WWC Gender Pay Gap Review Falls Short.

// 30 July 2009

The Women and Work Commission has published a review (pdf) of the Government’s 2006 action plan (pdf) on closing the gender pay gap and improving opportunities for women in the workplace. It notes that the overall gender pay gap (including full and part time work) has increased from 21.9% in 2007 to 22.6% in 2009, although it has decreased overall in the last two years. The full time pay gap stands at 12.8% (12.5% in 2007). The review blames continued barriers to women’s participation in male-dominated occupations for this gap, focusing particularly on the continued stereotyping of gender roles in schools and careers services for young people, as well as addressing the need to improve maternity rights and increase the availability of quality flexible and part-time jobs, especially in the private sector. The review suggests that removing the barriers to women working in occupations traditionally done by men, and increasing women’s participation in the labour market, could be worth between £15 billion and £23 billion.

However, as The Fawcett Society points out, the review appears to miss the elephant in the room:

While the report identifies some key issues it fails to address the role of discrimination – the single largest cause of the pay gap. Change will not come until employers are legally bound to prevent pay discrimination occurring in the first place – by conducting regular pay audits that identify and root out discrimination in pay systems.

The focus on gender stereotyping in schools, while important, plays into the hands of the business lobby, who can blame the pay gap on the government rather than taking responsibility for actively discriminating against female employees and candidates, be that through illegally paying them less, choosing to make pregnant women redundant (30,000 pregnant women lose their jobs each year) or, like the delightful Alan Sugar, preferring not to hire women as they may take time out to have children. The CBI have certainly taken the opportunity to do this; their only reaction to the report is to say:

“The WWC’s report and recommendations are welcome. The CBI has been saying for some time that a key reason for women earning less than men are their academic choices and careers advice at school.

“We hope the government takes this report seriously as the choices made in formal education affect an individual’s earning potential throughout their lives. More women should be encouraged to take maths and science subjects, which are very popular with employers.

“It is a tragedy that schoolchildren make choices based on poor advice and the stereotyping of subjects and careers, rather than their individual talent and aptitude.”

Blaming the pay gap within the business world on female candidates not having science and maths qualifications is absurd; these are not prerequisites to most jobs in this sector, and a “girly” languages degree will probably get you a lot further in this globalised market.

The second major problem with the review is the WWC’s acceptance of the fact that male-dominated occupations are paid less:

…simply encouraging women and girls out of them into non-traditional trades won’t address the root cause of pay inequality. Female-dominated occupations (the five ‘Cs’ of caring, cashiering, clerical, cleaning and catering) are paid less precisely because women’s labour is traditionally undervalued. While increasing the availability of flexible and part-time working and tackling gender stereotyping in education are important, addressing the undervaluation of traditional women’s work is key. These occupations are crucial to the economy and should be rewarded accordingly. A solution based on women exiting these jobs is infeasible and fails to take account of findings that lower valuation ‘follows’ women when they move into traditionally male-dominated sectors.

By focusing on the need to ensure that women have the same opportunity to do the better-paid jobs in society, but failing to question why these jobs are better-paid, the report condemns huge numbers of people – mostly women – to continued poverty and/or lack of fair pay for the work they do. Why is there no mention of a living wage? Who does the Commission think is going to fill vacancies in the five Cs once women and girls have moved away from them? And why should boys want to try out jobs and careers traditionally associated with women when they are passively accepted to be of less value?

Finally, the report generally seems to make the assumption that parental rights and flexible working need to be extended to women – which they do – but makes little reference to paternity leave or male access to flexible working.

In short, there’s some helpful suggestions here, but unless businesses are audited and held accountable for pay discrimination, unless “female” work is properly valued and the rights and responsibilities of fathers are also addressed, the gender pay gap is not going to close any time soon.

Comments From You

Jo W. // Posted 30 July 2009 at 3:09 pm

I think its really important for us to get a flexible paternity/maternity system so that we can begin to challenge the view that it childcare is only work for women. I also find it strange that there is a focus in these reports on getting more women into traditionally masculine jobs without getting boys and men to consider traditionally feminine roles. This will just end up encouraging the view that “feminine” roles are low status and deserving of lower pay.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 30 July 2009 at 4:42 pm

More ‘window dressing’ and diversionary tactics from the authors of this review because essentially, the government once again refuses to implement legislation making it compulsory for employers to pay female and male workers the same rate of pay for work which is either identical or comparable.

Since when has maths and science been a pre-requisite for well-paid employment prospects. What is still a prerequisite is to be biologically male and preferably white.

Claims maths and science are ‘essential’ is yet another diversionary tactic because if more women were to have qualifications in these subjects, then (male) employers would ‘discover’ another reason for discriminating against women because women supposedly do not have x,y, z qualifications or else are supposedly ‘innately’ incapable of fulfilling the job criteria. The enormous struggle women had to endure in order to enter higher education was rife with the same claims as pertains now. Women were told their brains were not suited for higher education, their biology was weaker than men’s, oh the list was endless – but after a long and bitter struggle women finally succeeded in entering higher education and proved being female does not automatically mean their intelligence was lower than males.

