How come we are still talking about the gender pay gap in 2018?
If you think the whole issue is a bogus one, think again. If you’re a woman, mind the pay gap. If you’re a female freelancer, there’s still hope for you.
Here’s what we’ve learnt about the gender pay gap so far.
Why is gender pay gap a problem (for everyone)?
Let’s kick this off the right way. What’s the gender pay gap, anyway?
The gender pay gap refers to the difference in median earnings between men and women. This difference is expressed as a percentage of male earnings and typically varies across different industries, professions and regions.
Despite the obvious unfair reality that women get paid less on average than their male counterparts, often for the same or comparable work (due to reasons that we’ll look at later on), the gender pay gap also reduces women’s lifetime earnings and consequently, their pension, contributing significantly to women’s poverty later in life. And that’s just wrong.
What seems common sense even to the first-graders, somehow gets normalised and integrated into our lives as we’re growing up. In honour of the International Women’s Day, Norwegian trade union Finansforbundet carried out an experiment with children, asking them to fill two vases with pink and blue balls. Once the task had been completed, boys were rewarded with far more sweets than girls. See the kids react to this unusual decision.
More than 120 years after the pay inequality issue was first raised in the UK, the gender pay gap persists. Why? Let’s look at what the latest research data in the UK and around the world suggests.
So, how big is the gap?
Sadly, the gap is still much bigger than one would expect it to be.
The mean gender pay gap for full-time work is reported to be at 14.1% and jumps to 18.4% when part-time work is included. Although it is supposedly decreasing over time, the progress simply isn’t fast enough.
Following the new law which requires all public and private organisations in Britain with more than 250 or more employees to report the difference between what they pay men and women, we’re learning the gender pay gap situation is still an embarrassment to the modern-day society.
As of the time of writing, 77% of nearly 3000 companies that had reported said they pay men more than women on average, 9% have managed to close the pay gap and 14% said they pay women more than men.
Essentially, what this means is that women in the UK work for free for more than two months a year, or 67 days to be precise (however, compared to some other European countries, the British women are still quite lucky; see the map below). The figure can be even higher in certain sectors. In the education sector, for example, the pay gap runs at 26.5%, meaning the average female worker works more than 90 days without a pay. In the finance and insurance sector, the pay gap is larger, sitting at 35.6%.
The pay inequality at some of the country’s best-known universities is also staggering. For example, the University of Manchester reported: “an 87% median bonus pay gap, indicating that for every £1 paid to a male employee in bonus pay, a woman would receive 13p on average”. The University of Liverpool reported a 19% median hourly gap and a 90% bonus gap (and the list goes on).
Although the pay gap does not measure the pay difference between men and women at the same pay grade, doing the same job, with the same working pattern, the recent pay inequality scandals at BBC, Goldman Sachs and many other leading organisations allow us to suspect that women often get paid less than their male counterparts for producing identical work.
According to The Independent, “more than 120 female BBC employees who believe they are being paid unfairly in comparison to male colleagues” have taken their cases to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
What makes the BBC case even worse is that it suggests the pay gap is part of a wider problem: “Behind the headline and most important issue of equal pay at the BBC we believe there is a wider culture of gender discrimination which can be seen in the patterns of promotion, especially after women take maternity leave.”
Another interesting example comes from the world of cinema. Claire Foy, the actress who played the Queen in the Netflix’s hit series The Crown and went on to win a Golden Globe in 2017, was paid less for the first two seasons of the show than her co-star Matt Smith because, as the official statement holds, he was more famous at the time of casting.
The abundance of data and real-life examples indicate that the issue of gender pay gap is still as relevant today as it has been 50 years ago when women machinists at the Ford Car Plant in Dagenham went on strike to demand an equal pay. After three weeks on strike, they returned to work with a small victory, securing an increase in women wages to 92% of what was paid to men for the same type of work. Still not quite equal in the end then, was it?
As the time went by, not only was the progress on this issue sluggish but the pay gap widened in all sectors and the excuses and pretexts to pay women less got even more sophisticated.
