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Equal Pay Day 2019: As of today, we’re all effectively working for free

As of today, Thursday 14 November, women in the UK effectively work for free thanks to the gender pay gap. As the Fawcett Society calls for women to be given the right to know if their male colleagues are earning more than them, Stylist hears from three women who will be directly impacted.  

Imagine being paid a lower salary than someone doing the same job as you, just because you are a woman, and they are a man.

The situation seems unfeasible in 2019. And yet it would only take a quick glance at recent headlines about presenter Samira Ahmed suing the BBC for paying her a sixth of what it pays male presenter Jeremy Vine, to reveal this nuanced and complex issue is still a very real problem. 

New research from the Fawcett Society, published today, also found that 60% of women in the UK either believe they are being paid less than men doing the same job as them, or don’t know what their male colleagues are earning.

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Last April, the government brought in new legislation that forced companies with over 250 employees to report gender pay gaps within their businesses. The findings from 2019 were brutal – eight in 10 UK firms were found to pay men more, on average, than women. The most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the average mean gender pay gap for full time workers in the UK is 13.1%.

While the pay gap legislation was a welcome move, campaigners are now calling for another change to the law, with the Fawcett Society today launching its ‘Right To Know’ campaign. The campaign wants to make it legal for women to know what a male colleague is earning if they suspect there is a pay discrimination, and 79% of people polled by the group (including 74% of men) said they were in favour of the change.

Frustratingly, experts predict the gender pay gap won’t close until 2073. For some racial groups that date is much later. Black women won’t see equal pay until 2124, Latina women until 2248.

Here, we speak to three women who have experienced the gender pay gap firsthand. 

Equal Pay Day 2019: “I was furious to learn I was being paid less than a male colleague in the same role” 

Charlotte* works in the finance industry 

equal pay day
Equal Pay Day 2019: "Asking for a raise doesn’t come naturally to me because it feels like I’m being aggressive."

The gender pay gap makes me feel frustrated and belittled. As a graduate, I was told by a male interviewer that I’d have to work twice as hard to be as successful as my male counterparts. Sadly, he was right, and as a woman in the financial services industry I’m paid roughly 34% less than my male counterparts.

When I discovered I was being paid less than a male colleague in the same role, I plucked up the courage to request a pay rise and was made to feel greedy, despite working at the company for eight years and never asking for a rise before. It was an incredibly stressful time and left me feeling angry and jealous of male colleagues when I look at the life they can afford in comparison to my own. 

There’s a complete lack of knowledge and understanding by men about the inherent gender biases they carry with them. From hiring, to promotions, to pay rises – women are trying to close the pay gap and are being constantly overlooked and having doors slammed in their faces. My partner works in the same industry and is always telling me to ask for a raise but it doesn’t come naturally to me because it feels like I’m being aggressive. Maybe that’s what it takes to get some equality.

Equal Pay Day 2019: “I’m shocked that my skin colour only adds to the gender pay gap” 

Jenny* works in hospitality

gender pay gap
Equal Pay Day 2019: "I worked for free in the fashion industry for years and while all the entry level roles were mainly held by women, the top execs were all men."

As a black woman, I’m completely frustrated to discover I’m even more affected by the gender pay gap just because of my race. The fact there is still such a gap is startling and must change for future generations.

I worked for free in the fashion industry for years and while all the entry level roles were mainly held by women, the top execs were all men – none of whom had done unpaid placements on their rise to the top, which made me feel disheartened and resulted in me leaving the industry.

There must be more discussions at universities for female students to learn how to negotiate better pay and not feel ashamed, guilty or greedy for fighting for what we deserve. I’ve never felt confident enough to ask for a pay rise – even when I know I’ve worked harder than a man. Privately, women discuss pay and how unjust the situation is but very little is discussed in public because of our British stiff upper lip – and this is how businesses get away with paying men more. 

I know if I had more knowledge and understanding of pay and gender pay gaps when starting out in my career, I would have felt more empowered to take control, and ultimately built the foundations for getting the pay for the life I want. 

Equal Pay Day 2019: “Most working mums want to hold on to their job and not rock the boat by asking for more pay”

Terri is a mum of two who worked in media and is now freelance

working mum
Equal Pay Day 2019: "As a mum, when I was working full time, I was always just grateful to have a job with flexible hours."

The gender pay gap directly affects me. As a mum, when I was working full time, I was always just grateful to have a job with flexible hours, so I never felt confident enough to ask for a pay rise. I watched in horror as my loyalty to the company didn’t count for anything and I was never offered the kind of opportunities or leaps in salary that the men in the company got.

Once my manager left and was replaced by a new boss, even my flexible hours became an issue and resulted in me going freelance. I’d like to say this helped the pay gap but sadly my desire to work flexibly results in companies paying me a lower day rate. Honestly, it’s shocking. You should be paid based on your skills and knowledge, never on your gender.

It’s sad, but lots of working mums simply feel lucky to be a parent and do a job they love. Men don’t feel the same because to them that ‘right’ has never been an issue in the first place.

*Some names have been changed

Images: Getty

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