The Gender Pay Gap: why does it exist?

There is no denying that there is certainly is a difference between the earnings of men and women, with more than seventy-five percent of UK companies paying their male staff more than their female counterparts, and figures from nine out of the seventeen sectors that make up the economy show that men on average earn 10 per cent or above than women. But what exactly do we mean when discussing the gender pay gap?

In layman’s terms, the gender pay gap is the percentage difference between average hourly earnings for men and women. To clarify, the gender pay gap is not the same as having an unequal pay gap, which is illegal. The development of the gender pay gap can occur if there are more highly paid men than women in a company, or if the company deems women to be less experienced than their male counterparts, or if women experience a deduction to their salary after taking maternity leave. However, it has been said in no uncertain terms that there’s no one singular reason behind the gender pay gap – it’s a multi-dimensional issue that still has a long way to go in being addressed. Sucheta Nadkarni, professor and director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, has said that despite flaws, the figures revealed by companies do indicate men are paid more than women on average.

Under the Equal Pay Act 1970, and more recently, the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to pay people unequally regardless of whether they are a man or a woman – finally. This applies to all employers, no matter how big or small and with no exceptions. What the gender pay gap doesn’t tell us is whether women are being paid less than men for the same work, which has been against the law since the Equal Pay Act was introduced back in 1970. However, it does give us a measure of the differences in men and women’s working patterns: different occupations, part-time roles being predominantly taken up by females – and the lack of women in senior roles. Therefore, it makes some sense that a company might have a gender pay gap if a majority of men are in top jobs, despite paying male and female employees the same amount for similar roles.

Women are more often required to care for young children or elderly relatives. Based on this lifestyle, they are then more likely to work in part-time roles, which are often lower paid or have fewer opportunities for progression within a company. Discrimination against women is, therefore, another cause of the gender pay gap. Sucks for us, right? Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the gender equality campaigning charity the Fawcett Society, said she found the admissions surrounding bonuses particularly powerful. “It’s hard to argue that a 70% or 80% bonus pay gap is justifiable. That won’t be driven by performance alone, it will be asked for. Women are not 70% or 80% less productive than men; when women ask for bonuses they are seen as pushy.” Surely this isn’t the right attitude to have in tackling this issue?

The gender pay gap isn’t just confined to women in these workplaces – you might be shocked to know that the popular show The Crown has been revealed to have a shocking gender pay gap, with leading actress Claire Foy being paid significantly less than male co-star Matt Smith. Both have given a response to this, with Smith stating “I believe that we should be paid equally and fairly and there should be equality for all…not just in our industry, in all industries.” It should be said that the actors and actresses are not aware of who receives what, and while they cannot be held responsible, those at the top certainly need to re-evaluate this process: it’s simply not fair to pay someone more when their colleague does exactly the same job. It doesn’t make any sense.

There is some cynicism about the likelihood of the findings triggering change. Either way, something drastic has got to change. It’s sad that many women who speak out against this inequality are demonized for being pushy, but more that they are actually scared to speak out for the fear of losing their job. There is far too much stigma surrounding the want for equal pay for women. Come on guys, it’s 2018 – it’s time to close the gap and tackle the other issues in the world.


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