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American Hustle - Pay Gap Hack Should Lead Women to Confront Pay Inequality in 2015

The responsibility is by no means solely on women to reach pay equality. The Sony Pictures leak reminded us that genuine, long-standing change will not be achieved until governments, companies and their employees share the responsibility equally...

Google's annual Year in Search data revealed Jennifer Lawrence to be the most googled celebrity of 2014. Putting aside the now notorious photo leak, the combination of Lawrence's performance in American Hustle, for which she earned her second Golden Globe in January, and her latest instalment of The Hunger Games, this year's highest-grossing new opener, cemented her status as one of the world's most sought-after actresses. All at the age of just 24.

Meanwhile, in yet another hacking scandal, it turns out Lawrence and her American Hustle co-star Amy Adams were paid less of the film's profits than their male counterparts. While Sony Pictures paid Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and director David O. Russell nine points (per cent), Lawrence and Adams received just seven.

If in any doubt of Lawrence having earned her stripes, American Hustle was greenlit after The Hunger Games became a global box office sensation, which suggests Lawrence's profile as an actress was known by producers to be a pretty big deal. That Adams is also a five-time Oscar-nominated actress raises an even bigger question mark over the pay discrepancy.

In many ways, 2014 has been a great year for women. Forbes' annual guide to the World's 100 Most Powerful Women, topped this year by Angela Merkel and featuring dynamic and inspirational women including Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and Angelina Jolie, shone a light on the way women are taking industries such as politics, business, tech and not-for-profit by storm. But Forbes also reminded us that less than five per cent of the world's top companies have female CEOs and little over 10 per cent of the world's 1,645 billionaires are women. It's clear that even at the highest level, women are still being valued lower than men.

In the UK, pay equality seems to be coming along leaps and bounds. The gender pay gap is at a record low of 19.1 per cent overall and 9.4 per cent among full time workers. For the first time ever, full time working women between the ages of 22 and 39 earn more than men on the basis of median hourly earnings!

Women further along in their career or at higher levels however do not enjoy the same statistics. Above the age of 39, the pay gap broadens again with women in their forties earning 13.6 per cent less than their male counterparts, 18 per cent less in their fifties and 14 per cent less over the age of 60. Earlier this year, it was revealed female bosses earn a staggering 35 per cent less than their male colleagues.

More recently, Labour's analysis of the annual survey of hours and earnings conducted by the Office for National Statistics discovered that from the age of 22 to 64 (the span of a typical career) women earn on average £207,976 less than men. This triggered a fresh wave of campaigning in December, fronted by Made in Dagenham star Gemma Arterton alongside members of the 1967 Ford Dagenham workers strike for equal pay, which was crucial to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act over 40 years ago. The rallies coincide with a new Labour-backed bill, The Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill, to make big companies reveal differences between the pay of male and female employees.

Bringing in real legislation to encourage transparency and ensure companies proactively acknowledge and install policies to address the pay gap is crucial in achieving workplace equality. Sarah Champion, the Labour MP behind the bill, explained the bill isn't about naming and shaming but will make employers take responsibility for obeying the law on equal pay. The bill has since received 258 votes in favour to just eight against, which is positive news for women.

However, as the year draws to a close, women should also take steps to ensure 2015 builds on everything we have learnt in 2014 and confront discrepancy head on.

Instead of, or at least in conjunction with, Dry January and dieting, resolutions provide a perfect reason for us to look at our lives, careers, and proactively address the areas we want to change. Asking for a pay rise can feel uncomfortable for many women who are traditionally less used than men to shouting about their achievements and putting a price on their professional worth. Opportunity Now, a campaign to increase women's success at work, found in its Project 28-40 study that women recognise unfairness in pay but are more reluctant to ask for a raise than men.

As in many areas of life, when requesting a pay rise, preparation is key. It's important to back up your case for pay rise with facts that clearly demonstrate how you've added value, as well as spelling out ways in which you see yourself contributing to your company's future success. Making sure you know your worth (both within the company and the market value of your role) will ensure you come across as well-informed and assertive. If you get turned down, make sure you get a similarly well-explained rationale for why. Work with your boss to develop a workable plan covering off any performance issues, aimed at securing a pay rise within a clearly defined timetable.

The responsibility is by no means solely on women to reach pay equality. The Sony Pictures leak reminded us that genuine, long-standing change will not be achieved until governments, companies and their employees share the responsibility equally. Yet if we women can overcome the discomfort of asking for a pay rise we will be making a proactive contribution to shaping the future of our workplaces.

Frances Dickens is co-founder and CEO of Astus Group and a Natwest everywoman Awards 2014 finalist.

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