More than a century has passed since women started making strides in the workplace. The Ford sewing machinist strike of 1968 was a landmark win for pay equality and a trigger for the passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
In another moment of historical triumph, Julie Hayward’s fight for pay equality in 1984 became the first successful British case in claiming equal pay for work of equal value.
Hayward, who was working as a cook in a shipyard in Birkenhead, was categorised as a labourer while her three male colleagues, all of whom completed their apprenticeships at the same time as her, were deemed craftsmen and given a higher wage as a result.
Fast-forward to 2019 when KU visiting professor Samira Ahmed won her case against the BBC and was paid £700,000 to make up the difference in her salary. Ahmed, the presenter of viewer feedback programme Newswatch, was paid £440 an episode, while her male counterpart Jeremy Vine received £3,000 an episode for hosting the ever so similar Points of View programme.
Despite these monumental leaps for pay equality in the workplace, it still comes as no surprise that the gender pay gap has failed to improve for another year running.
On a par with Eurovision
Analysis of employers’ submissions to the gender pay gap reporting service showed that the median figure for the hourly pay gap rose from 9.5 per cent to 10.4. This means that for every pound earned by men, women earn 90p.
Ahead of the October 5 deadline, The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London conducted research that looked at the gender pay gap reporting in the UK and five other countries: Australia, France, Spain, Sweden and South Africa.
The study found that the UK ranked as successfully as it did in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest – last place.
The stakeholders interviewed in the UK case pointed almost unanimously to the introduction of a mandatory action plan in order to tackle the gender pay gap, emphasising that current UK legislation focuses too much on monitoring the problem rather than fixing it. In other words, it has no teeth.
Closing the gender pay gap, therefore, requires changing a system which has clearly fallen short.
The study praised the UK for its system’s high level of transparency but, in light of this year’s disappointing gender pay gap data, should we really be giving ourselves a pat on the back for this?
Rather than being top of the class for monitoring, maybe we should focus on mandating that employers with pay gaps take steps to address them.
In France, for example, companies could face heavy penalties of up to 1 per cent of company turnover if they fail to address gender inequalities.
I hope that the UK will follow suit of this bold and effective measure in tackling the gender pay gap. Consistent underperformance at Eurovision is acceptable, consistent undervaluing of hard working women is not.