That pesky pay gap

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Why should my work get paid at a different rate?

It is frankly, easier to talk about bondage. Or bestiality. Or any of the other things (Botox, infidelity, piles, phobias) which in days gone by would be very much off the agenda. In British society most people would rather talk about absolutely anything, even their own bottoms, before they talked about money. It is just Not Polite. Which of course is one of the reasons for the continued existence of the gender pay gap. Which is why the news that the government is insisting on the publication of a Gender Pay Gap league table for all companies with over 250 employees is so exciting, and why it is making the business community squirm. It is going to be embarrassing. For the boss class. And humiliating. For women who always suspected they were paid less, but were never allowed to actually find out. For over a decade, I worked at a certain broadcast news organisation, and I knew that that my male counterpart  – who did exactly the same job as I did –  was paid more than I was. Could I ever officially bring it up with my line manager? Are you joking? That information is ‘Confidential’, Ms Millard. But why? I was never given an adequate reason why.

This coupling of  a specious notion of  ‘confidentiality’ with ‘vulgarity’ is one of the reasons the gender pay gap has been allowed to invidiously creep into all walks of life. Where salaries are open and known (for example, with MPs), the gap vanishes.  Women may be infuriated and  insulted, but we are part of the problem. I have been on a series of interviewing boards lately and was amazed and depressed by the paucity of female candidates willing to have a robust discussion about salary in the room. They confused having a proper chat about salaries, with rudeness. My experience appears to be a common one; from Hollywood to the City and in thousands of boardrooms in between, women are getting the gigs, performing brilliantly, having the kids, achieving the work/life balance – all those things that early agitators for gender equality worked for – except in one sphere. Equality of pay.

There is only one thing for it. Two, actually. Firstly, make the publication of league tables a legal requirement. And secondly, make salaries the stuff of ordinary conversation, just as sex, drugs and Botox are. It will start off toe-curling, but we have to get used to talking to our neighbours, and our girlfriends, and our partners about how much we earn. Think how dinner party conversations could be enlivened, and go forth with courage.

 

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