Gender Pay Gap: Still Holding Britain Back

If you’re a woman coming into the workforce in Britain, the best advice seems to be to join the police and make it to chief constable, go into IT, or drive a train. There you have a chance of being paid more than a man. Otherwise though, it seems you can expect to earn less because you have a uterus. Click on this Information Is Beautiful visualisation: Information Is Beautiful: The UK Gender Pay Gap

Really, Britain, in the 21st Century? Come on guys …

These things don’t correct themselves through some mysterious natural force, as some perhaps wish to imagine. Nor can it be acceptable surely for this to continue for yet another generation? I’m a bit astounded – and a bit not – that we’re still in this predicament in 2016. I used to be a lot more laissez-faire and on the fence about all this stuff in my 20s. I kind of believed things were OK, moving in the right direction. Now I’m in my 40s, with a working wife and a daughter, I can’t really take such a Pollyanna-ish view of it any more. It’s not changed the way I thought it would and I’ve had to revise my views as a result and accept laissez-faire on this one is inadequate.

women_like_men_onl_3010598bOf course a gender pay gap does not necessarily mean women are not on average getting “equal pay for equal work” – as the gender pay gap involves a number of disparities in working patterns between men and women – but it does seem pretty likely to be true. Weirdly, there is no official information on that, according to the Equal Pay Portal (, which is a good place to start finding out more about all this. I’ll quote their summary of the situation on the gender pay gap in full:

  • Women are entitled to equal pay with male colleagues doing equal work; workers from all of the groups protected against discrimination are also entitled to equal pay;
  • There is no official information on the extent to which women are getting equal pay for equal work;
  • Equal pay is about equality in contractual terms; the gender pay gap is about differences in average earnings;
  • Headline figures on the gender pay gap are published annually by the Office for National Statistics; in 2015 the median full-time gender pay gap was 9.4 per cent;
  • The gender pay gap is not only a burden on individual women, it has a negative impact on the UK economy;
  • Closing the gender pay gap requires action to tackle all of the four main causes: occupational segregation; pay discrimination; the unequal sharing of family responsibilities and the undervaluing of women’s work. In particular, the part-time and full-time gaps call for different approaches – there is no one size fits all solution.

See also the Fawcett Society, who also press the need for a big improvement on all this: Fawcett Society – gender pay gap and the ONS statistics: ONS gender pay gap statistics. A recent report by Glassdoor Economic Research showed Britain well down the league tables for the equal treatment of women in the workforce across a range of measures: For an alternative view, the Daily Telegraph is convinced there is no problem – we should all carry on as we are and see the disparities in positive terms:  It’s a view, is all I will say to that …

Millie Tant may just have had a point on this one
Millie Tant may just have had a point on this one

The gender pay gap is partly about the kinds of work done predominantly by women being undervalued financially. It’s also about women being held back from promotions through unconscious biases. The problems some bosses seem to have with understanding fairness issues around childbirth and early years parenting has particularly impacted upon the career trajectory of women in their 30s, in way it hasn’t with men. It’s not just some “Millie Tant” lefty feminist issue – it is, many economists and investors now think, holding back the economy considerably.

It’s not a UK-only problem, as this work by The Brookings Institution shows in the US: And tackling it is complex stuff. But not, one feels, beyond the wit of man, or woman, to start addressing. The will has to be there.

BBC FOI survey on gender pay gapBy the way, there is an excellent series of academic articles on the future of pay more widely pulled together by The Resolution Foundation, in its Securing A Pay Rise document, downloadable here:  Among other things, it shows that the apparently positive news of the narrowing of the gender pay gap in recent years may not be as positive as it seems – it’s been the result of the real pay of both men and women falling, men’s pay just falling even more than women’s. Not the kind of progress you’d hope for.

Low and unfair pay generally is a massive issue for the UK, as for many advanced economies currently. But that’s probably for another post, possibly by another blogger. Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government happens to be at the top of my road, and the blog of Professor of Economic Policy there Simon Wren-Lewis, Mainly Macro, is as good a place to start as any:

Published by Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.

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