The graduate gender pay gap: Gender assumptions must be cast aside if we are to bring about equal pay

Matt Gingell
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Gender assumptions must be cast aside (Source: Getty) (Source: Getty)

Recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Cambridge and Harvard Universities found that women earn, annually, 23 per cent less than men 10 years after graduating. The Office for National Statistics had estimated it at around 33 per cent. So, we're 10 per cent to the good. Unfortunately, we're still 23 per cent to the bad. That’s not good.

The overall UK gender gap is 19.1 per cent – calculated on the average hourly rate of male and female employees.

There may be some non-discriminatory explanations for differences in pay. Many women spend periods out of work in connection with childcare before returning.

The reality is that women handle most of the childcare, which means that they do not accumulate the same amount of experience as their male counterparts in those first 10 years. They may, therefore, be overlooked for promotion, which naturally affects their pay. This could explain the disparity. As could the fact that there are still plenty of well-paid sectors that are dominated by men because the job tends to be more physically demanding.

But it would be hard to argue that discriminatory practices do not account, at least in part, for the gap.

This 23 per cent pay difference after 10 years of graduating, surely, cannot be explained entirely by women’s life choices and men drilling in the North Sea?

The government has realised that something needs to done to narrow the gender pay gap for graduates and non-graduates alike. It’s proposing that employers with at least 250 employees must publish gender pay gap information.

It’s not yet clear what information is going to have to be provided. It could, for example, be the overall difference between the average earnings of men and women as a percentage of men’s earnings. A more detailed requirement could be for employers to publish pay differentials for jobs within bands. This could involve significant work for employers, particularly in the private sector where grading and bands are less common.

While publishing pay information is a step in the right direction, it's going to take more than audits and spreadsheets to narrow the gap. A shift in culture shall be required, too.

Some employers still make stereotypical assumptions about women. They could be about women’s intentions regarding having children and taking time out for childcare, away from the office. They could also be in connection with women's pay and career aspirations.

These assumptions must be cast aside.

To bridge the pay gap, there will need to be greater shared childcare responsibility. And, perhaps, with the new shared parental leave law, allowing parents greater flexibility as to how they divide their childcare responsibility, in time, this will happen.

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