Last summer, while heralding the introduction of regulations requiring some employers to publish details of any disparity between male and female pay, David Cameron pledged to end the gender pay gap within a generation. But a report by Deloitte last week suggested that the former PM was being optimistic: it found that pay parity is not forecast to be achieved in the UK until 2069.
Politicians might argue about what constitutes a generation, but surely no one can think that 50-odd years is an acceptable definition - or an acceptable time-frame for women to get paid as much as men. Then again, the Equal Pay Act has been in force for more than 40 years, and pay differentials remain even among people doing the same job.
In my own sector, which surely ought to know better, The Times reported recently that female solicitors earn 19% less than men across the profession, suggesting that top earning women equity partners take home around £30,000 less than their male counterparts. And compared to the Equal Pay Act, Mr Cameron's gender pay gap reporting regulations are little more than window dressing.
We still don't know exactly what the regulations requiring employers to report on their gender pay gaps will say. According to some suggestions, the final version is imminent - just as well as they were originally due to come into force on 1 October and the first reporting should be by April 2018. However, unless they are radically different from the drafts we have seen so far, it is difficult to see how they will have much impact on actually closing the gender pay gap. For a start, the reporting rules are likely to apply only to organisations with more than 250 employees, so the vast majority of employers will be excluded. Furthermore, the regulations are likely to fall well short of what enlightened employers are doing already in an effort to bring women's pay up to the level enjoyed by men.
There are already some industries, such as finance, which recognise the issues and are trying to take steps to address them. The report by the chief executive of Virgin Money made some practical suggestions and asked companies to sign up, for example. But of course, those that do are likely to be the companies who are already taking steps to address issues such as the unequal number of men and women in management positions. These firms will take the new regulations seriously, as they need talent and will want to appear attractive to the best female professionals. However, the evidence shows even they are finding it difficult to close the pay gap - which has to be done legally and fairly - and there is nothing in the drafts that will help them do it faster.
When we look at the situation in sectors which are not voluntarily taking a progressive attitude, it is easy to wonder whether even Deloitte's 2069 forecast isn't optimistic. Sport is one of the worst offenders, despite its high profile. A recent report [PDF] by Women on Boards into the gender metrics in global sport found that the huge pay gap in many sports is not likely to close any time soon. The usual excuse is that the gap here is all about commercial deals and media rights and, therefore, outwith the responsibility of the governing bodies and nothing can really be done about it. Yet most of the top sports governing bodies still have fewer than 30% of board seats held by women. Surely that is relevant?
The situation in US football is also illustrative: the national women's team is far more successful than the men's team, yet they are locked in a battle to secure pay parity. Then there was the disagreement between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as to whether prize money in tennis competitions should be the same for men and women. While no one would suggest there are easy answers to these issues, I can't accept that there aren't steps that can be taken to address the vast inequality.
The media bears some responsibility, as it clearly values women's sport less than men's sport. It was wonderful to see the picture of the Manchester City Women's team on the front page of the Guardian after they beat Chelsea Ladies in the Women's Super League. If the media promotes women's sport in a positive manner, things will start to improve for sportswomen.
The same can be said for the economy more generally. Occupational segregation is one of the main causes of the gender pay gap. The economy values the jobs women predominately do less than those generally carried out by men. So caring for small children is generally paid less than more physically demanding jobs: but how are those jobs more valuable to society?
It surely is possible to close the pay gap within a generation, but it means making fundamental changes. We have to reassess how we view the relative contribution of men and women, both in sports and in work. That means asking ourselves some difficult questions, stating with: what are we willing to do about it?Suggest a correction