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Today is the first Monday back in the office after Equal Pay Day on Saturday. Equal Pay Day is the day of the year where men in the UK will have earned what women will earn for the entire calendar year. This is the third year in a row that it falls on the same day - November 10th – so why is it so slow to shift and what can we do about it?

It has been illegal to pay men and women different amounts for the same job since the Equal Pay Act 1970. More recently, the Equality Act 2010 has replaced it and other anti-discrimination laws in recognition of other forms of socio-economic inequalities, moving beyond gender to include age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and other protected characteristics. Despite equal pay legislation, the current average gender pay gap for women working full time is estimated to be 13.7%, and the gap is wider for BME women, older women and women working in certain employment sectors. There have been reasonable advances over the last 20 years down from 21.2% in 1997, but improvements have not been consistent over time - earlier this year the Fawcett Society calculated it would take another 100 years for the pay gap to be closed at current rates of progress.

This year new legislation came into force, requiring companies with over 250 employees to publish data on their gender pay gap. The Guardian has done some great visualisations of this data to show the gender pay gap within the 10,109 companies that reported their figures. Although it is widely accepted that people, regardless of background, should be paid the same for the same work, there are a range of factors contributing to the pay gap. The most obvious, as my flatmate said this morning, is that “all the CEOs are men”. The lack of women in roles as you move up the hierarchy within organisations is a large driver of the average gender pay gap (which is why Fawcett base their calculations on the mean), but even if it is calculated using median figures, the gap is still 8.6%. The gap also represents a gendered division of labour across sectors: for example, more women work in health and education than in science and engineering. A report by the Resolution Foundation last year found that millennials have the smallest gender pay gap, at only 5%, but it is predicted to rise as women take breaks from their careers to look after children, reflecting a society that still holds onto gendered stereotypes of responsibility.

So what does this all mean? Clearly change is slow, based on intangible social norms and cultures of tradition. While there may be laws and regulations to support equality, there needs to be a collective shift in the way we view the roles of men and women to drive change in workplaces, educational institutions and communities.  

At the RSA, my colleagues have recently set up a Women’s Group, an initiative supported by male staff as well as female, to create a space for talking about issues of gender and diversity and challenge ourselves to create some change within the organisation. The aims of the group have been to not only work on our internal organisational culture, but to create an open discussion of gender issues – and how they intersect with protected characteristics - throughout our work. Some of our ideas include: a mentorship programme for women within the organisation, where those with more experience support the younger members of the group to develop and gain confidence; a cross-organisation film club to raise awareness of and discuss gender inequality; and an attempt to make meetings more inclusive through rotating chairs from different teams, levels, and of course gender. To take this into the outside world, suggestions have included: reviewing our research reports with a gender lens, inviting more women to speak at events, and asking male colleagues to refuse to speak on all male panels.

These actions may sound small, but if organisations were all taking small steps like these, cumulatively there is real potential for transformation. Should you be unable to tackle your organisational culture in one go fear not - the Women’s Equality Party have a nifty out of office message you can set to at least raise awareness of the issue to your email correspondents.


Many thanks to Becca Antink, Abigail Campbell, Sue Pritchard and Will Grimond for their ideas and support in writing this blog.

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