The Gender Pay Gap Widens Despite Feminism's Best Efforts - Here's Why...

06/08/2014 14:59 | Updated 06 August 2014

With fourth wave feminism hitting headlines almost every week, you'd be forgiven for assuming that equal Britain must be just around the corner.

But recent figures seem to suggest gender equality in the work place is further away than ever.

Recent Labour and ONS findings show the gender pay gap is widening - particularly in London where men are being paid 13% more than women.

man woman office

The shocking official figures revealed that for each pound paid to men per hour last year in London, women received 86.8p - down from 89.1p a year ago.

And the worrying trend isn't restricted to the capital - although a much smaller increase, it is worth noting that the gender pay gap rose by 0.1% across the UK according to the research.

Women now make up 47% of the UK workforce, but despite this a recent survey by Talking Talent found 44% of women believe their gender has hindered their career.

Paying men more than women is an outdated concept, so why does the gender pay gap still exist in 2014?

"The gender pay gap exists because of sexism, pure and simple," feminist writer and co-founder of The Vagenda Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "When a woman and a man with the same skills are doing the same job but the woman is paid less, what other excuse can there be?"

Lecturer in public engagement B.J. Epstein agrees that sexism is the main culprit, but also points out that women can do more to help close the gender pay gap themselves.

"I think it's quite clear that there's a gender pay gap because our society is a patriarchy that still privileges men and what men do, despite all the inroads that feminism has made.

"But I also think that women are less likely to apply for pay increases or promotions or higher paid jobs; women tend to feel that they need to have all the skills/requirements before doing so, whereas men often feel that they might as well apply and see what happens, regardless of whether they meet the requirements," she says.

Statistically more women than men now attend university in the UK. However, women can still expect to be paid less than men with the same level of education when they enter the workplace.

This problem is not limited to the UK - women with the same level of education as men start with an average salary of 15% less in OECD countries.

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Founder and chief editor of Business O Féminin Veronique Forge says although change does need to come from the top, (CEOs and government), empowering young women with knowledge to fight the gender gap is of paramount importance.

"Education is key, we need to tell women to be careful when they negotiate their salary in the first place.

"Girls should be educated about the fact that they will have to negotiate their salary and they will need to ask for higher pay. If girls don't ask, the person in front of them won’t just say ‘yes, I’ll offer you the same’.

"That should be the case but it’s not in reality, so women need to be aware of that."

Forge adds that because in times of economic crisis women are the first to lose their jobs, even those established in their field fail to demand higher pay.

"Women don’t dare enough. It’s a bit of a generalisation but I think a lot of women think ‘I’m so happy to even have a job, so any salary will do'."

So what is actually being done to tackle the problem of unequal pay?

An official government spokesperson told HuffPost UK Lifestyle: “We are giving employees the right to request flexible working as well as introducing shared parental leave from 2015 so that women don’t have to choose between work and family life.

"We are also introducing new regulations which will give tribunals the power to order employers to conduct a pay audit, where they have been found to discriminate over pay.“

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But Epstein believes more needs to be done: "Employers need to have transparent rules around salaries and very clear salary scales that show what background and skills are required in order for people to earn certain salaries.

"Then they should ensure that all employees who have the requisite skills and are making the same contributions to the employer should receive the same wages.

"Employees should have the right to ask for this sort of information, so if a woman feels that she and a male colleague are doing the same job and have roughly the same background, she can inquire about whether they earn the same wage."

Feminist activist and founder of A Room of our Own: A Feminist Womanist Network Louise Pennington told HuffPost UK Lifestyle she is doubtful we'll see an end to the gender pay gap any time soon.

"The gender pay gap will continue to exist as long as our economy does not factor in the unpaid work women do in terms of care, for their own children or vulnerable members of their extended family, as well as all the volunteer work women do in maintaining schools, parks and hospitals.

"We need a basic mandatory income for all mothers, universal and free at the point of service care for vulnerable adults and children, better investment in schools, and an end to "volunteer work", as most of these so-called volunteer jobs are things that a responsible government would fund appropriately," she says.

With David Cameron's recent cabinet reshuffle meaning more women in the top seats, we can but hope more will be done to ensure women get equal pay.

But until government and CEOs catch up, it seems it may be time for us women to be more demanding when it comes to fighting for equal pay.

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