The common excuses, and what really causes the gender pay gap
The gender pay gap is a much more complex issue than it might seem at the first glance and many different reasons can cause the discrepancies in earnings between men and women.
- Direct discrimination can be one of the reasons determining why women get paid less than men for doing the same job. While the equality legislation has greatly improved the situation, gender discrimination, as the BBC example provides, is still very much a real thing in the world of employment.
- Even in this day and age, work is still often segregated by gender, with some jobs considered to be for men and some jobs – for women. Historically, men have always been paid more because their work supposedly called for more physical strength or special skills, while women’s work and skills were undervalued. However, when many working men left to fight the First World War and women took over most of their jobs, including tram driving and factory work, it quickly became apparent that there was nothing special about those jobs that women couldn’t do.
A more recent example can be taken from the Birmingham City Council case, where more than 170 women who had worked as cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff for the council, won compensation because they were denied bonuses, while employees in traditionally male-dominated but similar-level jobs, such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave-diggers, received bonus pay. Although working women are often just as qualified, skilled and talented as their male colleagues (and are producing work of equal value), their pay grade is lower because they’re considered to be doing “women’s” (meaning, less physically or intellectually demanding) work.
- The promotion rates is another factor that comes into play here. Gender stereotypes often mean that women are passed over for promotions because they are not considered to be “strong”, “managerial” or “stable” enough to take on higher level responsibilities. Their status as mothers is also often used against them, implying that women can’t be as committed to their jobs because they have a family to look after — for some reason, being a father doesn’t seem to be a problem. As research shows, not only are men 40% more likely than women to be promoted in management roles, the progress achieved in getting more women in top leadership roles is going into reverse. In 2016, 7.8% of chief executives were women, but the figure fell to 6.5% in 2017.
- The existing gender pay gap means that women are often forced to take on more household labour because it makes more financial sense. For example, caring for the sick and elderly, taking career breaks to look after young children and doing more housework isn’t only considered to be women’s responsibility, it’s also the “cheapest” solution for a family. Since women typically earn less than men, losing their paycheck at the end of the month isn’t as financially risky as other options.
Sometimes, the reasons behind women taking more career breaks can also be driven by gender stereotypes and the cultural and societal pressures that come with them. In the end, the sacrifices that women have to make to care for their loved ones come back to hurt their careers, as they struggle to get back into employment as well as suffer from a lack of career progression opportunities and an unfair pay.
How are women fighting the pay gap?
Besides women’s marches, strikes and even legal cases that women are using to bring employers to justice, they also have a quieter and increasingly more popular way of fighting back — going freelance.
IPSE found that between 2008 and 2017, the number of the solo self-employed increased by 34% and now constitute 14% of the UK’s workforce, which amounts to approximately 4.4 million skilled professionals. Women make up 35% of the total self-employed workforce.
The report doesn’t stop there. While the number of women working for themselves has grown rapidly, the number of self-employed working mothers shows an even more astonishing growth. The total number of highly skilled freelance mothers has almost doubled since 2008, exhibiting an increase of 96%.
According to our own research, self-employed women earn almost 43% more per hour than employed women. And nearly 7% of women said they earned between 90% and 100% more than they did as an employee. However, despite the obvious financial benefits, most women cited freedom and flexibility as key motivators for the change in their career.
In theory, the gig economy could fix the gender pay gap because women set their own rates. And while many female freelancers are raking in double the money they used to make as employees, others suffer from something known as “self-sabotage”, as they set their own rates much lower than their male counterparts. Lack of confidence, pressure from clients and industry competition are often amongst the most common reasons holding women freelancers back. To close the pay gap, women freelancers must learn how to negotiate with confidence and charge what they’re worth.
There’s a long way to go until the gender pay gap truly closes, but we have made impressive strides since the day women started fighting for their rights. A society where individuals are rewarded for their merit, regardless of their sex, age, colour or beliefs, is a society worth fighting for, so let’s keep on marching forward.