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This Equal Pay Day, it’s time to start having awkward conversations about money

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Moya Crockett
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Research by the Fawcett Society shows we’re still not talking openly about how much we earn – but doing so is crucial if we want to close the gender pay gap.  

Conventional wisdom dictates that there are three subjects to avoid if you want to steer clear of awkward conversations: politics, religion and money. But in 2018, it’s hard to have a discussion that doesn’t somehow involve politics – and most sensible people are perfectly capable of talking about differing religious beliefs in a relaxed, respectful way.

In fact, the only topic still guaranteed to make most people clam up is cold, hard cash. And that’s especially true in the workplace. While we might have an idea of how much our closest friends take home every year, we’re highly unlikely to know exactly – or even approximately – what our colleagues earn. And according to new research conducted ahead of this year’s Equal Pay Day, the UK’s gender pay gap is being cemented by our reluctance to talk hard numbers with our co-workers.

Equal Pay Day 2018, which takes place on Saturday 10 November, marks the point in the calendar year when women in the UK effectively start working for free thanks to the gender pay gap. (A quick refresh: the mean average gender pay gap in the UK for full-time workers currently stands at 13.7%, according to the Office of National Statistics – and the pay gap is even worse for women of colour.)

The mean average pay gap stands at 13.7% in the UK 

To highlight the fact that men still, on average, out-earn women across the UK, feminist organisation the Fawcett Society decided to investigate people’s attitudes towards talking about salaries. And what they discovered makes for galling reading.

According to their survey, more than a third (35%) of men and 33% out of 10 UK employees say they would be uncomfortable asking a colleague how much they earn – and more than half (53%) of women would feel awkward revealing their salary to a co-worker.

Not only that, but 52% of those surveyed believed their managers would be opposed to a more transparent pay culture – with three in 10 workers even thinking that their contracts ban them from discussing their earnings with their colleagues.

This is absolutely untrue: it’s legally impossible for companies to enforce such a rule. Everyone in the UK has the right to talk to their fellow employees about pay if they think they may be the victims of pay discrimination. But the fact that so many people believe they are literally not allowed to talk to their co-workers about their salaries reveals just how deep this taboo runs.

If you knew that your male colleagues were earning more than you, would you do something about it?

Here’s the thing: if we don’t know how much our colleagues earn, particularly our male co-workers, there’s no way for us to know if we’re being paid properly for our work. And while pay transparency isn’t a magic bullet to fix the gender pay gap, it would provide women with a strong bargaining chip when it comes to negotiating higher wages – as well as putting pressure on companies to address pay discrepancies within their ranks.

Earlier this year, the BBC Women group penned an open letter demanding pay transparency at the broadcaster, calling it the “fastest, cheapest and fairest way to tackle unequal pay”. That letter was prompted by the revelations about the pay of Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s former China editor, who discovered that she was being paid tens of thousands of pounds less than her male counterparts at the end of 2017.

Gracie subsequently resigned, and has dedicated much of 2018 to raising awareness of the problem of unequal pay. In June, the BBC apologised for underpaying her and announced it would be providing her with a payout to reimburse her lost earnings.

The journalist – who always maintained that her battle with the BBC was about morality, not money – promptly promised to donate the cash to the Fawcett Society to create a fund for women who believe they’re experiencing pay discrimination. The Equal Pay Fund, details of which were announced today, will be a financial resource for low-income women who don’t have access to legal advice about unfair pay.

bbc gender pay gap carrie gracie highest paid stars 2018

Carrie Gracie has donated all of her BBC back pay to the Fawcett Society’s Equal Pay Fund

This Equal Pay Day, the Fawcett Society are calling on people to be a part of their campaign to fight unequal pay by taking three steps: talking, sharing and donating.

  • Talk to your colleagues and ask what they earn – end the culture of pay secrecy working to the benefit of employers.
  • Share an equals sign (=) on social media and the hashtags #GetEqual #EqualPayDay. Spread the news about the Fawcett Society’s Equal Pay Advice Service – are you or somebody you know being paid unfairly because of your sex? Apply for the Fund and they may be able to help.
  • Donate to the Fund via Carrie Gracie’s GoFundMe page to help women on low incomes access legal advice and claim their rights.

Images: Getty Images

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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