Let's talk about the gender pay gap

Dr Charlotte Helen Skeet
Dr Charlotte Helen Skeet

The gender pay gap is a topic that I believe should be important to all of us, and impacts day to day life significantly.

Today (March 8), International Women’s Day, we will be discussing these issues with a Sussex Salon audience at Brighton Dome.

Perhaps like the 23 per cent of men polled by YouGov last summer, you believe no gap exists, or is unimportant, or you might be full of rage and have ideas about what can be and should be done – whichever it is come and join the discussion.

Significant new research into the topic is expected by the end of this month, when organisations will be required to publish their Gender Pay figures again. The early indications are that for many organisations the gap has worsened. Last year was the first year that organisations of more than 250 people in the UK were required by law to publish the median and mean average pay of women and of men they employed.

The UK was found to have one of the largest ‘gaps’ in Europe, with JP Morgan bank showing one of the highest median gaps at a difference of 54 per cent. The figures caused great controversy in the media. Sarah Montague, presenter on Radio 4 Today Programme, expressed the feelings that many women had in relation to their own organisations, when she said she was ‘incandescent with rage’ at finding out the reality of the pay gap between men and women at the BBC.

There is a legal duty in the UK, established under the Equal Pay Act 1970 and now in the Equality Act 2010 to pay ‘equal pay’ to men and women engaged in equal work. Equal Pay audits compare the pay of men and women at equivalent levels.

Gender Pay Reports are distinct because they compare the pay of all men and women across all levels in an organisation. Gender Pay Gaps therefore reflect unequal distribution of men and women in institutions, with women usually predominating in lower paid roles and men more numerous in roles with higher paid salaries. Yet ‘gender gaps’ are also fuelled by hidden inequalities in both promotion opportunities and at the recognition of what is a similar level of work. The award of discretionary bonus payments based on individual negotiation may not be transparent and are not always recognised under equal pay law.

To go beyond the headline figures, in 2016 the London School of Economics drilled down into their Gender Pay Gap figures and instituted a detailed audit. When they took into account the outputs of academics and their relevant experience, they found that women were being paid 10.5 per cent less than men with similar outputs and experience. They put in place pay rises for women.

While understanding the figures and specific factors in contributing to gaps is important Prof. Geraldine Healy of QMUL and Dr Mostack Ahamed at the University of Sussex, suggest a stronger solution. Their research focuses on Gender Pay Gaps within the financial sector and they argue that reporting requirements are not enough: the government should introduce financial penalties for organisations that make no progress on closing gaps.

We’d love you to join the debate and make your voice heard at the Sussex Salon. To find out more, visit: brightondome.org/event/22489/sussex_salon/

Dr Charlotte Helen Skeet is a lecturer in law, co-director at the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research and University and College Union ( UCU) equality officer for the University of Sussex.