Sexual harassment within the workplace was commonly viewed as ‘trivial’ and not until legislation was passed making male sexual harassment of female employees illegal, did anything change. Businesses and employers will not change pay structures until such time as legislation is passed making it illegal to pay women working identical or comparable jobs lower pay than men. But legislation alone will not alter this endemic inequality unless it is backed up by heavy fines against companies and employers who do discriminate against women employees.

The CBI too, has once again engaged in ‘diversionary tactics’ where of course it is women’s fault (sic) for not following or adhering to the male-defined and male-dominant structure of a career path. Not all women have or want children and irrespective of this, many women wish to re-enter employment once their child/children reach a certain age, but because work is still male-defined with the assumption male employees with children, have a ‘wife’ who is the one taking care of the children and thereby allowing him to fulfil his ‘manly breadwinning role.’

Reality is the ‘breadwinner role’ rarely existed and certainly most households with children and two adults need two incomes, both of which are adequate in order to survive financially. But still the old misogynistic belief continues that women only work for ‘pin money’ because it is only men who are career minded.

The reason why women are ‘shunted’ into the 5C’s is because this type of work is devalued and ‘feminised’ but hypothetically if men enter the 5 c’s in sufficient numbers, I guarantee this type of work will be accorded higher value and the men will be paid considerably more than women workers. Other types of work will then be de-valued because if women enter these areas in large enough numbers this will create a devaluing of their work.

It happened when women were finally allowed to enter male-dominated office work spaces at the end of the 19th century and early part of 20th century. Men who had previously worked as secretaries, found themselves working alongside women secretaries and the men moved into other areas of office work. Secretarial work then became ‘feminised’ because it was claimed operating a typewriter did not involve strenuous exercise and hence could be undertaken by women. Equally, female secretaries discovered their salaries were far lower than male employees undertaking comparable work.

Women’s work has always been undervalued and underpaid even when women worked in the mines alongside men, their pay was far lower than men’s. Likewise women working in agriculture and undertaking exhausting physical labour were paid considerably less than men. The reason is sexism and the mythical belief men’s work is far more important than women’s work.

AnonyMouse // Posted 30 July 2009 at 6:05 pm

I think one of the reasons the gender pay gap is so big is because the top 5-10% of male earners push up the male average due to the massive level of inequality in our economy. I wonder what the difference between the _median_ male wage and the _median_ female one is.

polly styrene // Posted 30 July 2009 at 10:35 pm

The usual nonsense. I work for a public sector organisation, which is bound by the gender equality duty, and in my pay band there is an 8% pay gap in favour of males. In other words, males are being paid, on average, 8% more for exactly the same work. This pattern is repeated, to varying extents throughout the organisation, in nearly all pay bands, except the very bottom ones, males are being paid more on average.

Why can no one admit that the gender pay gap is down to simple discrimination? I sat in a meeting with someone who has been employed very expensively to sort this mess out, and heard him explain why the organisation just couldn’t afford equal pay!

Janis // Posted 31 July 2009 at 4:53 am

….and `female`jobs being considered as lower status brings us all the way back to language – female terms are considered lower status as has been often mentioned on this blog.

There is something that I have noted, but been unable to really account for. My partner is an engineer, and here in Canada, a great many initiatives have been taken over the years to encourage women into engineering. (Yes, back to encouraging women into `male`jobs and not men into `female`jobs.) Yet there has not been a significant gender equalisation as there has been in other professions such as medicine and law. But Canada has been and continues to be, heavily dependent on immigration for progress and the success of its economy. My partner does work with a significant number of women engineers, but almost exclusively, these women are from countries that have been Communist.

I know there is some connection there, but I just can`t join up all the dots, because although the ideology of communism sees all people as equal, the culture and attitudes of some of the mainland Chinese for example, still promotes men over women.

Laura // Posted 31 July 2009 at 9:46 am


The fact that the biggest earners are men is itself a reflection of gender-based pay inequality.

Karen // Posted 31 July 2009 at 11:49 am

Hi there, I agree with a lot of the comments here, for example those about there being few men applying for the likes of cleaning jobs, very necessary but underpaid work.

Also, sadly I had a reminder this week that engineering is still not a safe place for women, as I have found the daily ‘sport’ (read ‘sport’ as ‘tossmag’) open on the table in the canteen. Totally against company policy, detrimental to my mental health, I had steam coming out of my ears. I reported it, explained my actions and my manager is currently dealing with it but I don’t want to go back yet in case of the dreaded ‘coventry’ so I am going back on Monday when my partner is there in case someone says something. Even with company policy, it takes just one inconsiderate male to make my second home an unsafe place. I can understand why so many women turn their back on the traditional male roles like engineering but hate the fact that so many do because it still isnt safe. I’m buggered if I’ll be forced out by some porno addict that cant live for three minutes without tits and arse but looking at the experiences of myself and other commentators, I’m less than surprised that the government can’t handle the pay gap. Generally my company is good because they are sensitive to my mental health issues but for a major utility company, they need to start enforcing their anti-porn policies more.

Ruairidh // Posted 31 July 2009 at 12:14 pm

I know this will probably be an unpopular post but I want to make it in essence to show you the attitude / question you need to address if you want to progress this.

I recognise there is a gender pay gap but I am not convinced that much of it is due to discrimination. Show someone like me the evidence (in stats not anecdotes) that a share of the gap is discrimination and you’ll win me over.

