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Employment Solicitor talks equal pay and asks are we making progress?

By Principal Lawyer & Team Leader, Employment

A recent internet phenomenon is a video from the USA called “Disney Princesses for Equal Pay” featuring actresses posing as Disney Princesses singing about equal pay for women. For example, an actress parodying Ariel the Little Mermaid sings: “I want to make as much as a man – don’t want 77 cents to his dollar.” 

The video’s point, in part, is to raise awareness of the equal pay gap that continues in the USA where statistically for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 77 cents.

In the UK our own equal pay gap remains endemic despite equal pay laws being in place for over 40 years. The Fawcett Society reports that women on average earn 14.9% less on average than men for the same job. The latest Chartered Management Institutes statistics reveal men, on average, earn 50% more bonus pay than women.

The causes of, and ways to challenge, unequal pay and Equal Pay Disputes are no doubt multifactorial and to a large extent cultural. There are issues as to what types of occupation men and women tend to congregate in and how much they earn in comparison with the other once they are there and move up (or not) the career ladder.   

Much is said about the need for role models not only in the workplace but also in the education systems. A child’s pre-conceptions about gender divides seem to form at a surprisingly young age.  In the last year my 5 year old daughter has told me that only men can be headmasters, sports coaches and firefighters because that is what she has seen around her.

Responsibility for change has to rest in many hands including politicians, the education system, parents and all of us. What have I done? I spoke to my daughter about equal opportunities and I spoke to her school, In particular, I made sure she was introduced to a male primary classroom teacher (the only one in her school) because gender stereotyping and equality issues apply just as much to men. I also asked a firefighter to speak to her (sadly there was not a female firefighter available).

As well as a parent I am an Employment Law Solicitor. So in the workplace what can you do? You can make use of the equal pay tools that are currently available. Under the Equality Act 2010 female employees have the right to be paid equal pay in comparison with male employees undertaking equal work (and vice versa) unless the difference can be properly explained in a way that is not related to gender.  

The problems with enforcing these rights include a lack of transparency and a culture of pay secrecy. Often employees do not know what their peers are paid or for what reasons. But currently you can issue an equal pay questionnaire which helps you gather information on pay. The Government is intending to repeal that right but currently not until April 2014. If you suspect you are being paid less than a male colleague there are therefore tools at your disposal and consider seeking some legal advice and assistance.

On a final note my daughter tells me she wants to be a Power Ranger not a Disney princess. Progress?

By Employment Solicitor Rachel Harfield.