The latest statistics on the gender pay gap make for depressing reading, whatever your age, but for women in their 20s, the gap is officially widening – at five times bigger than it was six years ago. Here, journalist Jasmine Andersson says it is clear that millennial women are still fighting on two fronts – but now we know the value of our voices.
It’s a Friday, and it’s time for after-work drinks.
Everyone is a little bit looser now the weekend is coming. It’s my first ‘proper’ job, and I’ve just come to the end of a day, one in which my boss told me I had told to leave my feminist values at the door if I wanted to keep working.
The comment worried me, and one of the other older managers could see it. It’s at this point, she takes me to the side.
“Do you still want to do this job?” she asks. I nod.
“Then ignore them. Don’t forget, if you want to get ahead, expect to work twice as hard as the men and get half of the pay and credit.”
As the latest gender pay gap report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows, my boss’ comments are more relevant today than ever. While women of my former manager’s age are dealing with an 18% pay gap between them and their male colleagues, women my age earn 5.5% less than men. A welcoming sign of progress, you might think. Only that gap was 1.1% in 2011. In London alone, the pay gap overall is 20.8%. Thanks to this, it’s looking like men and women in the UK will finally be paid the same in, oh, 100 years from now — in 2117.
The leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, may say that the gap for women in their 20s “is another national scandal that we don’t understand,” but to me, it actually seems painfully clear. What generation of women is going to flourish when they’re now fighting on two fronts, and have carry the debt of the country while challenging the same sexist issues that our grandmothers faced in the workplace?
People my age are the first generation to be worse off than their parents. Our wages have dropped 43% in comparison to the last generation, generation X, in 1995. The average debt for a graduate in the UK is £32,220. In order to keep up with the housing demand, we should be building 240,000 new houses, but we are building around 144,000 –meaning that we’re unable to buy a house and paying ridiculous amounts of rent in an unregulated market. The economic crash is hitting us the hardest, with austerity Britain and Brexit crippling even the most frugal of millennials. And when women earning a graduate salary are getting into debt because of soaring rent, we know we have a problem.
Women are not being paid enough, and they’re not being respected either – Walker is right when she links the pay issue to the wider context of how women are treated in society overall. It’s hard to calculate how much damage it does being told that you’re of less value than a man all your life, for no other reason than being a woman.
When we are still being taught that we are the supporting actors in their own lives, women are conditioned to believe that their voices and their thoughts are secondary to that of men. In spite of all of the progression feminism has made in challenging and redressing that balance, the power dynamic between men and women in the workplace is still worryingly apparent. It only gets more challenging for women of colour, trans women, and women with a disability. And this insecurity is taken advantage of when it comes to how we’re paid.
Yet it appears that the patriarchy only wants to listen if you hit it with cold, hard facts. While men are getting farcical about sending kisses at the end of emails, 54% of women are harassed at work. While male columnists write sneering articles about women ‘sharing some power with the men’, 27.7% per cent of board positions in the FTSE 100 are held by women, which will hopefully mean there are just about more women in senior boardrooms than there are men called John.
Women my age are vulnerable, but we are aware that this system cannot go unchallenged. Not paying women the same relies on inequality.
But what we shouldn’t forget is that power relies on the loyalty of the people beneath it. Women like me may be angry and overworked, but as the reaction to the Weinstein allegations has proved, women now know the value of their voice, arguably more than the generations before them. Women now have more motivation than ever to challenge this entitlement, to quash the mansplainers, and to support other women at work.
Companies, it’s time for to make yourselves accountable. If workplaces will only start paying men and women the same when a financial penalty is put in place, then I’m all for it. As women in their 20s know, if companies want to value profit over people, then it’s them, not us, that need to start paying the price.
Women in their twenties are fighting on two fronts in the battle to get equal pay. And it’s now, not in another thirty or one hundred years, that this needs to be eradicated, once and for all.