Today, on Equal Pay Day, we investigate why women are still paid less than men

Posted by
The Stylist web team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Today is Equal Pay Day, yet the gender pay gap is as wide as ever. Stylist looks at the progress being made, and where there’s still some serious graft to do

Words: Helen Nianias

Looming deadlines, heated meetings... there are already plenty of reasons to weep at work. But if there’s ever a day to get over-emotional at your desk, it’s 10 November. Because this is Equal Pay Day – the day that really highlights the still gaping gender pay gap in our country (a depressing 13.9% according to the latest figures by the Fawcett Society*), which makes it the day when women working full-time in the UK effectively stop being paid for the year, compared to our male counterparts whose salaries keep rolling in until 31 December. Things get even more dire when you take into account both full- and part-time workers. The gap increases to 18.1% (more for non-white women) according to the Office For National Statistics, meaning that for a man earning £50,000, a woman with the same experience is being paid £40,950 for doing exactly the same job. The only difference is, he has a penis.

It goes without saying that this is unacceptable. Which is why we launched our #equalpayday campaign last week, urging employers to give female staff the choice to leave work at 3.34pm on 10 November (scroll down for more info) in a symbolic gesture of downing tools. By leaving the office 18% early to match this difference, you can make a physical, visible gesture that shows how important women’s input is to the UK workforce.

The pay gap can be a murky issue and is incredibly hard to get clarity on (as the differing statistics above indicate). After all, just last year ex-PM David Cameron implied that the Tories had closed the pay gap for women, when actually it had only narrowed for those aged between 18-25. In fact, recent research has revealed that, for everyone else, the gap only narrowed 0.2% over the last year.

“Women play a vital part in our economy and yet so often the work they do – in the workplace and at home – is undervalued,” says Jemima Olchawski, head of policy and insight at The Fawcett Society. “At the current rate of progress it will take over 50 years to close. We can’t afford to wait that long.”

The government has committed to closing the gap by bringing in new legislation, expected any day now, to encourage companies with more than 250 staff to do a full gender pay audit. The findings are expected to be published in 2018 but, as we went to press, this legislation hadn’t been enacted, and after weeks of enquiries we were unable to get a definitive date on when it would be launched.

So where do we really stand on this Equal Pay Day, and will new legislation actually change anything? Is this the beginning of the end for the pay gap, or are we still going to be fighting this battle for decades to come? Read on to discover why you should take heart but also take action.

Reasons to wail

Things are moving a lot slower than we might have hoped.
According to Deloitte, the gap will not be eradicated until 2069 (their calculations showed that the difference in hourly pay between full-time men and women was closing at a rate of just 2.5 pence a year). “I often hear the argument, ‘Oh well, look how far you’ve come – you couldn’t even vote 150 years ago!’” says Charlotte Butler, a leading consultant in diversity and inclusion. “But it’s that ‘maybe we should be grateful’ attitude that might just underpin the glacial reduction of the pay gap.” To top this off, analysis from the Labour Party has found that, over a lifetime, men earn on average around £209,976 more than women. Which, depressingly, is about enough to buy a house.

A significant proportion of men seem to be indifferent to closing the gap.
And without them we simply can’t progress very far. “It’s crucial that men, as well as women, champion equality for the good of everyone,” says Butler. “It’s not about taking 18% away from men, it’s about creating an equal playing field for all people.” An ICM poll of 2,000 people found that 59% of women agreed with the statement: “It matters to me that my employer or potential future employer is taking steps to reduce the gender pay gap in their organisation.” On the other hand, only 39% of men agreed with it, and 17% said they disagreed with the statement (sigh). Seems the gap isn’t just in cash, but in attitudes, too.

We’re still being blamed for ‘choosing’ low-paying jobs.
Statistically, women are more likely to enter lower-paid areas of work such as retail, healthcare and education. “But the truth is, low pay tends to follow women around wherever they work,” says Scarlet Harris, women’s officer of the Trade Union Council. “When men come into traditionally feminised sectors, their pay tends to go up; whereas when women move into sectors where they have not been before, the pay tends to go down.”

Reasons to weep

Those who have the power to narrow the gap might not want to.
“Fawcett research has found that those with recruitment and interviewing responsibilities tend to have more conservative views on gender equality,” explains Olchawski. “They are more likely to be against equal opportunity for women and men, more likely to believe they would lose out personally if we were more equal and less likely to believe gender equality is good for the economy.”

Pay gap legislation will only cover 34% of the workforce.
As glad as we are to hear that large companies (with over 250 employees) will have to disclose their pay gaps, the proposed legislation will only cover 34% of the workforce, as small and medium-sized businesses will be unaffected. “What we want is for the regulations to also apply to smaller employers,” says Chloe Chambraud, gender research and policy manager for Business in the Community’s gender equality campaign. “If we are genuinely to close the gender pay gap, we need to take greater action, faster.” Also, at no point has anyone spoken of penalties if these big businesses are found to have huge pay inequalities, so there’s no evidence they will be held to account.

