Cultural attitudes in the workplace need to change before we see any real progress on equal pay, argues Professor Caroline Gatrell
It has been decades since laws were brought in to ensure equality of pay between women and men.
The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 but at all levels women are paid less than men for undertaking equivalent roles.
It’s essential we address this gap, which is such an anachronism in the 21st century, and transparency around pay is a good place to start.
It’s vital that we ensure fairness and equitability at work but it is also important to recognise and retain talent among both women and men and recompense such talent equally.
That said, the elimination of this pernicious gap will not be easy. Policy and legislation often struggles to trump organisational attitudes and cultures.
So while it is a good thing to encourage more transparency around levels of average pay and to expose the discrepancies between what men and women in the same roles are earning, it's important not to think that the task ends there.
Workplace cultures continue to be rooted in the past where assumptions are made about the role of women and men in society and at home, and there is little acknowledgement of how far social structures have changed.
Today’s working men and women do not all live in heterosexual families with fathers as main breadwinners. Many more people live alone and in any couple relationship it cannot be assumed that one partner will consistently take the lead in income earning.
Additionally, more women are in paid work and more men take on home and parenting roles. My research with mothers returning to work has repeatedly highlighted the problems they face in terms of unfair and inaccurate attitudes to mothers as being less reliable and less work-oriented than other workers.
At the same time, line-managers and organisations in general find it hard to understand that men might want to work flexibly to care for children.
Evidence shows employers still assume that part-time working because of childcare (whether among men or women) is a signal of a lack of commitment, and people are overlooked for the opportunities and projects which put them in the right position for promotions.
The lesson from previous legislation, such as rights on flexible working and the introduction of shared parental leave, is that the letter of the law can be followed without it making a real difference in most people's lives.
Yes, you're welcome to ask for a new working pattern to pick up the children, we'll give you that opportunity - that's your choice - but unofficially it's all taken into account when it comes to assessments of standing and potential for promotion and taking on more significant projects.
Both men and women find it difficult in practice to broach the idea of flexible working and the take-up of shared parental leave is small and expected to only grow slowly over time for similar reasons.
So organisations may be happy to demonstrate gender pay equality - but it won't necessarily change a culture of inequality based on deeply ingrained ideas about gender, pay and opportunities.
Nevertheless the idea of transparency around pay levels between women and men is a good start – let’s hope it does not take too long for the intention to achieve equal pay to be enacted in practice.
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