Employment law

UK women too polite to ask for their worth

Millions of women could be missing out on higher salaries as 82 per cent never negotiate their pay when applying for jobs, new research has shown.

28 January 2019

Man handing over cash bank note to woman

The fear of being ‘rude’ or ‘ungrateful’, compounded by concerns that challenging pay could jeopardise benefits (21 percent), such as maternity leave or flexible working, is silencing women when it comes to money.

The latest research into equal pay by employment law specialists, Slater and Gordon, found half of female workers believe they are being underpaid.

Yet, nearly three quarters of those (71 percent) admit they have not challenged their boss over the issue.

And once in the work place, things do not get better, as many women who discuss money with their colleagues (50 percent), discover their male peers are being paid more for similar or lower ranking roles (27 percent).

Ruby Dinsmore, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “There really is a split between the sexes when it comes to negotiating pay, not only when starting employment, but also once they are in employment.

“Men are often far more forceful when it comes to negotiations and much more commercial in their approach, which generally results in higher salaries and better packages.

“As they do this on the way in they are in a stronger position to secure increases to their salary and benefits. Meaning the pay gap between them and their female colleagues doing the same or similar work, continues to widen.

“This means women, who may not feel as comfortable asking for more money, are disadvantaged by a system which rewards those willing to engage in negotiation.”

Although many of the 1,000 working women surveyed said the prospect of discussing money at work is ‘uncomfortable’ or impolite’, research shows their fear is unfounded.

Of those who do enter into negotiations, 70 per cent are successful, receiving some or all of the amount requested.

Despite many women struggling to fight for a pay raise for themselves, they are fierce advocates for colleagues.

Nearly one in five had secured bonuses or raises for female colleagues and nearly half of all women encourage friends and workmates to ask for more money.

Ruby Dinsmore, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, added: “Workplaces must also be geared to spot and support all staff for their achievements.

“There will be many women who will ask for a raise or promotion to reflect their work, while others will not. A good employer must be able to identify and reward men and woman equally for the same or similar role.

“The research also shows us women are worried about risking other benefits like maternity support or flexible working arrangements by asking for more money. This should not be a concern as the issue of pay and other contractual or statutory benefits shouldn’t be connected.”

One measure often used as an indicator of unequal pay between men and woman is the gender pay gap, which became compulsory for companies with over 250 staff to report in 2018.

The Office for National Statistics puts the UK gender pay gap for full-time employees at 8.9 per cent last year, meaning woman are being paid just £380,000 on average over their lifetimes compared with £643,000 for men.

This gender pay gap has only shrunk by half a percent since 2012.

Gender pay gap reporting does not identify differences in specific roles, the existence of a gap suggests there is likely to be pay inequality. Whilst a gender pay gap is not unlawful, inequality of pay between men and woman doing the same or a similar role is.

The most popular things women name as responsible for the ongoing divide are men dominating senior roles (35 percent), unconscious gender bias (17 percent), women taking time off to raise children (32 percent) and sexism (30 percent). Only six per cent put the gap down to women preferring lower paid roles or sectors.

A third believe the way to tackle the pay divide is through proper transparency during the pay, promotion and rewards process, to minimise the negotiation imbalance.

Organisations are still learning to communicate about their pay gaps internally. Just over 10 percent were aware if their workplace publishes information on their gender pay gap.

Top tips for talking pay:

  • If you have a gut feeling and suspect male colleagues doing the same or similar role to you are being paid more, you’re probably right and should address it
  • Approach your HR team or manager and ask for the opportunity to discuss your pay
  • Value yourself and your work. Pay isn’t personal but commercial. Try to take emotion out of it
  • Prepare a business case for why you believe you’re worth more, back up the request with reasons
  • Research the market, look at job descriptions and salary bands for reference
  • Keep any negotiations friendly but formalised

Case study

Amy Bull, 33, creative content manager from Peterborough.

Five years ago Amy returned to full time work with a new employer, following the birth of her daughter. She was working as an account manager in telecommunications when she found out she was being paid less than a male colleague in the same role.

Amy says: “I remember feeling sick when I realised I was being paid less than a male colleague. He mentioned he wouldn't be applying for an internal role because it didn't pay more than he was already on, which was £4000 more than my salary.

"I was left in stunned silence. It took me a while to digest what was going on. I couldn't believe that, despite going above and beyond in my role and hitting my targets (which he wasn't), I was being paid less. I was also given more responsibility than my colleague, which increased my workload.

“I couldn't help but feel that it was because I was a woman and it was my first role back from maternity leave. When I returned initially they weren’t even paying me minimum wage. After the accounts team recognised this they tried to pitch the correction as a pay rise.

"After getting advice from a family member I decided to go ahead and speak to my line manager. Despite knowing I hadn't done anything wrong, I felt I would be rocking the boat.

“I asked to speak in confidence about the situation but was told firmly that I shouldn't be discussing salaries and that I would face disciplinary action if it happened again. I also never mentioned it to my male colleague as I felt it would cause problems for him and also make our working relationship awkward.

“The whole experience has stayed with me, especially because it happened during a time when I was navigating a new situation being a mother and also wanting to develop a successful career. It was insulting to discover that my contribution wasn’t thought of as highly as my colleague.

"It felt like such a kick in the teeth and I was made to feel like I was the problem. Since then I’ve discussed this with other women. Many have felt some workplace environments and policies prevented them from openly and confidently addressing equal pay without fear of repercussions.”

All information was correct at time of publication.

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