Britain has one of the largest gender pay gaps in Europe. Women earn a mere 80p for every pound a man makes, and this inequality has increased slightly over the past 15 years.  The new generational ideology has vowed to bring an end to this scandal.  On the 4th of April 2018 the government introduced a mandate that requires companies with 250 employees or more to publish the gap in hourly pay between women and men.

The data taken from 10,0000 employers revealed that there was an average pay gap of 12%. Much to the country’s despair, companies such as Jefferies Investment Bank and Ryanair paid women less than half of what they paid men.

However, the data does not adjust with peoples’ different occupational roles. So, all the data that is being used as evidence to slander companies for their huge gender pay gap, is effectively comparing chief executives with secretaries.  Mean pay gaps can be hugely skewed by the few high-earners. A clear example of this is football clubs, as they account for nine out of the ten organisations with the largest difference in their median and mean pay gaps.

Inappropriately, this leaves copious amounts of room for misinterpretation and counterproductive responses. Two narratives have appeared. Firstly, that the gender pay gap explains how discriminatory and sexist the workplace can be.  Secondly, that it is sufficiently explained by men’s larger share of senior roles. Both explanations are insufficient.

 

Is there discrimination against men and women in the workplace because of unequal opportunities? Definitely.

 

One key misinterpretation is that discrimination is revealed solely by the gender pay gap. ‘Pay discrimination’ refers to people who do the same job or jobs of similar value but are paid differently. This has been illegal since 1975.  Admittedly, while some of these problems still exist, such as the ongoing £4 billion claim against Tesco by female shop staff who are getting paid less than their male warehouse counterparts, in general, this is no longer a problem in the UK.

Here I try to address the main problem faced in the UK. Is there discrimination between men and women in the workplace because of pay? Perhaps not. Is there discrimination against men and women in the workplace because of unequal opportunities? Definitely.

Airlines are accountable for one of the largest gender pay gaps, inevitably explained by roughly 94% of pilots being men (£92,000 annual salary) and 69% of cabin crew being females (£24,800 annual salary). Indeed, the airline does not have a pay problem, rather they hold a recruitment and progression problem.

Other industries also fail to promote women into higher-ranking jobs, and unfortunately, Britain is not alone. In American law firms, half of the graduate employees are women and yet only one in five are partners.

Increasingly, schemes in London – from investment banks and law firms such as Goldman Sachs, J.P Morgan and the likes of Paul Hastings and MacFarlane’s – are promoting ‘Women in work’ or ‘Women in Business’ events. But to what extent are these women given equal opportunity in progression? Britain needs to act more comprehensively. Pay-reporting exercises come with limited enforcement and, for the most part, little significance. Instead, we should be looking at the percentage of female graduates who rise to more senior roles or other similar indicators. We will never fix the problem of higher paying roles being filled disproportionately by men unless we address the problem directly. And without these changes we will never see a decrease in the gender pay gap.

Another obstacle that is not addressed simply by wage gap statistics is the issue of progression in wages with part-time work. In a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies it showed that while part-time workers’ wages keep pace with average earnings growth in the economy, these workers do not progress up pay scales.

The gender pay gap statistics often fail to consider that new mothers sometimes decide to become ‘part-time’, and therefore their income during this time will decrease. The mean gender pay gap is about 8 percent before children are born and then widens to around 30 percent by the time the eldest child reaches age 20. Again, this issue needs to be approached and systems need to be in place for mothers on part-time to progress in their careers at an equal rate to men.

Reports in Britain are focused on pay, but the problem is about representation. Hire unbiasedly, pay equitably and most importantly offer equal opportunities to both men and women to advance. It is that simple. In early April, Theresa May said she wanted the government to end ‘burning injustice’ of the gender pay gap. The injustice to focus on is not the lack of equality in outcomes, but rather in the lack of opportunities.

Perhaps, a progression away from the obsessional number-crunching statistics that form such a big part of the debates over equality is what’s needed. It may prove more advantageous to focus on the lack of opportunities and restricted accessibility, led by the norms of how to treat men and women in the workplace, rather than the reductionist ammo in the form of the gender pay-gap. The numerical evidence of inequality is simply a symbol for what is really at stake: the opportunities available to women, which are currently guided by the corporate world.