Happy Equal Pay Day, the day that effectively women start working for free

Today, we give thanks to the mighty gender pay gap. Here in the UK, women will earn on average 83p for every pound earned by a man. This means that from today, 20th November 2020, effectively women start working for free. If that isn’t impressive enough, Covid is likely to make the situation even more unequal. Here’s why.

Due to important amendments made to the Equality Act in April 2018, all businesses that employ over 250 people must now declare their gender pay gap. Over the past three years, this has revealed some shocking disparities. To name just a few, 71% of Apple’s top earners in 2018 were men and in the same year Ryanair revealed that of its 554 UK-based pilots, only eight were female. In 2020, HSBC reported a 47% gender pay gap, meaning women earned 53p for every pound earned by a male employee. 

The average pay gap in the UK is currently 17.3%, meaning that for the final 17.3% of the year, women are being short changed. 

The pay gap is important for many reasons. Firstly, it represents a tangible way to both measure and monitor gender inequality. Prior to 2018, the pay gap was a known problem, but actual figures were often projected or predicted rather than based on documented fact. Now that this gap is recordedwe can monitor whether the gap grows, shrinks, and which tactics work best to close it. 

Secondly and crucially, documenting this gap offers a mechanism to hold companies to account for the inequalities they facilitate and incentivizes the introduction of programmes to tackle this gap. Continuously reporting a high gender pay gap is, if nothing else, bad PR for any company. That’s why some of the biggest pay gap offenders and largest companies have launched unprecedented schemes to attract more women to well-paid positions. 

For example, British Airways has started to visit schools, colleges and recruitment events around the UK to inspire girls and women to take up a career in aviation, and to enter roles in engineering and flight operations. They have also begun a new mentoring programme to ensure more women are promoted to managerial positions, all to combat the pay gap stigma that the entire airline industry has earned.

These are all crucial steps towards equality.

Yet, still more needs to be done. There is currently no penalty imposed on companies that report an exceptionally high gender pay gap repeatedly or on those who fail to close their pay disparities, irrespective of how large the company may be. While reporting these statistics is an important first step, the next must be to incentivize the closing of any gaps reported.

If all of this wasn’t cheery enough for you, you’ll be interested to know that Covid could make these inequalities more pronounced.

A new study by the Fawcett Society has revealed that, since March 2020, 43% of working women and 50% of BAME women are openly worried about their losing their job or a promotion due to the pandemic. Interestingly, this compares with 35% of men. This striking difference may be due to a number of factors, including that more women are currently on furlough than men and that one in three working mothers have lost work or hours due to childcare issues since March 2020. 

2021 pay gap figures will be interesting. They will reveal the true extent to which Covid has impacted the female workforce and equality across the country. 

The Whitehouse team are experts in equalities and human rights, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the world. More information about our human rights experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at chris.whitehouse@whitehousecomms.com.