Fighting for equal pay

Men and women now have equal rights in the workplace. But some, says Emma John, are still more equal than others

An overwhelming 93% of employers are confident they offer women fair, unbiased pay systems, according to a new survey. Yet the poll, by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), is only one of a number of recent reports to reveal this confidence is misplaced. Along with the TUC, which launched a campaign in March for equal pay, the EOC claims full-time women employees earn only 81 pence for every learned by their male counterparts. And according to a separate report by The Industrial Society the deal is even worse for part-time women workers. They can expect an hourly rate a staggering 40% lower than full-time male employees.

Management in the millennium
So why should inequality still be allowed to flourish in the new millennium? ‘There is no simple answer,’ says Paul Burns, chairman of The Industrial Society. ‘But one of the main reasons is that pay-related decisions are manly made by men who occupy those management roles.’

And yet even in management there are discrepancies. The pay gap between male and female executives is around 10000 despite the numbers of women executives being on the rise. The Institute of Management says there has been a 7.9% increase in the number of women managers since 1990. However, the Institute’s Christine Hayhurst says the gap is not as wide as it seems. ‘Whilst there is still inequality in pay, female managers tend to be younger and have held their position for less time than their male counterparts…in terms of equal pay, I think the issues are really starting to bite.’

Family culture
However, there is justified concern over the lack of boardroom belles. Women make up only five per cent of the 1,247 board directors in the FTSE 100 companies. MP Harriet Harman worked with the Fawcett Society, the UK organisation campaigning for gender equality for women, and The Industrial Society to produce a boardroom survey of the top FTSE-listed businesses. She sees the lack female influence at the top of professions as a major problem in the struggle for equal pay. ‘British businesses needs a culture change to create family-friendly workplaces,’ she said at the report’s launch. ‘We will never see that change being led by men-only boards.’

EOC chairman Julie Mellor agrees. She says family culture must change alongside corporate culture to guarantee equality in the workplace. ‘There is still a widely-held assumption that women will fulfil a caring role in the family, while men will be the breadwinners,’ she says. ‘Employment policy…reinforces that assumption.’ This suggests that the need to challenge not only the status quo, but also people’s perception has never been more pressing.

The way ahead
Glenda Stone, founder of one businesswomen’s website, believes the way forward is an active pursuit of equality on the part of all women. She claims positive discrimination is acceptable – and in fact necessary – when the woman is just as qualified as the male, since ‘it is only when we have critical mass [of women on boards] that change will ensue.’ Stone also believes women must become bolder in their approach to promotion. ‘Men tend to throw their hat in the ring while women take more considered measures before applying for higher positions.’ She believes a range of successful role models is a necessity to encourage women in their careers.

Meanwhile, Mellor and her colleagues at the EOC are requesting a range of practical policies to enhance women’s standing at the office. ‘The EOC is calling for paid parental leave to enable fathers to play their part at home, an end to the long-hours culture and flexible working practices.’ However, it seems that worthy demands like these will only be met if men and women alike open their eyes to an important reality. Has the glass ceiling disappeared, or has it just changed shape?

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