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It's Time to do Something About the Gender Pay Gap

12/06/2014 14:21 BST | Updated 12/08/2014 10:59 BST

You know how you're not allowed to talk about your salary with your work colleagues? Why do you think that is? Because, let's be honest, that secrecy only ever benefits the employer, not the employee.

Personally, I've long been of the belief that pay confidentiality masks and enables gender discrimination, irrelevant of the requirements of the Equal Pay Act. And this week, recent figures were published that backs that fear up.

The magazine Grazia revealed that the gender pay gap between men and women in their twenties had doubled in the past three years. Doubled. That's a phenomenal jump at a time when we're supposedly making great strides against sexism in many high-profile campaigns.

The figures come from the Office of National Statistics and their Annual Survey of Hours and Incomes. The ONS Survey showed that the pay gap between men and women has leapt from 2.6% to 5.3% since 2010.

And for women in their thirties, like me, it's gone from 11.9% to 12%. Not a massive change you might think but all I'm thinking is WHAT THE HELL??!! That's a WHOPPING gap. And it's not coming down.

Now I'm pretty touchy about this not only because me being paid less than a man on the basis of gender is discriminatory and illegal, but also because I know for a fact that I've been a victim of pay discrimination simply because of my gender.

I used to work in investment banking (we all make mistakes) so you might think that gender discrimination was just in the air in that place. And in many ways you'd be right. But I always figured that given the amount of bad publicity banks got for their treatment of women, they'd go out of their way to avoid courting trouble by ensuring that pay was equal.

Turns out I was wrong.

Life in the City is all about bonus season but one year, after coming out from finding out his bonus and salary increase, a male colleague, Jake, told me his numbers.

It should've been an inconsequential disclosure but when I was called in to see Ryan, the Head of my department, to receive my numbers, a confrontation ensued, as this excerpt from my memoir of life in the City, Banking on Burlesque shows:

     "We'd love to give you more but obviously there isn't much to go round. However the very good pay rise and sizeable bonus we've given shows how highly..."

     Ryan was talking but I wasn't listening. I was completely fixated with the numbers on the piece of paper in front of me. They were different from Jake's. They were both lower. Not by much, a couple of grand on each, but they were lower.

     Ryan was still on his sales pitch but I wasn't interested. "Why are these numbers different from Jake's?"

     "What?"

     "These numbers, both of them, they're both lower than Jake's. Why is that?"

     Ryan looked at me, his jaw tight.

     I went on. "Why are these numbers lower than Jake's? We are at an

identical level and we have the same performance so therefore we should both be on the same pay but we're not. He's being paid more than me, in both salary and bonus."

     "Jake shouldn't have told you his numbers."

     "I know that but he did because he thought mine would be identical and he didn't think anything of it. Nor did I. Why are you paying him more than me?"

     Ryan's jaw remained tight. I was on dangerous territory here and I knew it.

     "What are you saying?" he asked.

     "I'm asking why you're paying a male colleague, who has not demonstrated superior performance to me, more than me."

     Ryan said nothing.

     "Ryan, if you won't pay me what I'm worth, I will find someone who will."

     "You shouldn't make empty threats Victoria."

     I lifted my chin slightly. "I'm not."

And this was no empty threat. I handed in my resignation. My boss Ryan offered me far more money to stay, more money than what Jake was being paid - clear evidence that my pay discrimination could not be justified. But I left anyway.

I got 'lucky' in that a male colleague was transparent with me. But that's a rare situation. To address this, Grazia has launched a campaign to make companies publish the details of hourly pay for male and female employees.

In order to effect change, Grazia is looking to an unenforced piece of legislation from the last Labour government to be enacted, which would enforce transparency

Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 requires big employers i.e. those with more than 250 staff, to publish details annually on the hourly pay of their male employees compared to their female.

This legislation was shelved at the time but now Grazia has started a petition for it to be enforced. If it were, and you worked in a big company like I did, you'd be able to see if you are being paid less than your male colleagues who are in comparable roles.

And nothing would force the hand of employers quicker than transparency, as it did in my case. And the threat of legal action that would come off the back of perpetuating unequal pay could transform this imbalance for good.

So to sign Grazia's petition, head here.

Victoria's memoir Banking on Burlesque is available on Amazon here.