I think the majority will come down to the disruptive effect on women’s careers of having children. I’ve seen many women completely change focus after the birth of their children; driven career women suddenly deciding that work is not the be all and end all and taking the full 12 months then coming back part time. Or stopping work completely and then talking about doing something low stress later on when the children get a bit older. I’m yet to see a man react that way to the birth of their children. In fact (as in my case) almost the opposite. When we did our financial planning and considered the loss of my wife’s salary there was more pressure on me to pull my finger out and get promoted. Now you may respond that the fact that her salary was lower than mine to begin with (and why it did not make sense for me to do the child rearing) is evidence of a problem but she is 5 years younger than me so even if we were on identical equally paid career paths there would be a difference in my favour. Across cultures and across the ages women tend to be slightly younger than their husbands so this must influence these personal decisions. I think that expecting to legislate against instinctive human behaviour is pointless and that even in a completely fair society with no discrimination there would be a gender pay gap but for reasons of nature not nurture.

So how do you convince me?

Using medians for whole populations won’t do it because that hides a multitude of non-discriminatory drivers. Even comparing staff by grade in the civil service hides details such as length of service. To show you what I mean imagine a government department where there is positive discrimination afoot to promote women faster then the net effect would be that at middle grades the women there would no average have spent less time in the grade than their male counterparts. This would make their average salary lower in a grade/gender analysis. (Can explain why if you want but will assume you know so go for brevity instead). So even in an environment with positive discrimination towards women there would be the appearance of a gender pay gap! Alternatively imagine one where there is no discrimination but where there is a 50% that any given women will have taken a year off to have a child at some point in their career. Assuming equal numbers of men and women are recruited and leave each year then the average length of service (time in the office) will be longer for men than women. In the civil service annual pay awards contain a performance related component. Someone on a year out can expect to get the annual inflation award but only the base component of the performance award. That would also introduce a gender pay gap.

To me the existence of a gender pay gap is not evidence of discrimination. I would accept it as evidence that women take the burden of child care and that the law in the UK assumes this and therefore reinforces it. So I’d back changes to maternity/paternity rules but not much else.

(If there is a study out there you think would change my mind stick the link up and I promise to take a look).

Ruairidh // Posted 31 July 2009 at 12:46 pm


If you look at medians rather than means the distorting effect of top earners like premiership footballers (100k a week!) is mostly removed.

Meidans still show a gender gap.


Madeleine // Posted 31 July 2009 at 1:09 pm

As Pollystyrene says, why can no one ever admit that the gender pay gap is down to discrimination?! (Because they basically know it IS, I suppose!)

Even more annoying when you think how men have always been happy to “let” women do “their” jobs when it suited them (i.e. during the first and second world wars when the country was in crisis) and no more talk about biological differences then, but afterwards expected them to go meekly back to the kitchen.

Karen, sorry to hear about your experience, that is awful. And that you have to be afraid of ‘coventry’ when you complain. Hope it gets sorted out, why on earth should you have to tolerate that! Good on you for making a stand.

Karen // Posted 31 July 2009 at 4:58 pm

Hi Madeleine, thanks for your support. I won’t be letting this one go lightly, I had enough of this in college. Anyone that does the Coventry thing, well, I’ll know at least where I stand and with who. I absolutely agree with you about what happened during the wars too. We had female Spitfire pilots flying Spitfires built by the hands of women, women truckers, women everywhere and we won the war. So how do they repay the women propping the country up when the luckier men came home? Yup, back to the home and kitchen cos it didnt suit them anymore to have working women. Talk about feeling used!

Laura // Posted 31 July 2009 at 5:51 pm


This post wasn’t aiming to convince you that women are discriminated against in the workplace. Direct discrimination in the same jobs is hard to assess because of the culture of secrecy surrounding how much people get paid, which is why Fawcett and other groups have been demanding mandatory pay audits. There have been studies, however, which suggest that up to 40% of the pay gap is due to direct discrimination against women doing the same jobs as men. I haven’t read them for a while, but they’re out there if you want to find them; unfortunately I don’t have the time to be finding studies on demand for men who come to this site looking for “objective” proof of sexism.

General moderator’s note: Many of us here have had these debates over and over again and as this is intended as a feminist-friendly, supportive space, I don’t want every post related to the pay gap to turn into another thread where we have to convince men that it exists and is a problem. So I won’t be publishing any more comments of this nature. If you’re genuinely interested in the pay gap, do the research yourself.

CMK // Posted 31 July 2009 at 7:13 pm

I don’t think many people would dispute that there is a pay gap – they might argue whether it is proper or not but the figures all clearly show in most cases there is a gap (not always to the disadvantage of women but primarily so).

There are many reasons for this but I have always felt that there are very few cases of genuine deliberate conscientious decisions to pay a women less than a man purely on her gender.

Most are due (in my view) to the employer not recognising the value of different types of roles as society generally doesn’t recognise their value. Few employers could defend to the satisfaction of shareholders their paying double the market rate for certain roles in order to ensure pay equality. Sad but true.

The current laws on equal pay are too dependent on individuals bringing a claim; where they do successfully bring one only that employer is affected. To seriously tackle equal pay we need to tackle how roles are valued across employers, which in turn will make it easier for employers to do the right thing. We should not have to do this but needs must.

