The gender pay gap

Annette Mackenzie (left) and Carrie Gracie (right)

In January 2018, news of pay discrimination within the BBC surfaced, resulting in the resignation of Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s then China Editor, when it was revealed she was being paid less than her male counterpart over in America. This news unsurprisingly reignited the debate surrounding the gender pay gap with everyone asking what exactly the gender pay gap is, why it exists, or if it even exists at all.

The gender pay gap does indeed exist. It is a very big and a very real issue. It is defined by GOV.UK as ‘an equality measure that shows the difference in average earnings between women and men’. The gender pay gap is an intersectional issue and, according to a report by The Fawcett Society, is wider for women of colour, older women and women in higher paid jobs.

While pay discrimination like the case documented at the BBC is a contributing factor, the pay gap is more complex than just simply discrimination. According to The Fawcett Society, in addition to pay discrimination, the main contributing factors to the pay gap are the undervaluing of roles which are predominantly done by women; the dominance of men in well-paid positions, and the unequal caring responsibilities.

Pay discrimination, which is illegal in the UK, is where men are paid more than women for the same work. Undervaluing roles which are predominantly done by women is, as previously mentioned, a significant contributing factor to the gender pay gap. A report carried out by The Fawcett Society has revealed that women make up 80% of care and leisure workers and only 10% of those working in the better paid skilled trades. These roles tend not to pay the living wage. In short, labour that is traditionally seen as female work is less well paid than work that is traditionally considered a ‘boys job’.

The same report informs us that men still dominate well-paid jobs. Women made up 67% of the management workforce in entry-level roles, but only 43% of senior managers and 29% of directors. My favourite statistic to demonstrate the scale of this issue is that, according to a report by the High Pay Centre and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in 2016, there were eight men named ‘David’ in UK FTSE 100 CEO positions and only six women.

Finally, caring responsibilities, whether this is caring for children or older relatives, still disproportionately fall on women. Caring responsibilities often force women into part-time work which, in addition to being less well paid than full-time work, also offers considerably less opportunities to progress. Ultimately, this limits women’s ability to reach higher paying positions.

All of these overlapping and intersecting factors have contributed to a gender pay gap that is around 18.4% according to the Office for National Statistics in 2017. It is narrowing, however, albeit slowly. In fact, at this rate, it is expected that it would take around 60 years to fully close this gap.

Looking forward, there are measures that could be implemented which policymakers, NGOs and other bodies have suggested. The chief proposals include introducing and encouraging men to take shared parental leave; making it easier for women to request flexible work or working from home, and measures which ensure more employers become living wage employers. Additionally, it has been suggested that gender quotas should be introduced to the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies in the UK. 

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