Thursday of this week was Equal Pay Day. This symbolises the date on which women – who earn 15% less than men in the UK – effectively cease to be rewarded for the work they do.
A TUC report published on the same day suggested that in some industries the difference between male and female pay can be as high as £16,000 – the equivalent of a London Living Wage job. The best paid roles were shown to be worst affected, with female health professionals – who receive £25 an hour compared to the £50 earned by male equivalents – faring especially badly.
Figures from across the political spectrum attacked the continued existence of the gender pay gap, with TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady calling it a “huge injustice” and Chancellor George Osborne admitting there remains “a long way to go”. However, Conservatives – including Equalities Secretary Maria Miller – opened themselves up to accusations of paying lip service to the issue by refusing to adopt affirmative measures. Miller said on Friday “I don’t believe government intervention will work”, arguing instead that “cultural change” is the answer.
That we still have a gender pay gap more than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed is a sign that ‘cultural’ changes do not come about in isolation. They require some kind of socio-economic stimulus from government. The UK’s post-austerity backslide on gender equality highlights this; laissez-faire policies have penalised women more than men, and we have fallen behind many of Europe’s more proactive Member States. Since 2010, for example, Holland, France and Italy have all, thanks to binding legislation, accelerated far faster than us on the subject of getting women into boardrooms.
Insisting on voluntary solutions to close the gender pay gap means that the effort to achieve gender equality continues to swim against the tide. The overwhelming momentum of more immediate marketplace drivers is simply too strong. If the elimination of the pay gap is ever to be achieved then a more substantial commitment from government is required.
The end of the week, meanwhile, saw the City of London Corporation’s Lord Mayor’s Show at Michaelmas ‘Common Hall’. At the event on Saturday Fiona Woolf formally took office as Lord Mayor of London, becoming the 686th appointee to the role.
Woolf is an impressive candidate, who has fought her way to the top of the legal profession and been given a fellowship at Harvard. The Lord Mayor’s position has been an almost exclusively male domain since it was created in 1189. Woolf’s election makes her just the second woman to hold to post – the first being the 1983 incumbent Dame Mary Donaldson.
A ratio of 343:1 for gender representation is unimpressive by any standards. It falls a long way short of Lord Davies’ 25% target for women on boards!
The City of London’s gender pay gap currently stands at 33%. This means that, despite being a place which sets the economic tone nationally, it actually lags behind the rest of the country for women’s pay. Let’s hope that Woolf’s appointment symbolises a wider commitment to gender equality from those in the financial sector.