but that it’s so huge, when you consider the average UK salary level is around £25,000 (ONS). I believe the problem is so culturally and practically deep-rooted in all aspects of our lives (family/work/legislation) that the next generation has a huge job on its hands – women and men – if the tide is going to turn. But I firmly believe it can be done. I see so much initiative and talent in my female colleagues that I can’t believe they’ll let the men have the better deal for much longer.”
Heather Jackson, founder of the Women's Business Forum says:
“Sadly, I’m not surprised by these figures. However, I don’t believe that this is a gender inequality issue. Rather, I believe that this is down to inequality in negotiation skills. What I see is women who don’t have the confidence that men have, and as a result don’t have the boldness to negotiate for a higher rate of pay. To change this women need to build their confidence and self-belief. Women often downplay their abilities but women need to work together to build confidence and develop a wider understanding of their business value.”
Picture credits: Rex Features
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