Regarding some other comments:

Lets not be too critical on those who fought in the first and second world wars, they lived in very different times and the views they held reflected their reality.

I struggle to see how the view that women work only for pin money is misogynistic; ignorant yes, ill-conceived absolutely, but misogynistic doubtful.

The biggest earners are men as the old boy network works ‘well’ at that level. As we slowly see more women in these jobs they have, from my experience, adopted a similar type of network for themselves. These networks are wrong and inefficient.

Ruairidh: Your asking the impossible and I think you knew that.

AnonyMouse // Posted 31 July 2009 at 7:17 pm

Yes, having looked at the ONS website (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=285) have seen that median female earnings are £109 lower than median male ones – far more than I thought!

However, I do think we should be trying to level up wages rather than level them down. In leeds, it seems the council are trying to use the equal pay requirements as an excuse to cut the wages of refuse collectors from £16k to £11k. And, quite rightly, they are on strike about it – http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news?articleid=3414653

polly styrene // Posted 31 July 2009 at 7:19 pm

Ruaridh, pay based on length of service has been held to be sex discrimination by the European court of human rights in Cadman v Health and Safety executive


(It’s also age discrimination now, unless there are very good reasons for it). Even if what you say is true (and I’d dispute it) paying people more just because they’ve been in a job longer IS sex discrimination. Because only women have babies (haven’t we had this argument before?). Also there have been NO annual increments in my organisation for all the time I’ve been there. They stopped paying them a while ago, and most of the people in my pay band won’t have been there significantly longer than me.

polly styrene // Posted 31 July 2009 at 7:35 pm

PS. I also have two colleagues (that I know about) who were both appointed on salaries LOWER than less qualified men were appointed on. £1500 lower in one case. My organisation currently has a very large number of equal pay cases pending. If sex discrimination doesn’t exist Ruairidh, how do you account for the fact that the overwhelming number of equal pay cases are brought by women?

polly styrene // Posted 31 July 2009 at 7:57 pm

Serial commenting but:

*When we did our financial planning and considered the loss of my wife’s salary there was more pressure on me to pull my finger out and get promoted. Now you may respond that the fact that her salary was lower than mine to begin with (and why it did not make sense for me to do the child rearing) is evidence of a problem but she is 5 years younger than me so even if we were on identical equally paid career paths there would be a difference in my favour. Across cultures and across the ages women tend to be slightly younger than their husbands so this must influence these personal decisions.*

It may amaze you to hear this Ruaridh, but occasionally women have children in a set up other than a one wage nuclear family. Some of them aren’t even heterosexual! And of course we have this newfangled thing called “maternity leave”.

Jack Leland // Posted 31 July 2009 at 8:45 pm


I wouldn’t deny that I lack perfect understanding of the, a, or your female perspective due to my male privilege and I can imagine it is tiresome to deal with male hostility, especially in a feminist-friendly space that men of bad faith have chosen to attack. Nor would I demand that you waste time collating various scientific and scholarly sources containing the empirical or objective evidence whose examination led you to your present position. (Which I agree with.)

I only wish to point out that it may be useful for admittedly ignorant (or uninformed) men who may be seeking empirical support for their pro-feminist leanings to have objective data confirming their inklings, and not every ignorant man has access to university passwords for JSTOR or high-quality public libraries nearby (much objective data unconnected to government websites or partisan policy shops is gated online). It might be nice to be directed to feminist websites that do provide statistics on a more regular basis, on a side link.

Ruairidh // Posted 1 August 2009 at 9:00 am

Fair enough. I understand your desire not to be hijacked and asked to go down the same old debates time after time.

I am interested and open minded but unconvinced there is a discrimination problem. I’ll do the googling myself.

polly sytrene // Posted 1 August 2009 at 6:04 pm

To save the chap’s fingers from all that googling.

“Professor Manning agreed: “Most women take some time out of paid employment to have children and look after children … and if you have less experience, then it’s not that surprising you earn a little bit less.”

But he says his research with Jo Swaffield showed that women who worked full-time for 10 years after entering the labour market were still earning about 12% less than their male counterparts.

He said this could be “because employers think women are very likely to take time out so they are less likely to promote them”; or perhaps that women’s “psychological profile” means they are less likely to push for promotion. ”


Women are pushing so much for promotion in my office that one of my colleagues who has been on maternity leave is about to bring a sex discrimination action on that very issue. I got my promotion because my employers were well aware I was about to raise hell…..

Karen // Posted 1 August 2009 at 7:16 pm

Hi CMK, as always I mean no disrespect to anyone and I agree that those who fought during the world wars should be commended and they did a cracking job keeping the world safe from fascism and dictatorship at the time, of course they did. War makes for very strange circumstances by its nature and yes, it may not have been caused by misogyny but the fact remains that women were immediately shunted out of their posts when the war ended, ipso facto, they were there when wanted and needed but as soon as they weren’t, off most of them had to go.

Ruairidh // Posted 1 August 2009 at 7:42 pm

In my googling I found a recent breakdown that gives a lot more detail:


This breaks down the pay gap by a few categories that I think are very revealing.

For all men and women who are neither married nor co-habiting there is no gap and for 18-34 year olds there is no gap. The size of the gap grows with each child born. These all suggest that the causes of the gap are not discrimination against women over men but an inbuilt favouritism to fathers over mothers.

