Jessica Swanall discusses the gender wage gap and the problems this poses for students who are graduating.
I hope I’m not alone in saying that the looming day of graduation has been scrawled, with dread, onto my calendar. If you’re not in your final year, you probably won’t understand what I’m talking about, but just wait. You have so much to look forward to. Every undergraduate, however, regardless of year, will have worried about the job they are going to get when they do, eventually, graduate. This fear is just more pronounced for final year students. The pressure is particularly heightened for our generation – the generation in mounds of university debt. How will we afford housing (this alone is a scary enough issue) and paying off our piles of student debt and have enough money to eat and pay our bills? Now imagine you are earning almost 20% less than your co-worker. The only difference is that they were born with different genitalia.
The 1970 Equal Pay Act has been in effect for 46 years and, yet, pay is still not equal. Far from it. The United Kingdom’s gender pay gap is 17.5% higher than the average of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, coming out only marginally better than the United States. Of course, there are some jobs where women out-earn men: 11 in fact. This, of course, should also change. However, I am sure you can also see how shocking the opposite statistic is. That in every other job, men out-earn their female co-workers.
This harsh reality will be experienced by 50% of us (I doubt much will change when it hasn’t in 46 years). The stats are simply embarrassing. But what can an individual do to change this? Employers have their reasons; it seems culturally ingrained. Some say it is because men are more likely to ask for a pay-raise. Some say women choose lower-paid jobs. However, there is a disparity between job and sector-related pay gaps and (as has been explored above) a massive gender pay gap is present within the same job roles.
But how are employers able to do this? While there isn’t much, it seems, that a woman can do to combat the gender-wage gap, why can employers not simply pay men and women equally for doing the same job? Surely, that is the obvious solution. There are only a few examples of companies raising women’s pay across the board to match their male counterparts (Brainlabs, University of Essex). Yet, these are very much in the minority. Some have argued that raising women’s wages would offend their male counterparts. However, this argument seems devoid of reason. A small difference between employees due to bonuses and length of employment is expected however, in some jobs, for instance sales consultants, the difference in pay between genders reaches 27%. Why would men want their colleagues to suffer?
Hopefully recent legislation forcing large companies to publish details of their employees’ pay, which will take effect in 2018, will help to abolish the pay gap by shedding light on the worst offenders. However, these companies will not be forced to raise their wages, rather, everyone will be able to look at a table to reaffirm what they know is already going on and be able to rule-out the more unequal employers. It will make little difference to Britain’s overall pay gap.
The cultural stigma is undoubtedly there: employers (maybe subconsciously) don’t want to hire women in case they may become pregnant. But surely this mind-set is rooted 70 years in the past? The shared parental leave laws recently passed through government have not had much of an effect yet however, and there are already concerns around their eventual success as well: maternity leave is shared rather than giving it to both parents and longer paternal leave is not enforced.
Not only is this relevant because it will effect so many of us when we inevitably enter the ‘real’ world but also because of the recent protests in Iceland. Iceland is the best country in the world for gender equality, yet women earn on average 14-18% less than men. On the 24th of October, female employees walked out of their workplaces at 2:38pm to protest that in an eight-hour day women are essentially working for free from then on. It has been estimated that if progress continues at the same pace then it will take 52 years to eliminate the gender wage gap within Iceland. They are the world leaders in gender equality and yet their pay gap is still 14%! In short, Britain needs to do more to abolish the gender pay gap (hopefully before we all graduate).