Equal Pay Day 2015 – What is the gender pay gap?

Today marks Equal Pay Day in the UK. The day when, symbolically speaking, women stop earning in comparison to men, and continue working for free until the end of the year.

Equal Pay day varies from year to year; it’s calculated using the latest gender pay gap figures by organisations such as the Fawcett Society. They calculate the current mean pay gap for full-time workers as 14.2%.

But what really is the gender pay gap? What does it stand for?

Unfortunately there’s no simple answer. Different figures are published every day, and all of them are correct for their own specific purpose.

The gender pay gap is far more complex than one figure, and is influenced by so many factors that are or aren’t taken into account.

For example, the figure above rises to 19.1% when part-time work is taken into account, and up to 38% for women over 60.

So instead of providing an in depth explanation of the differences, we’re going to debunk some of the top myths surrounding the pay gap…

1. If women are more likely to work part-time, they’re bound to take home less pay.

If we were looking at weekly, monthly or yearly salary then of course this would be the case. But the gender pay gap calculates the difference in average gross hourly wage for men and women.

Part-time roles tend to pay a lower hourly rate than full-time positions, thus disadvantaging women who represent 75% of the part-time workforce in Britain.

Recent research by KPMG shows that part-time workers are 3 times more likely to earn under the ‘National Living Wage’ than full-time workers.

Research by WAVE Wales also questioned the extent to which part-time work is a choice for women.

Their analysis of working patterns in Wales found that the majority of work on offer in “feminised occupations” was only available on a part-time basis.

2. Women choose to work in sectors such as care or health and beauty, which are lower-paid.

We live in a society where ‘choices’ are often forcibly guided by what we see around us, what others say to us, and societal expectation or stereotyping.

From a young age, children are exposed to such obvious stereotyping that choices are often made before their skills or capabilities are assessed, and this affects boys as well as girls.

3. Women earn less because they take time off for motherhood.

While this is true when women are on maternity leave, the problem here lies in what happens when they choose to return to the world of work.

Often, as a result of unaffordable childcare, women will opt to work in part-time roles below their skill level which are poorly paid.

They can find it harder to access training and for some, maternity discrimination remains a very real problem.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently estimated that around 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs each year.

The gender pay gap is not a simple problem and there is no single solution. However, its causes are rooted in women’s position in the home and the labour market.

If we want to close the gender pay gap we need to tackle perceptions that women are carers first and earners second, and put in place the right infrastructure to enable people to work ( including affordable, accessible childcare ) and ensure that there is quality, well paid, flexible employment available.

By any of the measures used to plot the gender pay gap these actions will help to ensure that it becomes a thing of the past.


Written by Eira Jepson, @EiraJepson.