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The Gender Pay Gap Problem: Why We All Need to Stand Together

27/03/2017 13:12 BST | Updated 27/03/2017 13:12 BST
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Not only are women around the world paid less on average than their male colleagues, they are also less likely to ask for pay rises or push for promotions. With the UK lagging at 20th place in the World Economic Forum's gender equality rankings, the gender pay gap is narrowing at a sluggish pace. The year it finally closes is predicted to be 2069.

And yet people still find excuses to fight against the fact, or to try and pass the pay gap off as a result of women's 'choice' or skewed statistics. They ignore the reams of research that shows again and again that we have a way to go before women are being paid fairly. And we're fed up with it. "We want to champion fairness in pay and start breaking down the barriers that allow controversies like the gender pay gap to exist," Patrick McConnell, co-founder of the pay comparison tech startup Sliips says. "With transparency, society is then better positioned to provide the kind of scrutiny necessary to make salaries fairer."

Sliips' data shows that for their community - currently mainly young professionals based in the UK - the gender pay gap stands at around 8% and starts from graduation. But why is it still a problem? If we all know about the pay gap, and with legislation coming into force in the UK for companies to report their gender pay gap in April 2017, why do we still have one?

The problem is far more complicated than it seems. Alongside the usual considerations of experience, education, capability, and self-advocacy that you get when considering the pay of any employee, you have to take into account so much more on a societal and cultural level.

Gender as a social construct and the unconscious bias that we have developed alongside it are a massive problem. From the way we 'instinctively' treat young girls and boys differently, to the well documented problems of encouraging girls into STEM subjects and career paths, to the deeply-ingrained unconscious bias that we all hold (seriously, go and take Harvard University's Project Implicit Gender-Career bias test and see for yourself how insidious it is), we are causing these problems for ourselves.

Couple this with the cultural expectations women are held to and it's no wonder we have a problem. One of the biggest issues is the expectation of women to be primary caregivers, of both children and elders. We see this in the unequal maternity and paternity allowances that effectively punish couples that would prefer the father to take on the primary caregiver role. We see potential solutions to it in the government's IWD budget policy of 'returnships' budget to help both genders return to work after childcare, but the policy is still marketed as a solution for women. And of course, what is one of the reasons women are expected to take the career break for unpaid caregiving duties? Because they often earn less than their male partner for the work they do. And so we go full circle once again.

The gender pay gap is real. The gender pay gap is a real problem. And the gender pay gap goes much deeper than just giving women a pay rise. This is a struggle that needs to be fought on many fronts, and it is a struggle that needs us all to play an active part. The government legislation to force companies to report their gender pay gap is only the start. To truly overcome this problem, we need to be constantly challenging societal expectations, building up our girls and young women to be self-advocates, and confronting our own unconscious biases. I for one will be on the front line: I hope to see you all there with me.