The Gender Pay Gap in Britain

Last month we were invited by Emily Harbottle, Editor at Catena (Nottingham) Limited to comment on her article published in Catena’s Network Magazine July/August.  They have kindly allowed us to share the following article with you.

In the last 100 years, women have come a long way in terms of equality. We are now able to vote, own our own homes, and make the choice between work and motherhood, amongst other things. I do certainly believe we have achieved some level of equality, but it appears we still have a way   more to go with regards to equal pay. It’s been easy to disregard this as a myth of sorts up until now, with not much clear evidence that an inequality in pay is happening.

Nonetheless, the BBC’s publication of its salaries this summer gave us   much to think about, and quite rightly provoked some outcry. Seeing it laid bare that women doing the same job as men, such as Fiona Bruce, who reads out the news, earns roughly £200,000 less than Huw Edwards, despite doing essentially the same job as him, is disappointing. Likewise, Gabby Logan and Claire Balding, despite essentially doing the same job as Gary Lineker (all paid to comment on sport), earn significantly less than him. All are equal in terms of knowledge and talent, yet for some reason, it has been judged that Lineker is of more monetary value than Balding or Logan, who are both experts in their own fields of sport CB equine & GL gymnastics respectively.

This is not an article demanding that men take a pay cut, nor that there should be less men in the top jobs. I trust that they got there through hard work and talent and women certainly shouldn’t be in top jobs simply to meet the gender quota. As MD of Catena, Claire Bicknell remarked to me, ‘I’m not a subscriber to the theory that every board should be 25% female – women should be there if they are good enough, not because they are female and brought in to make up numbers.’

Nicky Smith, from Career Directed Solutions makes an insightful remark as to the reasons behind why we’re still facing a discrepancy in pay, commenting that, “It’s true that we’ve come a long way since the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise Act of 1928); almost 90 years later as we consider the impact of Gender Pay Gap reporting we find ourselves reflecting on why men typically earn more than women for doing the same job. We can’t escape the fact that women are still most likely to be the main care-givers in any family and its women who are forced to choose how to balance family and career (although this is changing, slowly), inevitably impacting pace of progression and therefore pay but this doesn’t solve the conundrum of why we earn different salaries for the same work. For me, the BBC revelations, gives the issue ‘celebrity status’ and some of the figures are shocking, but I’m more curious to see how this translates into mainstream business when reporting becomes a legal requirement in April next year.”

“Much has been written about the different behaviour of men and women in the workplace; women typically don’t negotiate salaries, they are less accomplished at building a sponsorship network and less likely to apply for a role unless they ‘tick all of the boxes’ – we need to address some of these issues and take greater control of our career progression as part of the solution. Employers need to create enabling conditions for women by introducing better recruitment and development and mentoring experiences for women and frankly ending the need to choose between family, caring responsibilities and career.”

In the same vein, Sue West from West HR remarked to me that “in short, there will always be a gender pay gap while more women than men choose to take time out from work. That said, the gap is higher than it should be due to by assumptions around men being the traditional breadwinner (yes, even in 2017!) and women being unsuited to more senior roles.”  “The 21st century workplace is about options and choice – legislation is helping (eg shared parental leave), but culturally we just are not there yet. According to The Telegraph, only 1% of Working Men are taking up the opportunity to take shared Parental Leave.”

“However, society has come a long way too – eg US racial segregation in the 1960’s (highlighted to me when I watched the film Hidden Figures), and decriminalisation of homosexuality was not all that long ago and they seem so at odds with the world today.”

So what can be done to resolve this issue? Shortly after the news broke, high-profile names such as Claire Balding, Victoria Derbyshire and Angela Rippon, amongst 40 others, wrote an open letter to Director General Tony Hall calling to meet him and ‘correct this disparity’ so that ‘future generations of women do not face this kind of discrimination’. The BBC has promised to meet this gap by 2020, yet so many companies, which haven’t been forced to reveal their wages, are likely to be hiding a similar problem. As written in the letter, ‘Beyond the list, there are so many other areas including production, engineering and support services and global, regional and local media where a pay gap has languished for too long.’

In continuation, Sue West commented to me that “in terms of resolution, there will always be a gap as more women than men will take time out of work, however the key is that taking time out is based on choice and not all women will take time out, so assumptions need to stop.” “Formal pay structures will help – aligning pay to the role and associated responsibilities but these risk losing the flexibility to adjust to the changing labour market and continuing role needs changes in organisations. The gender pay gap needs to be challenged, and that’s exactly what is happening at the BBC. Organisations with 250+employees now need to publicly report their gender pay gap every year which will help open the debate.”

“Larger organisations need to have internal means of challenge too – creating the right culture where it is OK to question, having roles whose responsibility it is to challenge, having transparent pay mechanisms (I always advise, if you cannot be open and transparent about pay decisions, what is wrong with them).”

“It’s less easy for smaller organisations. Owner managers may make quick decisions without having a HR consultant to bounce ideas off and be challenged. I don’t believe the burden of pay gap reporting is right for small businesses – in any way they will not be big enough for any data to be meaningful. Perhaps the challenge needs to come from advisors, mentors, business networks – and not just from a compliance perspective but from an ethical and talent attraction/retention agenda.”

To conclude, therefore, while this isn’t a problem which can be solved overnight, the revelations at the BBC and the very public backlash to this news can only have helped future generations and the step towards a more equal society.

Click here to read the full Catena Network Magazine July/August 2017

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