In 1997, London had the smallest gender pay gap in the whole of the UK. Two decades later, it’s made next to no progress, and is now officially the worst place to work as a woman.
The Office for National Statistics has released new figures on the gender pay gap across the United Kingdom, comparing statistics from 1997 and today. It’s done by averaging the earnings of all working women in a region and comparing it with the average earnings of men. While in 1997 in London women working full-time in the public sector earned 13.5% less than their male counterparts, in 2017 it has only decreased to 13.1% less. That’s an improvement of just 0.4%-pretty tragic if you ask me. This is even more bleak for women working part-time in the public sector, with the pay gap between genders actually widening from 6.1% in 1997 to 22.3% in 2017.
Meanwhile, everywhere else in the UK has made considerable improvements to the gender pay gap. In fact, in Northern Ireland, men actually earn 3.4% less than woman, when in 1997 it was 16.5% in favour of the men. That’s a swing of just under 20% in 20 years.
I am constantly told how lucky I am to live in London as a graduate. I would agree with the people who say this, on the most part. I am lucky to live in a city I love, with many more opportunities than you might find elsewhere in the country. However, now that this has come to light it is clear that living in London as a working woman may well be a disadvantage for me. It seems pretty obvious to me that something has to be done to move London forward at a speedier rate and catch up with the progress seen all over the rest of the UK. Here are 5 possible solutions.
BELIEVE THE FACTS
Just as a forewarning, I’m not here to debate whether or not the gender pay gap exists or not. I’ve heard enough arguments from both sides to know where I stand on the issue. According to the World Economic Forum, there is no country in the world where women make as much as men do for the same work. However, a recent survey by Glassdoor found that 70% of adults in the UK, Canada, the US, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland think that men and women are paid equally. The first thing we have to do before we even begin rectifying the issue of equal pay is to believe women and believe the facts when they say they are being treated differently.
CHILD LEAVE AND CHILDCARE
Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK in 2015, but most men still don’t take it. This leads to women with children being out of work on average much longer than men with children, and gives companies more reasons to offer a promotion or pay rise to a man rather than a woman. By forcing men to take all their leave, the scales would be balanced. There is also a convincing argument for subsidised or on-site childcare. This would take the pressure off women finding the money for a carer and enabling them to come back to work potentially sooner than they would without it.
EQUAL TREAMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
In the Harvard Business review “Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back” it was shown that women often get much vaguer and less accurate performance reviews or feedback from interviews. This means that more often than not, men are getting a more accurate picture of what they can do to improve, which will likely lead to promotions and pay rises. For women to start earning more, they need to be given the same accurate feedback and support as their male counterparts to help them learn what to improve.
A simple yet effective way to help decrease the pay gap is pay transparency. Nothing can be done about the pay gap in a certain company or sector if nobody knows about it. As we can see from recent publishings of pay gaps across some broadcasting companies, public knowledge of this injustice can lead to pressure to change. So, if we encourage pay transparency across all of London and the UK, we can slowly but surely amount enough public pressure and close the pay gap quicker.
TACKLE IMPLICIT BIAS
We are often told that the reason women don’t get the pay-rise or the promotion is because they don’t ask for them – simple as that. However, this has been found to be inaccurate. It’s not that women aren’t asking for more money, it’s that doing so will actually affect her progression. Women who ask for raises are more likely to receive feedback that they are bossy, intimidating or aggressive. In fact, in the same Harvard Business review cited above, in women’s reviews of their work the phrase “too aggressive” showed up 76% of the time while it occurred 24% in mens. Maybe it’s just the case that these men really are being less aggressive? However, something about that doesn’t seem to ring true. So, we can see that while men asking for a raise could lead to them…getting a raise, a woman asking can end up harming her career and sending her backwards. By tackling these implicit biases that only a man can be a leader and women can only be bossy and aggressive, we can start giving both men and women who ask for a rise the same treatment.
The final, and possibly most important, thing to remember is that the female experience is not universal. I have heard white, middle class women saying that they don’t care about the pay gap because it has never affected them. While the average woman does indeed earn less than the average man, it’s important not to forget that the average working class woman will earn less than the average middle class woman, and the average WOC will earn less than the average white women. If you as a middle class or white woman think you’re doing alright in your job, then instead make an effort to raise awareness and fight for women who may not be as fortunate as you.
So, as we can see there are things that we can all do to speed up the rate of change when it comes to the gender pay gap, especially in London where progress seems to have stagnated. It saddens me greatly that London, a city that I grew up in and continue to love, is falling so far behind in the fight for gender equality. I hope that in the years to come London can pull up it’s metaphorical socks and make itself a better place to live and work as a woman.