Women, beware the narrative of victimhood this Equal Pay Day

Nerissa Chesterfield
Deadline For Firms To Reveal Gender Pay Gap
The pay gap does not exist because women doing the same jobs as men are being paid less (Source: Getty)

Ah, it’s that time of year again.

Tomorrow, the Equal Pay Day campaign will tell women that they are now “working for free” until the end of the year.

We’ll be told that our male colleagues will receive a full salary, while women are being undervalued and discriminated against in the workplace, and that the fight for equal pay must continue.

A bleak picture. I can already hear the pitchforks of the more radical feminists being dusted off – ready, like Boudica and her army, to rise up against this injustice.

But while this is a compelling narrative, it is also a very misleading one.

The official gender pay gap – according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – reveals that women have much to cheer about.

The pay gap is at a record low: 8.6 per cent for full-time workers (down from 9.1 per cent last year) and a gap in favour of women of 4.4 per cent for part-time workers.

And these figures fail to take into account key factors like job and background, meaning that the gap is closing even before we break down comparable roles or look at geography.

In places like Northern Ireland, the pay gap has completely closed (data conveniently left out of the Fawcett Society briefing). Meanwhile, for ladies between the ages of 22 and 39, the gap is negligible, sitting at 1.3 per cent for women aged 22-29 and 0.8 per cent for those aged 30-39.

The mean figure that is being promoted by the Fawcett Society is also inflated by the outlier salaries of a small number of high-earners, and therefore sets the pay gap nearly 60 per cent higher than the official median calculation, as is pointed out in the briefing from the Institute of Economic Affairs on the gender pay gap, out today.

Not only does the campaign propound misleading data, but it disingenuously conflates the gender pay gap with equal pay.

Since 1970, it has been written into law that it is illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work. As is clearly stated by the ONS, the gender pay gap does not show differences in wages for comparable jobs.

To use these statistics as evidence of unequal pay is deliberately misleading and unhelpful. Put simply, the pay gap does not exist because women doing the same jobs as men are being paid less. It is largely the result of the choices made by men and women, particularly when it comes to time taken off work to care for children.

But the Fawcett Society does not seem that interested in promoting practical public policy to help women advance at work, such as reducing childcare costs or encouraging flexible working.

Instead, the focus is on “pay secrecy”– this year’s buzzword – and the idea that we have a pay gap because women don’t know what their colleagues earn, and are therefore unaware that they are being discriminated against.

The term “pay secrecy” is a pitch-fork raising way to describe the highly vital right to privacy. There should be no reason why anyone who works in the private sector should have to reveal their salary. If a man or woman feels that they are being underpaid on the basis of their gender, they can legally take their employer to court, and should be encouraged to do so.

This campaign’s bait-and-switch to attacking pay secrecy in the workplace demonstrates a determination to persist with a victimhood narrative that no longer matches up with the facts.

Instead of promulgating dodgy data and conflating equal pay with the pay gap, we should be doing what we can to help women who are genuinely disadvantaged, whether that be at home with the pressures of motherhood or elsewhere in other ways.

On the eve of so-called “Equal Pay Day”, I urge all women to take a look at the most legitimate statistics, and feel encouraged that, in 2018, we have so much to be positive about.

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