07/03/2018 16:29 GMT | Updated 07/03/2018 16:29 GMT

Women, Turn To Your Colleague And Ask 'How Much Do You Earn Then?'

We all have the power to crack the gender pay gap at its foundations

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200 BBC staff, women and men, have now written to Tony Hall demanding pay transparency at the corporation. Be in no doubt, if this idea were to catch on, this would be transformational for gender equality and for our workplace culture.

Transparency – a dictionary definition is “being done in an open way, without secrets”.  When it comes to pay we are far from achieving that.  It is our British way not to want to talk about our salaries, somehow we think that it’s better that way, or that we stand to lose by telling others what we earn.  But for women in particular many of us are almost certainly going to find that we stand to gain if we have that pay conversation with our colleagues. Why? Well, take a look at the BBC, or Tesco’s, or Asda or local authority after local authority. In these cases, when women are able to compare their earnings directly with their male colleagues they find that they are earning less (in some cases, significantly less) than the men, and they have been for some time. Either for doing equal work or work of equal value, both of which are covered by our equal pay legislation.  So getting the information is the first step towards challenging it.

What the Government has legislated for is gender pay gap reporting, which is very welcome but does not provide full transparency. It requires companies to report their gender pay gap figures and where women and men are in different quartiles of the organisation.  So far approximately 1,500 out of 8-9000 companies have reported. They have to publish by 4th April this year, so the clock is ticking. Gaps vary widely but we get a picture of inequality and a productivity gap, and we can also see their bonus pay gap figures – which at 70-80% is double their pay gap or more.  There is no way that men are 80% more productive than women, yet somehow we find highly paid men awarding other highly paid men large bonuses.  Perhaps shareholders should be asking why? Where’s the value?

The average figures mask a range of causes. It might be men dominating senior roles and women at the bottom, it might be because men occupy the better paid sectors of the workforce within the organisation, or because of the unequal impact of caring roles.  Or, at least part of the gap might be because there is pay discrimination.  But unless you can find out what your colleagues earn, you just won’t know and the average figure can’t tell you.  But the employer, when reviewing their pay systems is in a position to know and should act on it. 

We are now hearing of teams within companies deciding to share pay information. This is a good way to at least start to change the culture and to use the power and influence you do have to try to change the rules of the game.  If you do find someone earning more than you and you believe you should be earning the same then you can challenge it, first through internal processes and then if necessary via a tribunal claim.  Many women who do bring a case settle before it reaches tribunal and for good reason. Equal pay claims can last years, over 10 years in some of the local authority cases.  But if they win their claim they can get up to six years back pay.  Fawcett’s recent law review looked at this issue in-depth and recommended that tribunals apply time limits to cases – they should last months, not years. We also argued for injury to feelings payments, similar to other discrimination claims, and that pension contributions should be part of any settlement. At present that isn’t guaranteed.

But the truth is we all have the power to crack this issue at its foundations simply by turning to our colleagues and saying – how much do you earn then?