As new figures show the pay gap is worsening, Louisa Peacock looks at what
government, business and women themselves can do about it – and finds women may
have more of a role to play than we think.
Another year, another depressing set of figures showing us all how women get paid less than men on average. The most depressing thing, beyond the actual figures themselves, is that the gender pay gap in itself is nothing new (equal pay legislation has been around for 40 years) and, this year, appears to be getting worse.
Male managers’ earnings across all levels are rising faster than women’s for the first time in five years, the Chartered Management Institute survey based on 43,000 workers shows. We’re going backwards.
Men are also more likely than women to get a bonus across all management levels, and when they do, men on average get bonuses worth twice as much as their female counterparts, the survey showed. That’s a £6,442 bonus for men compared to £3,029 for women doing the same jobs – on top of basic salaries which were almost 25pc bigger (almost £40k compared to almost £30k).
Quite predictably, the Labour Government has pounced on the figures, with Yvette Cooper describing it as “disgraceful” that the gender pay gap seems to be widening. It’s true that the gap is “disgraceful”. What she forgets is that this is an issue that was going on under her government too – and dates back four decades at least. It’s not as simple as blaming the current politicians in power, no matter how tempting that might be for the opposition.
What should be done about the pay gap?
No woman should be paid less than a man doing the same job, simply because she’s a woman. But we must look at the reasons behind the ongoing pay gap.
Lynne Featherstone, the former women’s minister, last year said employment tribunals would be given the power to make employers who are found guilty of sex discrimination to carry out equal pay audits: a mandatory analysis of what men and women are paid in their organisation to address problem areas. This has not been introduced yet. This could be a good tool to spur the bad employers – those who’ve been found guilty of discrimination – into action.
But what about the good employers? There is talk of making all businesses carry out pay audits to address the problem. One report by Conservative MPs earlier this year called for business to publish their gender pay gap by rank, including the number of women getting promoted at each level.
But what will this really achieve? Once a business has the stats, what’s it supposed to do? If there is a gender pay gap, should they automatically give all the women affected a pay rise? Or would we actually see male pay being levelled down to match their female peers?
More importantly, based on what? Trying to compare ‘like for like’ roles in business is incredibly complex: the ‘same job’ is hard to define when you add years of experience, years of service, any special skills/ circumstances (such as being poached from a rival) into the mix.
Why should the good employers, already swamped with red tape, be subjected to more rules and regulations when the problem of unequal pay goes much deeper than a quick ‘survey’ of workers which won’t determine, in black and white terms, whether actual gender discrimination is going on.
Pay among the lower ranks
Take a closer look at today’s survey and the most junior female managers actually earn more than their male counterparts on average. A whole £1,000 more. This is significant as it suggests employers do not set out to pay women less than men at all.
If women are earning the same as, or more than men, in the junior ranks but cannot keep this up in senior positions, then what’s going on? A big part of the answer has to come from childcare: when women take time out to care for their children, by the time they’ve come back to work, they may have a significant skills and experience gap on their CV. They may have to start at the lower ranks and work their way up, meanwhile having seen their male colleagues climb the career ladder.
This can erode their confidence and self-value, believing they’re not as ‘worth it’ as the male employees at the same firm. Mothers are also likely to be the ones, nine times out of 10, to leave work early when some emergency with the kids is taking place, or to take time off when their kids are ill. Again, this erodes their value and makes them feel like they aren’t as ‘worth it’ as men.
The CMI suggests employers should extend flexible working for men and women, including shared parental leave, to bring about a culture shift. Greater flexibility at the top should appeal to both sexes and reshape cultural norms. The body also wants to see better sponsoring, mentoring and development of women to give them the confidence to aspire to top roles. Sure, employers can help create the right environment for women to succeed.
But a big part of the pay gap problem is down to women themselves to solve. Many women fail to recognise their worth and value to the organisation – and quite simply, don’t ask for a pay rise. Women don’t ask for a promotion either, holding back from their employers, thinking they don’t deserve it. Men, on the other hand, tend to jump head first and ask for the promotion or pay rise before they may be ready for it.
Women tend to wait for opportunities to come to them on a plate, thinking that years of hard work and beavering away will pay off. Men tend to shout about their achievements more, they go and grab those opportunities.
Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, encourages women to do just that: lean in and grab opportunities. Too many women hold back. In her accompanying blog about women’s fears, which encourages women across the globe to share their own stories, many, many women have said that if they weren’t afraid, they’d ask for a pay rise at work. It’s a common issue.
How to get a pay rise
If women (or men) think they deserve a pay rise, they should show to their boss why they think they deserve it. Get a copy of the job description and prove why you’ve gone above and beyond, naming tangible examples of work you’ve done in the past year.
Separately, ask your HR department to benchmark your grade/ work against your peers and rivals in other organisations. This can be kept quiet, between you two, it doesn’t have to take a lot of paperwork from the employer and could be the proof you need.
If none of the above works, you could go and get offered a job at a rival firm and ask your current employer to match it or lose you. Often at these crunch points, bosses give in.
Above all, be yourself. You don’t have to ‘act like a man’ to get it. Just let the facts do it for you – the projects you’ve worked on that have made a real difference, the sales that have increased as a result of your ideas, your work.
Of course, asking for a pay rise isn’t the magic bullet to actually getting one. You’ll still find some bosses who don’t agree you deserve it. You’ll still find companies that cannot afford it, genuinely. But asking for one is not necessarily the big deal you may think it is. Take the plunge.