Polly Sytrene: I don’t doubt there are individual causes of pure sexism where women suffer for no reason other than their gender. I just wonder at their impact on the gap – and therefore their prevalence in the economy. I am also fully aware that heterosexual families are not the only type and don’t mean to suggest otherwise, sorry if I offended you. I’m well versed on maternity pay and I think it is a big part of the problem. The massive imbalance between maternity and paternity leave entitlements forces those families with a choice who want to have someone at home for the first few months of going for the women taking the time off. Men get two weeks at statutory and all anyone is talking about is giving them more unpaid entitlement. I think there should be a shared pot between the mother and her partner that carries equal entitlement. I honestly think that would get rid of most of the gender gap in itself. (It would take time though as society will take time to get to the point where the average man feels his pride can take it).

Polly I didn’t know length of service had lost a case like that. I remember realising it would run against ageism legislation but I left the civil service in 2006 so I’m out of date. However it still looks like awarding an annual rise (so effectively a length of service component to pay) based on performance can still legally exist (there is one in the management consultancy firm I’m now in) so I don’t know.

One final rejoinder Polly is that you asked why if there is no discrimination are there so many discrimination cases pending by women. Fair point and indeed suggestive but there will be discrimination cases as long as there is a perception or expectation of discrimination but not necessarily as long as there is discrimination. Men currently, in their arrogance you could say, on average don’t expect it to find it.

sianmarie // Posted 2 August 2009 at 1:04 pm

ruairidh says

To me the existence of a gender pay gap is not evidence of discrimination. I would accept it as evidence that women take the burden of child care and that the law in the UK assumes this and therefore reinforces it. So I’d back changes to maternity/paternity rules but not much else.

but you say the reason for the paygap is because women take time off to have babies. but the fact that society has still not allowed itself to recognise the validity and importance of childrearing, and the fact that the onus of child rearing is still on the mother, is a sign of discrimination in itself. if childrearing was recognised for the work that it is, and if society expected and allowed men to spend equal time and effort in rearing children (for eg – equal paternity leave) then the pay gap may well dissovle.

equally – the discrimination inherent in the pay gap is the tired assumption that all women are going to have babies. not all women can, not all women want to. these are truths that we all know!

i am getting a bit tired of men telling me discrimination and the pay gap is all in my mind. likewise with other discriminations. so thanks laura – i totally agree with your mod decision on this one. the evidence is out there for people to read!

also – what is wrong with ancedotal evidence? if a woman has a story to tell about discrimination at work and in pay, then that’s her story and an issue she has experienced, it supports the fact that there is a pay gap. it is by telling these stories and experiences that we learn about the problems and issues we have in society. so bring on people’s personal tales of discrimination – they are less likely to be twisted or inaccurate than stats after all!!

polly styrene // Posted 2 August 2009 at 5:12 pm

Yes but women WIN discrimination cases Ruaridh, that’s the point. And they wouldn’t do that if they weren’t being paid unequally.

Your figures contradict the ones in the BBC study I quoted which show a 12% gap irrespective of whether or not someone’s had children. And can I point out that simply comparing unmarried males with unmarried females isn’t necessarily comparing like with like. Not all married women have children (though there could of course be an assumption that they MIGHT).

The Cadman ruling is that pay on length of service CAN be justified, but only if it’s a real indicator of increased skill levels. So for example with a lawyer, you could justify increments for a certain number of years post qualification, when they genuinely are increasing skills. But there has to be a genuine difference, and you could learn to do my job competently in six months. And it’s probably the same with most civil service jobs if we’re honest, and most jobs in general, just being around longer doesn’t mean you’re any better at it.

There has been blatant, blatant discrimination in my workplace, eye watering in fact. I’m only not currently pursuing it in a tribunal because I forced them to back down and promote me essentially. And they only did that because they knew I was about to call their bluff. But there is still quite blatant and obvious discrimination against one of my colleagues who’s been on maternity leave. Unfortunately for them, she has a lot of friend who are employment solicitors….And she’s the one who’s about to take them to a tribunal, most probably.

CMK // Posted 2 August 2009 at 9:06 pm

Sex Discrimination

The Cadman case said that length of service was acceptable as a criterion for determining pay unless an employee can raise serious doubts about doing so. I think this is fair enough for middle manager type roles but for very junior or very senior roles it is rather silly – a waiter is unlikely to be substantially better after six years experience rather than five. The decision can be found here: ECJ Judgement see para 44.

Age Discrimination

The regulations are a bit of a joke. Service up to five years is automatically acceptable as a criterion see here; beyond that an employer merely has to show that service beyond that reasonably appears to fulfil a business need e.g. encourage loyalty, rewarding experience). This is an incredibly low barrier for them to reach, generally employers have to objectively justify discrimination i.e. demonstrate their actions as being an appropriate, proportionate and necessary means of achieving a legitimate aim, which is clearly much harder. Annual increments are only discriminatory where the pay scale they relate to are not also increased – most employers change the scale each year.

