It is nearly 50 years since men and women gained the legal right to equality in pay for equal work. But there remains a stubborn gap. Thanks to new reporting requirements we now know more about the nature of the problem. The figures give an incomplete picture, but what is clear is that a large majority of employers pay men more on average than they do women. The main reason for this is that men occupy a higher proportion of senior positions. Men are also more likely to be in relatively high-paying, dangerous industries such as mining, construction, or manufacturing and to be represented by a union. Women, in contrast, are more likely to be in clerical jobs and to work in the service industry. These factors explain 53% of the wage gap. Studies have shown that the more an occupation’s workforce comes to be dominated by women, the lower the wages become, regardless of the value or importance of the work.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of employees, women in middle management are perceived to lack the courage, leadership, and drive that male managers appear to have. This is despite female middle managers achieving results on par with their male counterparts in terms of successful projects and achieving results for their employing companies.
Equality: One Key Question
Maybe one of the reasons is the innocuous question asked in a job interview:
And what’s your current salary?
But beware: it may be a key factor in perpetuating pay discrimination and you’d perhaps be wise not to answer it.
Once potential employers learn you’ve been underpaid in your previous job, they have every reason to get you on the cheap too. That’s why those who are underpaid, typically women and people from ethnic minorities, tend to stay that way. They may change jobs and get pay rises, but their incomes stay tethered to a low base. And that’s also why New York last year joined other US cities in banning employers from posing that question in interviews.
However, saying this but the new requirements itself has been valuable. It prompts employers to think harder about the reasons for this imbalance. Encouragingly, some of those with the biggest equality gaps, such as EasyJet – which has the usual preponderance of male pilots, have the most concrete plans to address them.
Looking ahead, it is critical that companies make serious efforts to bring about real change to promote equality. And don’t just find ways of massaging the statistics. This would shut down conversations on equality in wages just when people are campaigning for greater pay transparency (not least in order to expose the pay gap) seems perverse. A better solution, surely, would be to compel companies to disclose the actual salary of the job being advertised (not just call it “competitive”). That would put a needed curb on managerial power, which, far more than productivity, is the real determinant of salary in the white-collar workforce.
The disparities within companies have been laid bare: the next year will test the resolve of companies and Government to fix them.