Why don’t women ask for a pay rise even when they know male colleagues are earning more?

Equal Pay Day is the day when women stop being paid relative to men, on average – the day when women overall, effectively, start working for free. In 2019, it falls on November 14
Equal Pay Day is the day when women stop being paid relative to men, on average – the day when women overall, effectively, start working for free. In 2019, it falls on November 14 Credit: Mike Kemp /In Pictures 

Three-quarters of women who know their male colleagues are earning more than them for the same job don’t ask for a pay rise, new research has shown.

Only two-fifths of those who did ask for a raise after discovering they were suffering pay discrimination secured one, according to a Fawcett Society report.

While the majority of women, 60 per cent, either don’t know what their male colleagues earn, or believe they are earning less than them for the same job. 

The gender equality charity has said the results of their report reveal unlawful pay discrimination may be "more widespread than previously feared” and equal pay is still “a distant dream” for many.

To mark Equal Pay Day - the day of the year when women effectively start working for free due to the gender pay gap - the Fawcett Society has today called for a change in the law to give women the legal right to demand to know what their male colleagues are earning.

Writing in The Telegraph today, Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Why don’t we give a female employee the Right to Know what her male counterpart earns if she suspects that he is being paid more than her? 

“An enforceable, legal right for a woman to ask her employer about his salary, and a legal duty on the part of the employer to provide the information, or face a hefty fine.  

“We also want to see the Equality and Human Rights Commission given the power to issue penalty notices to employers who do not comply.”

Fawcett Society has also called on the gender pay gap reporting requirements to be lowered to include companies with 100 employees, down from 250. 

The current legislation relates to organisations representing just 34 per cent of the UK workforce, Fawcett Society has said. 

The report argues: “We are at risk of falling behind international comparators without reform; and we are currently holding useful information back from many women.”

A number of high profile cases of gender pay discrimination have been reported recently, including Samira Ahmed of the BBC. 

Ahmedclaimed she was underpaid for hosting the show Newswatch, compared to her male colleague Jeremy Vine's salary for Points of View.

Vine was paid £3,000 per episode, versus Ahmed’s £440 per episode. The BBC said the two performed "very different roles". 

Over 1,000 women were surveyed for the Fawcett Society’s report, titled: Why Women Need a Right to Know: Shining a Light on Pay Discrimination. 

Many of those revealed they only found out they were being unfairly discriminated against after colleagues had let slip their salary while drinking, they saw the company’s salary information or overheard conversations.

Two-thirds of women surveyed said when they found out they were paid less than their male counterparts it had a “detrimental impact” on how they felt about their employer, with a third feeling less motivated and 2 in ten wanting to quit.

One anonymous case study said her male colleague told her he was earning 30 per cent more than her for the same role after his wife told him she “didn’t think it was right”. Another was sent a message about a colleague’s salary details by accident. 

Kay Collins, who worked as a chef for a leading UK catering firm, said she was “shocked, enraged and devastated” when she discovered she was being paid £6,000 less than a male colleague for the same work. 

“When I raised the issue, my line manager provided false information to my employer, stating I was being paid less because I didn’t do the same job as my male counterpart,” Collins said.

Despite providing a letter of support from her colleague Collins’ employer was “still able to hide and ignore the facts”, she said. She has since won an equal pay case.

Collins has today launched a petition, supported by the Fawcett Society, to call for the law to be changed so that women can demand to know their colleagues' pay.

Find out more by visiting change.org/righttoknow