Anecdotal evidence is interesting, it is not proof as it never gives the whole story and even if it did, it would only even be a minute sample (but there will be as many stories never heard). Polly styrene’s example may be pure direct discrimination, but there could be other reasons, were their qualifications relevant to the job, was the job market better/worse etc.

sianmarie // Posted 2 August 2009 at 9:58 pm

Ruairidh said

“These all suggest that the causes of the gap are not discrimination against women over men but an inbuilt favouritism to fathers over mothers.”

didn’t we have this debate a while back with tim moss? the fact that the pay gap adversely affects mothers makes it a gender pay gap, and is informed by a discriminatory assumption that “all” women are likely to take time off to have babies, and the discriminatory system that has put the greatest value on the work system we have today that favours long hours, no real help with clhildcare etc etc. so as has been said on this site many times, a father mother pay gap is by its very definition a gender pay gap, informed by discrimination against one gender.

Jehenna // Posted 3 August 2009 at 3:20 am

I must say, that like Laura, I’m getting a bit fed up with this.

Why is it that men (I’m going to make the assumption that they’re men) feel the need to come to a feminist website and tell us how unconvinced they are despite the evidence?

“I recognise there is a gender pay gap but I am not convinced that much of it is due to discrimination.”

Do they think it happens accidentally? Some guy in Payroll says ‘shit, we accidentally underpaid everyone with a Y or A at the end of their name and that means Helena, Tabitha, Sally, Kathy, Anna etc got 10% less again’ ?

The fact that the pay gap exists should be enough to tell you that there is a problem and that discrimination is happening. Because apart from having a penis, there isn’t anything men are doing in the workforce that women can’t. Not all women have babies, not all men do heavy lifting. And yet there’s this ongoing problem with paying women enough.

And the most telling factor that says that this is about discrimination and not something else, is what happens when this is objectively and empirically proven.

Because then we have companies saying that in these current financial times, they just can’t afford to pay everyone equally.

That makes the assumption that the men are being paid the correct amount and the women are being underpaid. Because if the women were being paid the correct amount and the men were being overpaid, wouldn’t every company under the sun be rushing to bring those male salaries down to save a bit of cash?

But its always about bringing the women’s salaries up to match the men’s which suggests that it is the men’s salaraies that are correct, and the women are being underpaid.

Now if all you can do is come here and tell me that its in my imagination, or that somehow possessing a womb makes it perfectly alright to discriminate against me for ‘maternity’ reasons but not discriminate against my male coworkers for having a penis and being able to father far more children than I could possibly gestate, thereby proving that it has NOTHING to do with a ‘parenting’ pay gap, then frankly, piss off.

sianmarie // Posted 3 August 2009 at 4:08 pm

well said jehanna, i totally and utterly agree. you said what i meant to say in my less articulate manner!!

Ruairidh // Posted 3 August 2009 at 7:59 pm

Sianmarie: fair point. If the definition of discrimination includes the burden of childcare then yes the pay gap is evidence of discrimination. I don’t mean to dismiss individual experience when I was dismissive of anecdote. We do learn through them and they are revealing but they don’t allow you to judge the size of the problem. I think that knowing the size and precise nature of the problem is important if you are going to design new legislation to deal with it.

Polly: yes they do win cases. Slightly sarcastic point by me there. I’m trying generally to make a point that the individual perception of discrimination does not mean that it is there. Of course on the evidence to hand we can see that it often is.


This has more detail on the research from the BBC article. They take various explanations for the gap and study them. They account for 68% of the gap with non-discrimination explanations. That leaves 32% that will be a combination of direct discrimination and other factors not considered. There is also the figure of an 8% gap after 10years in the job for men and women with no children. It does look like I was wrong in my last post and the size of the discrimination component is somewhere between 8 and 32% of the current gap.

The link looks like a summary of the research but I’d guess that they had a smaller but more detailed sample and that explains the difference with the national level stats I quoted earlier. In other words I’d guess this is more accurate for the type of company they looked at but may not read across to the economy at large.

Sianmarie & Jehenna: Sorry to bore you. I came on hear because I was interested to know your take on the pay gap and to get a pointer to the research. I sought out a feminist site because I wasn’t interested in what the mainstream press had to say on it. I’m sure I’ve ruffled some feathers by asking questions you’ve already answered countless times before but that wasn’t’ my intention. However I will say that if you want things like the new Equality Act (with its pay audits) to have a chance of being law you will need to get popular support amongst (some at least) men and the media so be prepared to answer the questions again and again.

CMK // Posted 3 August 2009 at 9:45 pm

There are a number of councils ‘levelling down’ just now. There is (unsurprisingly) severe resistance from the individuals concerned and their unions – even where there is ‘red circling’ of pay (which is in itself discriminatory…). Many find it easier to level up and then give smaller increments in future to readjust the pay rates against inflation.

I find it these discussions and debates more useful when people post views that I disagree. I don’t always like how people express things (including myself) but I’d rather have those views expressed than not – even if they are a bit offensive at times.

It is probably very difficult for the moderators to get this balance right, but if a genuine view is put forward I’d like to hear it, if someone is being a troll then let the moderator moderate. I have changed some views based on the contribution of others and it would be very sad to miss out on them.

polly styrene // Posted 3 August 2009 at 10:39 pm

Polly styrene’s example may be pure direct discrimination, but there could be other reasons, were their qualifications relevant to the job, was the job market better/worse etc.

