Worryingly, this is the second time this year that I’ve agreed with a Tory policy.
Although it may be throwing my political identity into chaos, the recent government-sponsored report into the gender pay gap is commendable. It’s the first of its kind in the world, representing a shift in Britain’s attitude to the severity of gender discrimination. We can only hope that it will cause an adjacent shift globally – it is time for gender pay discrimination to be taken seriously.
Of course, there is a certain degree of simpering, eye-rolling condescension with this report. Women have been telling the government, with mounds of evidence and examples, of their discriminatory pay for years and it only gets believed or given media attention when the government finally acknowledges it themselves. Given the amount of foot-dragging and delays that the government have displayed with sexist pay cases, the policy may just be a facade to appease those ‘bloody feminists’.
After all, while it may represent a world first – a comprehensive report into gender pay disparities – this does not mean the government will act on the knowledge. Whilst the companies reported as the worst culprits – RyanAir, Boux Avenue, to name just two – have attracted scathing media and public hostility, no legal action has been taken against them.
True evidence, and government-backed at that, does represent a milestone in the UK. Discrimination has gained importance and, most fundamentally, awareness from the government – a feat in itself. Yet it may be just another example of May’s government feigning interest in issues, only to quietly ignore them once public attention has waned. Gender discrimination is too important an issue to be treated with the usual Tory lacklustre incompetence.
Feminists have been quick to highlight the artificial nature of the report; it only looks at pay discrimination in its simplest form. No attention is given to intersectional trends – in regards to race, ability, class, or age – and only a symptom of the total sexist system is explored. Despite the evidence, no mention is made of other workplace risks, such as the worryingly frequent occurrence of sexual harassment and the report repeatedly fails to connect pay gap inequality to the grander sexist structure we live in. In itself and in the face of mounting evidence of sexism presented by citizens and academics alike, the report is an insipid attempt to appease those who are affected by such a system.
Yet there is reason to be optimistic. Sure, the pay gap is just a symptom of the patriarchy but it is still an important one. It impacts individuals’ life chances, spending ability, and options in a sexist manner. Whilst symptomatic of the grander structure, it still needs to be addressed and, even if it is only in such a vapid manner, at least it is finally being accorded the attention it deserves.
The report is important. It opens gender discrimination up to discussion. The evidence, conducted by the government, can therefore not be disregarded by the very same government. Even if May does not really plan to act on the report, she has essentially bound the Tories to recognition of the existence of gender pay inequalities.
Importantly, the report is receiving media and public attention, ensuring sexism is kept within the public eye even if not in the most constructive way. This is a step forward; globally, it is likely to be mirrored and discussion will be transmitted across borders.
If the UK wishes to keep its trailblazer status in regards to the report, it may – although this is optimistic – lead to the government conducting similar reports into other structural inequalities, such as race, sexuality, age and class. The report should be celebrated for the – tiny – step forward it represents and its potential to encourage further reports that seek to stamp out inequality within our society.