Congratulations women, you're working for free from today

Congratulations women, you're working for free from today

The BBC attracted international attention earlier this year when the salaries it pays its top earners were published in the press, revealing the monumental difference between the wages of its male and female staff. Well ladies, today is the day it hits home for the rest of us because, owing to the gender pay gap, women in the UK effectively stop being paid on 15 October. Yes, that’s right, the person sat opposite you right now is still getting paid while you’re slaving away for free, solely because he happened to have the good fortune of being born with a penis.

The European Commission defines the gender pay gap as: “The difference in average gross hourly wage between men and women across the economy.” At 21 per cent, the gender pay gap in the UK is still considerably higher than the European average of 17 per cent. Spare a thought for the ladies of Estonia, however, who have to put up with the biggest gender pay gap on the continent - they essentially haven’t been paid since 23 September. But the gender pay gap is very much a global issue and there is still no country in the world that it does not affect. According to the World Economic Forum, Angola has the biggest gap, with a largely male dominated society resulting in few women in managerial roles or positions of power. South Korea also performs badly, with men paid on average over 30 per cent more than women.

The dates were settled on by Expert Market, a UK based B2B comparison site, who used the most up-to-date pay statistics from Eurostat for their report. They found that the average cutoff date for Europe is 30 October, and while the UK's date may seem depressing, women living in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia all fare even worse. It seems that women in Luxembourg and Italy get the best deal, being paid right up until the 13th December. Nonetheless, that the women in these countries still spend over two full weeks working for free, purely due to the lack of a certain extra appendage, doesn't exactly seem fair. 

Although career breaks due to having children are often cited as one of the contributory factors to the gender pay gap, the European Commission is less convinced: “More frequently women earn less than men for doing jobs of equal value. One of the main causes is the way women's competences are valued compared to men's.” It also highlights that women are severely underrepresented in managerial positions, which is perhaps not surprising, given that only four per cent of chairs of boards across the EU are women. To come back to the idea of familial responsibilities, it is true that child and elderly care does have an impact, but this is more because the unpaid work that comes with this is often disproportionately divided between male and female caregivers.

In the UK, all companies with over 250 employees are required to submit details of the gender gap for mean and median wages and bonuses to the government’s gender pay registry. According to figures obtained by the Financial Times, of the firms that have submitted their data so far, the median figure indicates a 10 per cent difference. This is expected to rise sharply, given that the final figure for 2016 was 18.1 per cent. Although it’s often hard to feel sorry for bankers, the early data shows that in the UK it is the financial services industry that sees the widest gap in salaries, with women paid 31 per cent less than their male counterparts. Despite schools across the UK undertaking significant drives to attract more female pupils into science, technology, engineering and maths careers, the news that electricity and gas suppliers and construction firms have the second and third highest disparity respectively will be discouraging. Furthermore, if you think it gets better as you get older, there’s bad news for you, because the gap only increases. 

Speaking in her role as Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening MP, who is also the Secretary of State for Education, declared that more needed to be done to address the gap: “If we are to help women to reach their potential and eliminate the gender pay gap, we need to shine a light on our workplaces to see where there is more to do to.”

She might want to look a little closer to home, however, as the Department for Education - the only government department to submit their data so far - report that they still pay their men on average six per cent more than their women, despite more than half of their workforce being female.

There are some exceptions to the rule. According to the Office for National Statistics, nurses, bar staff and social workers all enjoy the coveted zero per cent pay gap. In professions such as midwifery, women are often paid more than men. The Financial Times found that The British Museum pays its female staff four per cent more, by median average, and women working for the Outward Bound Trust, an educational charity, take home a wage that is three per cent higher.

But even if you’re reading this as the proud owner of a penis (lucky you), you would be wrong to think the gender pay gap doesn’t matter to you. Paying women lower wages means less tax, results in women contributing less to private pensions and has been linked to higher rates of poverty in older age. All of these factors go on to impact spending decisions made by our governments to support society. As far as the business world is concerned, a 2011 survey by Catalyst showed that companies with more women on the board also experience a greater return on capital invested.

It's clear that the gender pay gap and the efforts we make to close it should matter, not just to women, but to everyone. For now though, and until 1 January 2018, I'll feel less guilty about being five minutes late in the morning, and look on longingly at Italy, pondering how bloody brilliant it must be to live in the land of pizza, pasta and being paid.