Yes their qualifications were very relevant to the job, and one man and one woman were appointed in the same recruitment, at exactly the same time, to exactly the same job in the same office (mine). She had better qualifications and more relevant experience. He was appointed on £600 more.

Jehenna // Posted 4 August 2009 at 4:13 am


What’s boring is that when you’re given the facts, all you can say is that the systematic underpaying of women must be something other than discrimination.

I mean, come on. What else could it be?

Accident? That really, men ARE better at everything than women, and so it can’t be discrimination because it’s based on merit?

I don’t actually think we need the support of people who will look at the facts, and then flat out deny there is discrimination. This seems to be what you’re doing. Are you having difficulty believing what we’re saying because we’re women, and you think we don’t really know what we’re talking about, despite the fact that most of us are regular readers and contributers to websites like this, and have been advocates for equal pay for considerably longer than you’ve been involved in this thread?

And do you know what a lot of anecdotal or individual experience adds up to? Widespread discrimination. You cannot discount individual experience on the basis that it is a once-off, when the pay gap proves that this is across the board and not a single instance occurence.

You say it needs popular support – well I ask you this – in whose interest is it to not pay women fairly for doing the same work that men do?

Is it in the interest of their family, when two people work hard but earn less than they should and struggle as a result? Is it in the interest of single women, who might not have children but might be supporting aged parents on less than they should be getting? Is it in the interest of single men to be promoted without merit simply for having a penis but who, when they may marry, will have reduced income because half of the partnership isn’t paid fairly? Do you understand the effects on a society where children are brought up in poverty, because their mothers are not paid fairly for the work they do?

In whose interest is inequal pay exactly?

I think you need to seriously ask yourself two questions.

1 – what would it take before I’m prepared to accept that what I’m being told, by people who’ve spent a lot of time researching and experiencing this, is true?

2 – do I want to support a system which systematically underpays people based on their gender (or race, sexuality, disability) regardless of whether or not they can competently do the job, and pays other people higher regardless of how competent or qualified they really are.

Because if you think that this needs ‘popular support’ then you think that the case does not rest upon logic or merit, and that choosing to pay women equally needs to be a decision made by ‘popular support’, rather than done because discrimination against them because of their gender is unacceptable.

It has nothing to do with popular support – paying people fairly is the right thing to do. Discrimination in a society hurts everyone.

CMK // Posted 4 August 2009 at 9:36 am

polly styrene: Unless this was a redeployment scenario your employer does sounds like something of a walking liability….am sure the lawyers will be rubbbing their hands with glee!

sianmarie // Posted 4 August 2009 at 10:24 am

hi – i just want to clarify that i don’t find having debate with people who may hold different opinions from me boring, quite the opposite, and as i said on the infighting thread, by having these debates and having people ask these questions i can grow and understand better why i have formed the opinions i have and how maybe these opinions might have changed or may change in the future. i think debate is healthy and important.

i gues what i meant when i said “boring” was that there is a consistent widespread denial against the evidence on the pay gap, and even when evidence is produced, it is refuted or seen as “not convincing enough”. (funny how that only happens on cases like this!) i think it is great for people to come on a feminist site to get a different perspective and see what feminists are sayin about these issues, rather than relying on the mail, guardian etc, but to come on the site and then ask to be convinced, when this is a debate that so many people on this site believe and care passionately about, could be seen as coming across as a bit hostile.

as jehanna says – if the pay gap is not about discrimination, then what is it? an administrative error?! the pay gap helps no one, it is in no one’s interest except the power house holding the purse strings. which are very few people. it perpetuates poverty and importantly, it perpetuates discrimination. if women’s work is undervalued it is because it is underpaid, and in our society our value is dependent (sadly) on how much you earn. so as long as women are earning less than men, systematically due to the 5 Cs, due to childcare, due to discrimination because of maternity, and on indivdual case to case merit, then women will be seen as “less”, of less value, which will continue to cause widespread discrimination.

sianmarie // Posted 4 August 2009 at 10:46 am

sorry just re-read the thread and noticed this:

“I’m trying generally to make a point that the individual perception of discrimination does not mean that it is there. ”

i don’t really get this – so discrimination is all in our minds? gee whizz. i wish someone had told me that before! would have saved me a lot of bother!

this reminds me of when some of us were bullied at my old work. me and about 3 or 4 other colleagues upped sticks, but one colleague stayed and accused our boss of being a bully. before she did this i had decided to leave and not do anything as i didn’t have the confidence that the bullying could be considered bullying. it was so snide, so sideways on, there was no direct nastiness or shouting at me in front of people, it was a series of comments and rudeness and being undermined. the same happend to my other colleagues. i wish now i had spoken up, as it would have made it easier for her to prove she was being bullied too.

the fact is, if someone feels bullied, then they probably are being bullied. if somone feels discriminated against, then they are probably being discriminated against.

Kristin // Posted 4 August 2009 at 11:25 am

Jehenna, Pollystyrene and Sianmarie, BRILLIANTLY said.

Mercat // Posted 4 August 2009 at 1:17 pm

If someone does not believe the gender pay gap and other forms of discrimination against women even exist (and I’m not just talking about this particular post) why on earth do they want to bother reading stuff on a feminist website? Let alone post comments in which they express disbelief, denial, demand spurious explanations, and use the word “objective” a lot? There are plenty of other places they can go where they won’t be annoyed by pesky feminists.

