It’s the centenary anniversary this year for women getting the vote. One hundred years later, surely the journey to equality between men and women is here?
So let’s see! Organisations employing more than 250 workers have until April to publish mean hourly rates of pay for men and women. This week, we found out that over 500 firms have already done so. How are we doing?
Well, the answer is, not so great. The headlines are that women are, on average, paid 52% less than men at EasyJet, 15% less at Ladbrokes, and 33% less at Virgin Money. The gender pay gap is alive and well.
Now, whenever I see posts on social media about the gender pay gap, they are usually followed by a barrage of comments complaining that the post misunderstands the data, and that the equal pay act means that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. In fact, the comments from some of those businesses highlighted above reveal the same. Virgin Money said they were ‘confident’ men and women were paid equally for the same jobs. The discrepancies arise because men are, on average, in higher paid roles than women.
I want to tackle these two distinct areas. Are men and women paid equally for the same and similar jobs? And if they are, does the gender pay gap matter?
Are men and women paid equally? It appears not. I don’t think anyone these days can get away with paying men and women differently if they are doing exactly the same job. But the trouble starts with jobs that are similar but not exactly the same. Twenty years ago, my own profession (speech and language therapy) won its claim that it was of equal worth to male dominated professions like clinical psychology and pharmacy. Meanwhile, only last year, women working in Asda won their claim that their work on the shopfloor was of equal value to work done in the warehouse, where the predominantly male workforce was paid more. This could cost Asda up to £100m.
But even if women are paid equally for equal work, the gender pay gap still matters. Ladbrokes put their pay discrepancy down to ‘weak representation of women at our senior levels’. But as Jeremy Miles AM of Welsh Labour points out, this isn’t the explanation, it’s the problem. Men at EasyJet earn so much more money because 94% of its pilots are men. So why aren’t there more female pilots?
We may just be mopping up the last vestiges of unequal pay. But we have a long way to go before men and women are represented fairly in the workforce. Women fill more roles in retail work, care work and part-time work, all of which are usually paid less. And men still fill more senior roles in too many organisations. I’m not sure how we’re going to get there, but I figured a crucial step on the journey is to realise we haven’t yet arrived.