Friday, August 20, 2010

57 more years of discrimination in the UK

Whenever the issue of he gender pay-gap is raised, people say "just wait, it'll go away eventually". That's true - but it turns out to be a lot longer than people think. A study released today by the UK's Chartered Management Institute calls bullshit on that view. According to the study, it will take 57 years for the pay gap in senior management salaries to close. A clearer example of Martin Luther King's "'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never'" would be difficult to find.

What makes it even more disturbing is that this year the UK's Equal Pay Act will mark its 40th anniversary. The Act outlawed paying women less than men for doing the same work, and affirmed the principle of "equal pay for equal work". But a woman born when the law was passed will almost certainly be dead long before that equality is actually achieved.

Women shouldn't have to wait a human lifetime for equal pay. Forty years of discrimination is enough; they should not have to put up with it for another 57. Women deserve equal pay now. And that means taking immediate and strong action. Currently, UK employers have no obligation to conduct regular pay audits to uncover gender discrimination - which, given the secrecy around pay in the UK, means they have no obligation to do anything proactive to solve the problem at all. This has to change. Forcing them to assess the gap every year, and publish the results, will force them to end discrimination. Sweden requires this for every company employing more than 10 people. Oddly, their gender pay gap is much smaller than the UK's.

Meanwhile, I'd be interested in seeing an assessment from the Minister of Women's Affairs on how long it will take the gender pay gap to close here under current policy - and what (if anything) she intends to do to make it close faster. This is clearly not something we can leave for the passage of time to solve. Justice delayed is justice denied. Women deserve justice now, not for their granddaughters.