Equal pay audits could help close the huge wage disparity between UK men and women that could otherwise get worse.
Even though legislation to ensure equal pay has been in place for 40 years, the gender pay gap in Britain remains among the highest in the EU. On average, women in the UK earn about 15% less than men.
For every £100 men take home, women are typically earning about £85, though the gap varies between regions and sectors. In London, the pay gap stands at 23%.
This disparity in pay is perhaps one of the starkest indicators of how far we have to go before we achieve equality between women and men. Progress in closing the gap has been slow, and – as the age of austerity takes hold – we face a future where for the first time, the gap may actually widen.
A range of things contribute to it, including the undervaluing of “women’s work”, where jobs traditionally done by women are generally less well paid than those where men dominate (nursing versus mechanics, for example). The lack of flexible work opportunities available means mothers, who still tend to do the bulk of unpaid caring for children, can find it hard to reconcile paid work with family responsibilities. This “motherhood penalty” can also lead to outright discrimination, with employers less likely to hire or promote women of childbearing age, for fear they may fall pregnant. But a key and often overlooked part of the battle is awareness. All too often, employers and employees of either sex are unaware they may be experiencing or perpetuating a gender pay gap.
Often, simply learning that men doing the same job at your company are being paid more than you can be enough to trigger a change.
This is where gender pay audits come in. The Fawcett Society has long proposed that businesses employing more than 250 people routinely monitor and publicise any pay gap between male and female employees. This need not be labourious, rather it can be part and parcel of filing annual accounts, and is a surefire way to start making proper tangible progress towards closing the gap.
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