Gender pay gap: enough is enough

Short term cost is preventing companies from feeling the long term economic benefits of equal employment


According to a survey carried out recently by Chartered Management Institute and XPert HR, female managers in the UK earn on average 22 per cent less than their male counterparts. This equates to them working two hours a day for free.

There must be very few people left in this country who believe that it is justifiable to pay men and women differently when they are doing similar work. It is inequitable and completely outdated. It makes no economic sense to treat women unfairly, especially now that the labour market is so dependent on their input.

Successive governments have shied away from doing very much to make equal pay legislation enforceable. The only significant improvements made since the days of the Ford sewing machinists, now made famous by “Made in Dagenham”, have been those made by trade unions, through collective bargaining and multiple litigation.

The UK will never really address the problem of unequal pay until there are systems in place to expose and tackle the huge gap between what men and women doing similar jobs in the same workplaces are paid. It is no good endlessly introducing voluntary guidance and extolling business to do the right thing. A few have done the right thing – mostly unionised companies – but for most the short term cost stops them.

This is to ignore the long term benefits both to their businesses through attraction and retention of skilled and talented women workers, and to the economy as a whole. In 2013 the government’s own research found that if men and women were equally represented in the workforce, GDP growth could be up to 10 per cent higher by 2030.

The public sector is much better than the private sector with regard to equal pay, no doubt mainly because it is much better unionised, but also because of the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Of course unequal pay is not exclusively a result of sex discrimination, although that does remain a cause. It is also caused by the refusal of many employers to provide flexible working and decent maternity and parental leave policies. This means that women either leave when they become pregnant, or fall behind in their career development at work.

The lack of affordable decent childcare is another contributory factor, as it is still women who do the majority of child rearing. That said, there has been a recent increase in the number of men wanting to work more flexibly.

Career choice and education are also important contributors – girls and young women are still segregated in our education and training systems, despite efforts by the education service to change this. They still tend to choose ‘women’s jobs’ such as hairdressing, retail, catering, cleaning and caring, all of which are systemically less well paid than ‘men’s jobs’ such as construction, engineering, driving and so on.

It is a vicious circle – the jobs are mainly done by women, so they are low paid, rather than being paid at the rate that reflects their importance to the economy or skill levels required. It is an indictment of our pay systems when caring for children is rewarded less well than car maintenance.

The government’s recent move to require companies to publish pay gap information is positive, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. We need pay transparency and equal pay audits, and a requirement on companies to act on the data to close the gap. Until companies are made to show in detail who gets paid what, then state what measures they are taking to close any gaps, progress will remain sclerotic.

The time has come for those on the left to make equal pay a priority – we are heading for the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Equal Pay Act. It is not good enough to leave this issue on the ‘too difficult’ pile any longer. There is no excuse for discrimination against over half the population – it must be eradicated once and for all.

Sarah Veale CBE is head of Equality and Employment Rights at the TUC. Follow her on Twitter

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10 Responses to “Gender pay gap: enough is enough”

  1. JoeDM

    You cannot expect pay equality if women take career breaks to bring up children.

  2. Edward Wokhands

    I don’t understand the comparison in this article of being an engineer to being a carer, cleaner or hair dresser? They’re implying that if a man gets a job as a cleaner he’ll be payed more? There are so many errors that it’s overwhelming.

    I was told to check this site out because it was “left of center” too. What a mistake.

  3. Kathryn

    You kind of just said you can’t expect equality until there is equality.

    Why are women responsible for bringing up children?

  4. Dave Stewart

    No one should expect equal pay if they have taken a career break in respects to someone who hasn’t regardless of gender. The issue is it is still predominantly women who take the career break rather than men. This issue could be addressed by offering men and women equal parental leave entitlements and rights (we’re heading in that direction but not there yet) and then crucially change our cultural perception of men and women who choose to take up the non-traditional gender normative roles. This I think is a long way off sadly.

    Another issue here is that men often earn more than women and so it makes financial sense for the man to continue at work for most couples and so women tend to take the career break which results in them earning less and and thus repeats the cycle. It is going to be incredibly hard to break this cycle and it will take a long time.

    I feel this article doesn’t paint the best picture. A lot of progress has been made in eliminating the like for like pay gap where women get paid less for doing the same job as men (although it still does exist particularly at the higher end of most professions and needs to be continually policed, mostly by trade unions). I think this is an achievement that needs to be trumpeted far more when we discuss the pay gap.

    The real intransigent part of the pay gap is structural and arises from the sorts of jobs that men and women typically do. This problem can only be addressed by changing our incredibly gender restrictive society. Education obviously has a role to play but it is all of society that needs to change, gendered toys for instance reinforce gendered stereotypes right from the get go of a childs life. Advertising and pretty much all forms of childrens entertainment is typically highly gendered and reinforces the idea that there is man’s work and women’s work. It is this that must be resisted and countered continuously at all levels of society if this problem is ever truly to be eliminated.

  5. JoeDM


  6. gaia

    Wages should be structured on competence and experience, not gender,not age, not career timeline nor in Americas case, colour.

    Businesses and wealthy investors need to stop this we are the center of the world crap, that if it wasn’t for us, the whole world would be poor as it takes two to tango as without these employee public they would have no products to sell, no chain stores and equally as important, no one to sell to which without would see a company get no loan or investment, meaning other than an idea and hope have nothing else to offer.

    As much as they delude themselves, they are not the wealth creators they think they are as there employees are 2 times more important to a companies profit than the employer.

    Male and female employees alike need to stop allowing the businesses they find themselves in causing division amongst them and see there true worth which is no business is a damn thing without its staff who are not only mismatched in wages but chiseled out of the annual profit they themselves by far and large made possible.

  7. gaia

    Its a politically motivated article so why expect left foot forward to put any less spin than a Tory, Liberal or any other political party.

    Having to explain the different worlds that are unskilled,semi skilled and fully skilled doesn’t fit there narrative.

  8. Edward Wokhands

    Yeah, there’s so much to take into account. I mean so called “women’s jobs” like cleaning have wages which vary widely depending on where they’re cleaning and what sacrifices they have to make. The harder the job and the more stressful having more to sacrifice mean that fewer people are going to apply meaning the wage needs to be higher to attract more applicants. A cleaner on an oil rig who has to spend weeks away from home are going to be payed more than an “undervalued” cleaner in a school or office. Anyway you already understand all this. It’s just shocking how these issues are presented.
    We keep getting told about women’s “superior” nature so surely these admitted differences between men and will cause different life choices? I consider myself a liberal but modern “liberalism” is such a mess, it’s embarrassing. It’s like a movement created by angry 15 year olds.

  9. Martyn John Ward

    the pay gap myth has be debunked thousands of times just go to youtube and search gender pay gap… studies making this claim are not comparative and i now think this website is a very unfunny joke,,,

  10. Martyn John Ward

    men and woman cleaners get paid the same, men tend to choose careers in engineering and higher paid jobs where as a larger % of woman choose to do lower paid jobs like jobs in care…apples for apples men and woman get paid the same.

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