Could it be that like the brilliant Twisty of I Blame the Patriarchy says, they have “an irrestible urge to take women down a peg”?

Polly styrene // Posted 4 August 2009 at 10:11 pm

“polly styrene: Unless this was a redeployment scenario your employer does sounds like something of a walking liability….am sure the lawyers will be rubbbing their hands with glee!”

No it wasn’t redeployment, it was a new recruitment, and yes my employers are a walking liability. I nearly took them to an employment tribunal.

That particular woman left for a much better paid job, so dropped her claim anyway. However they have currently got a pregnancy discrimination grievance coming up. They just don’t know it yet. And yes her employment lawyer FRIENDS (she knows several) are rubbing their hands with glee. The things my employers have written about her (which she now has copies of courtesy of the data proection act) are quite incredibly stupid.

Ruairidh // Posted 5 August 2009 at 1:47 pm

Jehanna: I’m trying to find the facts and I will base my opinion on that. Read my post again, I accept there is discrimination and that it consititues up to 32% of the current gap. Please don’t accuse me of sexism just because we don’t agree. I came on here thinking attitudes to childcare were the major driver and that the direct discrimination component (so evident in the 1970’s stats) was largly gone. I’ll admit I was wrong and now based on the above research I see it could still account for a significant proportion of the gap.

I’m wary of taking anecdotal evidence at face value because it is notouriously unreliable not because they are ‘one-offs’. They are much worse than statistics. If anecdotal evidence was good then the MMR would cause autism, overhead power cables cause cancer and vitamin C would cure AIDS. None of these claims or countless others stack up to detailed analysis but you will find plenty of advocates with all the ancedotes you could wish for. When I say I doubt ancedotal accounts because it is all about perception am not saying I think it is all in your minds; I’m saying that to an outsider and in a policy formation role we need evidence that is more tangible. If the ancedotes are true then the evidence should be there to find. It turns out that research is getting close..

The study I linked to after being pointed to it by Sianmarie (http://www.res.org.uk/society/mediabriefings/pdfs/2008/0808/Manning_Swaffield.asp) has a good breakdown of the drivers behind the gap. If you go and have a read you’ll see what I mean.

Now some of this may be sematics. When you say discrimination I think of direct discrimination; prejudices held by individuals leading to them being dismissive of a candidate for a job etc. I don’t tend to think of societies attitude to childcare or the levels of pay in the 5c’s versus other areas of employment. All of those things appear to be factors in the pay gap but it is important to understand where the emphasis lies because they all have different solutions. Pay audits for example will tackle direct discrimination but not address the level of pay in childcare. Encouraging more women into higher earning professions will close the overall gap while also helping the pay in the 5c’s (less supply therefore greater demand for the remaining pool) but not deal with direct discrimination. Reforming parenting leave will start to reduce the disproportionate burden on women but none of the other causes. Getting the balance right is important because every measure comes with a direct cost to the country and therefore to the taxpayer. This may take the form of more beaurocracy for companies or government funding for initiatives and schemes. The bottom line is that none of this is free so the government of the day should be sure it is applying the correct solution. You can’t build a cost-benefit analysis on anecdote.

My comment on popular support was a reference to the costs place on the country by the new bill. Pay audits sound like a heavy burden on industry. So for example there will be a lot of people out there who will absolutely agree with you that discrimination is terrible but will suggest that their company is fine and that a pay audit would be horribly expensive and that that expense will ultimately fall on staff and shareholders making everyone poorer. To get their support you need to have the evidence that says there is a problem. The existence of the pay gap alone is not enough because its been shown to be a factor of many things.

Sianmarie: Perhaps my phrasing was a bit hostile, that was not my intention. I wanted to hear the feminist viewpoint and have my assumptions challenged but perhaps I could have gone about that in a nicer way, sorry.

As for your comment on what is the pay gap if not discrimination the research you pointed to linked above breaks it down.

Mercat: I think you may have been talking about me. Just so we’re clear I accept there is a gender pay gap and I accept that direct discrimination against women still exists today. I think I’ve been quite clear on that. I don’t think I’m demanding anything spurious either by asking if there was any evidence. Also I’m not finding this in the least annoying – quite informative really – I just hope you’re finding me not to annoying.

At the risk of starting of another round; can I ask what people think should be done about pay in the 5cs? I can’t imagine what a policy would look like that would force society to ‘value’ some jobs more than it currently does. To me wages are a simple product of supply and demand. By an example I’d say soceity values nurses very highly? Does their pay reflect that social standing; not at all. In fact social standing can have a negative effect on wages because people will aim for jobs that have status. This creates a glut of supply and depresses wages. I think (and this may be my own prejudice so I’d be interested to test it) that women more than men find job satisifcation in jobs that provide a social service. Things like teaching, medicine, social care etc all have a very tangible social worth that soceity values. But this leads to many applicants chasing a few positions so wages fall unless there is a high academic barrier to entry.

I think the policy of encouraging more women to aim for higher earning careers (or at least ensuring that careers advice at schools and universities are not sexist in their approach) is all you can do. With fewer going into these jobs there will be more demand for the remaining labour force so wages will rise. I’d be interested to hear what the alternative strategies may be.

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