Westminster doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to the gender pay gap.
In fact, past governments and business leaders have been quite slippery on the subject. In October 2012, the Coalition Government abolished Equal Pay Questionnaires (statutory questionnaires that you could use to question your employer about any pay disparity between you and a man who you think is doing equal work), despite the fact that it was put to the public and 83% of respondents opposed scrapping them. The government described the questionnaires as a “burden for employers”, so let’s hope the 2018 pay audits don’t go the same way.

Reasons to be hopeful

Theresa’s on board.
In a real coup, the Prime Minister has publicly acknowledged the need for equality when it comes to pay. In her first speech as PM, Theresa May listed inequalities in society and cited the gender pay gap as a huge issue, pointing out: “If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.” While having a female PM isn’t a guarantee of improved rights for women, it’s a statement of intent. And with that, we take heart.

Women are calling out pay inequality.
Take the staff working at the Met Office; in February this year they went on strike to protest the 10.7% gender pay gap at the company. One striking worker said: “When we work hard to make our employer efficient and world-class, why can we not get a fair part of the reward?” Female staff at Reading Council, too, recently took their employer to tribunal after claiming that they had been paid less than their male counterparts for years. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all.

Quite simply, equal pay is a win-win.
Businesses are beginning to realise that. The Women and Work Commission estimates that the underuse of women’s skills costs the UK economy up to 2% of the GDP every year. In fact, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, bridging the pay gap could create an extra £150billion on top of GDP by 2025. And financial services company Credit Suisse found that boards with women on them performed better – the average equity return of a board with one woman on it was 14.1%, versus 11.2% for all-male boards. You can’t argue with that.

Reasons to be cheerful

Equal pay is becoming a buzzword in Westminster and in offices across the country.
In February, then women and equalities minister Nicky Morgan announced a new ministerial group designed to tackle the gender pay gap across the UK. Sir Philip Hampton, chair of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline was also appointed to chair a review on how to bring more women onto the boards at Britain’s 350 biggest firms. This is no longer a small-scale, grassroots protest – big MPs and big businesses are sitting up and paying attention to equality.

People want change.
We might be at the mercy of middle-aged white men in suits right now, but younger generations could make a difference. A recent poll found that 59% of 18-24 year olds said it mattered to them that their employer was taking steps to narrow the gap, compared with just 45% of 55-64 year olds. “The next generation is frustrated with the current status quo,” explains Chambraud. “They want more transparency and more accountability from business.” Butler agrees. “Part-time roles will be sought by future generations either by choice or out of necessity,” she says. The 50-hour office week may become obsolete for women and men. Just as the millenials you work with love to taunt you with, ‘What’s a fax machine?’ future generations will shake their heads and say, ‘Seriously, what was all that gender pay gap nonsense?’”

We have strong international role models paving the way for us.
In Sweden, businesses with 25 or more employees have to conduct an equality action plan every three years, which has contributed to a gender pay gap of just 3% for women working in male-dominated occupations. And when there still is a gap, women elsewhere aren’t afraid to fight it: female employees in Iceland left work at 2.38pm on 25 October this year to protest the 14% gender pay gap in their country. Equally, some companies have already sealed the gap. In 2015, San Francisco-based computer company Salesforce did it by investing $3million to match female employees’ salaries to their male counterparts. CEO Marc Benioff said his HR team analysed every single salary and advocates for other companies to follow suit. “If all companies eventually come round to this same mindset,” he said, “It will be ‘so easy’ to close the pay gap.” Let’s hope UK businesses will have the conviction to do the same.

Show your support this equal pay day

To mark Equal Pay Day, Stylist is leaving work 18% early (which, based on the traditional 9-5, works out at 3.34pm) to raise awareness of the 18.1% gender pay gap – and we’re calling on you to join us! Since we launched our campaign last week, it has been endorsed by The Fawcett Society and publicised by The CIPD – the UK’s largest network of HR professionals. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has even given the campaign his approval. “I welcome Stylist magazine’s work to raise awareness of this important issue,” he says. “I have vowed to be a proud feminist at City Hall and I want to do all I can to ensure women have the same opportunities as men so that their hard work and talent is fully and fairly recognised by employers.”

How to get involved

  • If you’re a business owner, give female employees the choice to leave early on 10 November. Based on a working day of 9am-5pm, we’re calling this 3.34pm.
  • If you’re an employee, send a copy of our letter asking your company to support our campaign (find the letter and logo at to your CEO.
  • On 10 November, leave at 3.34pm. Use our out of office email at and change your profile picture on social media to one of our campaign logos.
  • Show your support on social media by sharing photos of your empty office using the hashtag #equalpayday.

Photography: Will Whipple/The Licensing Project, Rex Features
*according to the latest figures from the ONS, the gender pay gap between men and women in full-time employment sits at 9% (the median figure) – but the Fawcett Society’s 13.9 is the mean figure (taking into account the very high salaries of a small number of men)