One in five big employers pays women less

// 27 January 2006

Nearly one in five of Britain’s biggest employers pay women less than men, the Equal Opportunities Commission has revealed. Of 870 employers who voluntarily carried out equal pay audits, 16 per cent found they were illegally paying men more than women to do the same job. Women were routinely missing out on top jobs, taking longer to get prompted and starting on lower salaries.

The Guardian reveals that one of the worst offenders was Lloyd’s TSB:

A review of Lloyds TSB’s wage bill revealed deep divisions in pay, with high-flying men reaping rewards in bonuses because the bank feared it might lose them. Men were also more likely to negotiate higher starting salaries when they joined the bank. Lloyds TSB has since overhauled its pay structures.

And these are the companies that volunteered to investigate their position on pay – what horrors would be uncovered if all employers were forced to carry out audits? Industry bodies such as the CBI continue to lobby against mandatory equal pay audits, arguing that the EOC is overstating the problem. But the organisation also refuses to back “equality checks” – a lighter-touch assessment which would prompt a full investigation if any problems were detected.

Feminism Alive and Kicking?

Yesterday’s Guardian carried a piece by Natasha Walters, in which she wonders if she is partly responsible for feminism’s reluctance to link economic and social discrimination with “cultural sexism”.

She recounts how, during a debate with Naomi Wolf at the ICA, young women were on their feet calling for the women’s movement to step up to the plate and tackle the “Nuts-and-Loaded culture”.

At this ICA event women wanted to hear the links made again between cultural sexism and the underlying political and economic inequalities that make it not really so ironic or funny. They also wanted to hear about how to change this underlying reality. Wolf – far more political on the platform than in her new book – pushed the audience to think of ways to make this happen, challenging one audience member, Kate Bellamy from the Fawcett Society, to think about whether that organisation could create a new mass women’s lobby. When I spoke to Bellamy a few days later, she agreed that she did feel there was unassuaged hunger for change among young women and a desire to hear this hunger spoken about more clearly in public arenas.

It is good that these women were angry. It is healthy. And it’s a nice change to hear about young women who are calling on feminism to represent them, not dismissing it.

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