Today is Equal Pay Day, the date in the calendar year from which women effectively stop being paid, compared to men.
It’s almost inconceivable that 50 years on from the Equal Pay Act declaring it is illegal to treat women unfavourably in the world of work, that the gender pay gap still exists. As co-founder of SheSays, the only global creative network for women, we care desperately about making sure our 50,000 members see some discernible change.
Defining what the Gender Pay Gap actually is isn’t simple. It is an attempt to measure the pay discrepancy that women experience throughout their careers, but there are numerous factors that contribute to it. Some easier to talk about, or untangle, than others. Some affect you at the beginning of your career and send you careering off in the wrong direction before you get a handle on it. A lot of factors concern parenting, the burden of emotional labour and the expectations associated with family. It’s complicated.
One of the key problems is a lack of transparency. Women, look around you. Do you know how much your male equivalent is being paid? According to the Fawcett Society, a third of women say they have no idea what any of their male colleagues are being paid, leaving them unaware of possible discrimination. And as we know, knowledge is power.
It’s much easier to demand that pay rise and hold your employer to account if you know that your male equivalent is already earning the amount you deserve. But when conversations around money, even at home, are still taboo it’s hard to know where to start.
That’s why we need legislation. The government decided to crack down on this lack of transparency two years ago when it introduced mandatory pay gap reporting for large companies. Since then 100 percent of those companies submitted their pay gap data, and we are starting to see some of them take actionable change as a result. Sadly some not. But it’s a step in the right direction. Many campaigners are demanding that it becomes an obligation for smaller businesses too, as large companies amount to only around 50 percent of businesses in the UK.
The fundamental cause for the gender pay gap is, however, less micro and more macro. It has its roots in the way our society is built, which favours the patriarchy. The pay imbalance is in effect a gender imbalance across society, where women bear the lion’s share of domestic work and child-rearing and fewer women than men have the opportunity to reach the heady heights of business leadership. It’s incredible how much women are underestimated in the workforce when they reach motherhood, a time when they should be maximising their earning potential.
From the age of 30 the pay gap widens noticeably in the UK, largely due to many women having young families and being forced into part-time work, which in itself pays less per hour than full-time employment. Women typically end up sacrificing much more of their careers than men to keep all the balls in the air, and this has a huge long-term impact on their earning potential and as a result, their pensions.
Now that’s the bit that gets me really angry and often gets overlooked in the gender pay gap debate. Talk about a final insult at the end of your working life. Our pensions are already smaller as we statistically live longer, but provision for women is even more abominable when we think about the 18p per pound we could have been investing over a lifetime of work.
So what is ultimately required is a genuine commitment to changing the status quo. It’s hard, and is fraught with detractors keen to point out that the job’s done, but the stats prove we have a long way to go, however you cut the data. The main political parties are keenly aware of this, as they are all promising better support for working parents as part of their election manifestos.
The most thorough proposal has come from the Women’s Equality Party; and the Lib Dems have also been ambitious, pledging to make 35 hours of free childcare available per week from when a baby is 9 months old. This level of support would be life-changing for families, enabling women to return to full-time work much sooner, which in turn would go some way to help close the pay gap.
In the UK, women earn on average 82p for every pound that men earn. In advertising it’s 79p. The advertising agency I co-founded, Mr President, felt pretty teed off about that statistic. So together with SheSays, we collaborated on an idea to make a statement.
To mark this year’s Equal Pay Day, we’ve created something called the ‘Pay Gap Pound’, a coin that looks identical to a £1 coin, but on closer examination is actually worth just a measly 82p. It’s designed to shock and wake everyone up.
Because who would be happy receiving that coin in their pay packet?
As well as the run of coins we had minted, we’ve launched a social media campaign whereby anyone can create their own virtual Pay Gap Pound to represent their own pay gap relevant to their industry (whether that’s finance, construction, health, etc).
The idea is that by allowing women to talk about the #paygappound for their own industry we’re making it personal… Because there is nothing more personal than the cash in your pocket.
It is estimated that at the current rate it will take 60 years to close the gender pay gap. With so many cases of pay inequality in the courts right now, and movements like #MeTooPay capturing public attention, there’s never been a better time to remind everyone how appalling and corrosive the gender pay gap is.
It’s good for all of us to be paid what we deserve.