Put your party hats on, because today is the Sex Discrimination Act’s 40th birthday! Despite workplace – and otherwise located – sexual discrimination being outlawed in 1970, a fundamental part of men and women’s lives is still thuddlingly unequal – the gender pay gap, which incidentally, we commemorated on Monday. Don’t feel bad about taking time out to learn about these nefarious ways a woman is held back due to her gender, because if you’re reading this and are a woman, then you’ll be working for free from 9 November until 2016, so there’s no reason for you not to take an unscheduled break.
Aside from highlighting the pay gap (or pay chasm) that divides men and women, Equal Pay Day is also a symbol of how much work still needs to be done to attain equality in the workplace. Because the pay gap, though crap in itself, is also a symtom of workplace discrimination.
The Queen rubberstamped the Sex Discrimination Act on 12 November 1975, which is a pretty awesome act of feminism ma’am, so while we might no longer be (legally) sacked for getting pregnant or getting married, what do we still need to get done?
**1. We've won the battle but not the war **
The Sex Discrimination Act focused on marriage, and made it unlawful for employers to discriminate against hiring people based on their marital status. However, that clearly wasn’t doing the trick, as it was then replaced by the Equality Act in 2010. And it took until 2006 for the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations to come in, making it illegal to discriminate someone on the basis of their sexuality.
Politics A-level stuff to one side, what it shows is that our perception of equality and fairness and gender imbalance is still changing and shifting into focus. But while the pay gap stands at a whopping 19.4 per cent (between the average woman and man in full time work), we have a tangible figure showing how much less our work is valued.
2. There's an age-gap pay gap, but don't let that fool you
Former Tory minister for women and equalities Maria Miller has told Parliament that ‘the gender pay gap is mainly a problem for women over forty, and currently hits women in their fifties even harder.’ As part of an inquiry for the Equalities Committee, Miller is looking to improve retention and promotion for this age group. Which is obviously great.
However, The Fawcett Society’s Chief Executive Sam Smethers tells The Debrief while older women do face different challenges, it might not be that simple. ‘The pay gap does open up for older women, but I wouldn’t dismiss the struggle of young women myself,’ she says. ‘Studies show that female apprentices are paid £2,000 a year less than male apprentices, for example, and there’s evidence to show that the pay gap affects graduates, too.’ For example, a fifth of male graduates will earn £30,000 or more after their degree, compared with just 8% of women.
3. There's a distinct lack of role models
The absence of many older women who have climbed their way up while also having a family – the way plenty of men manage without being labeled a ‘working dad’ – is a big problem. A 2010 survey showed that around half of women from various age brackets strongly agreed that a lack of visible role models made work more challenging. If you don’t have an example to follow, or someone above you who’s going to readjust the imbalances working against your promotion, then where do you stand? That goes for women throughout their career.
Ellen Pao, former interim chief exec of Reddit, describes the lonely climb to the top within venture capital and tech firms in Lena Dunham’s latest Lenny Letter mailout, describing her worries: ‘Is it just me? Am I really too ambitious while being too quiet while being too aggressive while being unlikable? Are my elbows too sharp? Am I not promoting myself enough? Am I not funny enough? Am I not working hard enough? Do I belong?’
4. There's such thing as a 'sticky floor'
The pay gap stats are interesting because they show that it’s less likely that women will be in full-time employment. The gap is 19.1 per cent when you take into account all male and female salaries, but only 9.4 per cent when looking at hourly wages. Smethers says that the infamous ‘glass ceiling’ isn’t the only challenge that women face.
‘There’s definitely a glass ceiling in terms of career progression – but there’s also a sticky floor,’ she tells The Debrief. ‘If you end up taking on the caring duties, which many women do, then how likely is it you’ll be able to be CEO or a senior manager on a three-day week? Women might choose part-time work but they don’t choose low wages and they don’t choose narrow horizons.’
5. That all leads to a lack of progress
This leads us tidily on to a general malaise when it comes to beefing up the ranks of senior women. ‘Progression at work is still very difficult,’ Smethers says. ‘Some of it’s unconscious bias, but we need to keep an eye on things like whether people are looking at the percentage of women being promoted within companies.’
However, change could be coming. David Cameron has pledged that, starting in 2016, every company with more than 250 employees will be legally required to state the pay gap between male and female employees, which could open peoples’ eyes to how few women are pulled up the ranks by senior figures. He’s also pledged that schools should teach more girls STEM subjects which could help women get into the high-paid techy jobs men are earning so much money within.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Equality Party want all this and more. To solve the pay gap before 2055, which is when it could, at the rate it’s going, close up, they’ve suggested a whole slew of ideas that’ll see women’s work taken more seriously. Including David Cameron’s plan rolled out to every company with more than 50 employees.
Here’s hoping that, the more noise made around workplace inequality, the closer we are to calling it when we see it and making it a thing of the past. Hopefully by the time we're all celebrating our 40th birthdays, we will have long celebrated the death of the pay gap - and the whole bullshit culture that created it.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.