The gender pay gap is a topic that has dominated business headlines in recent years, as more and more organizations speak up about the inequality inherent to businesses across industries in the UK. The gender pay gap has been trending downwards over time, but according to the ONS, increased to 8.3% between 2021 and 2022. Which industries are the furthest behind, and what can be done to redress the balance?
The History of the Gender Pay Gap
In order to acknowledge the present state of gender inequality in the workplace, it is first important to acknowledge the history of women’s rights in the workplace – and the origins of the pay gap. Given the relative ‘advancement’ of today’s society and the contemporary perceptions we have of equality – incomplete as they are – it can be easy to forget how recently women were able to fully, and somewhat equitably, enter the workforce.
The first trade association for women has incorporated a little more than a century ago, in the form of the Women’s Trade Union League. 1888 was one of the first union conferences in which equal pay for women was agitated for, though it wouldn’t be until the union-positive efforts of the Suffragists that women’s presence in unions would be taken remotely seriously by entrenched patriarchal leaders.
The First and Second World Wars were instrumental in cementing women’s right to equitable work, as important roles were left vacant by able-bodied men conscripted to war. But systemic biases remained, as illustrated by the infamous Dagenham sewing machinists’ strike of 1968. Women sewing machinists for Ford were categorized as less skilled than their male counterparts and afforded a 15% lower wage – resulting in a strike that crippled the automotive industry and forced Ford to pay women equally.
There is much more to the history of the gender pay gap, but these core events, which reside in relatively recent memory for the UK, describe the inherent struggle faced by women in achieving the most basic of worker’s rights. Entrenched industry norms continue to see women underpaid for their contributions to key roles, and the disparity between male and female pay remains extant in a number of key industries.
According to recent data, the law industry is one of the worst offenders for unequal pay, with a 42.86% average difference – equating to a £31,000 per year difference. The next-most unequal pay ratio can be found in the art world, where women curators and directors are paid 40% less than their male counterparts.
Routes to Equity
With pay inequality still rife today, what can be done to properly redress the balance for women? Businesses of any industry must necessarily engage with their own institutional biases. EDI support is a key way to go about this, enabling external assistance in uncovering and interrogating practices that could be improved to the benefit of women workers.
Not only this, but direct changes to the hiring process and drafting of business roles can be essential to achieving even a basic form of parity between men and women in the workplace. As standard, salaries and benefits should be ‘blind’ to gender, and women on similar pathways to male colleagues should be actively kept on similar tracks to benefits and pay increases.