How would you like to show up for work every day, but only get to take home three out of four paychecks? That was a question posed by former US president Bill Clinton to illustrate the reality of the gender pay difference, writes Roisin Woolnough.
How much women earn compared to how much men earn has been in the news a lot during the past few days, following a report published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) last week, which supported Clinton's figures.
The report, carried out by the EOC Equal Pay Task Force, revealed that women in full-time employment earn, on average, almost 20% less than men and that the UK gender pay gap is the worst in the European Union.
Julie Mellor, chairwoman of the EOC, is disappointed that the gender pay gap is still such an issue, despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 30 years ago. "The UK has the worst record in Europe on equal pay," she says. "As the task force went around the country, it found a remarkable lack of awareness of the problem and 93% of employers believe they pay fairly. That is not good enough."
The Just Pay report found that women in full-time positions earn on average 18% less than full-time male professionals and those in part-time positions earn 39% less. While this is an improvement on 1971, when women in full-time positions earned about 31% less than men, the UK still lags far behind the rest of Europe.
Research carried out by Computer Weekly validates the Equal Pay Task Force's findings. Female IT workers often earn less than male ITers, although the difference is smaller than in the overall labour market.
A survey of over 2,000 readers revealed that the average female ITer earns 15% less than her male counterpart. The average salary for female ITers is £30,000 a year, compared to £36,000 for men.
This difference can be attributed in part to the fact that men are more likely to be promoted to senior positions. Computer Weekly research revealed that 33% of men are in the highest paid jobs, compared to 18% of women, while women account for 41% of the lowest paid jobs, compared to only 25% of men.
Pay is often used as a retention tool by employers, and the traditional view is that men have higher salary expectations than women and are more likely to pursue them. According to Mellor, employers expect men to have a more aggressive and confident attitude towards pay rises. "When we launched our working women campaign 15 months ago, it showed that there was a perception among line managers that men would ask for more money," she says.
Mellor says employers need to have measures in place to ensure that women do not earn less than men for the same job. "You have got to monitor pay regularly, have pay reviews, identify who is being paid what and why," she says.
This was first published in March 2001