The Gender Pay Gap: A Beginners Guide

Pink and Blue piggy banks representing the gender pay gap

Despite overwhelming evidence and collected data, there are still those that call the Gender Pay Gap a myth, or else have some explanation or other to justify the difference between what men are paid and what women are paid. But as companies are required to be more transparent about what they’re paying people, the clear discrepancy between genders when it comes to their pay packet is increasingly difficult to deny – and indeed, ignore.

At the start of 2018, the first wave of companies to disclose their data regarding the Gender Pay Gap were published. By April all UK companies with over 250 employees are required to publish this data, and the first 527 alone reveal pay gaps of over 15% in favour of men for average pay.

What is the Gender Pay Gap?

Let’s start at the beginning. The Gender Pay Gap discussion concerns differences in average pay between men and women over time and overall – it differs from the issue of equal pay, which demands that men and women in the same position, in the same company, are paid the same.

It’s the misconception about the definitions of these two closely linked, but different issues that leads to the go-to blanket argument against the pay gap existing: that it would be illegal. And it IS illegal; in 1970 the Equal Pay Act was passed by UK parliament and prohibits less favourable treatment between men and women, regarding pay and conditions of employment.

But if something being illegal meant that no one did it, there would be empty prisons up and down the country. As the statistics below will show, it seems likely that the moral compasses of the big wigs at the top of the capitalist food chain don’t exactly point due north when it comes to paying all people what they deserve. There are lots of things that are, sadly, completely legal, happening that contribute to the pay gap – and don’t worry, we’ll get into those as well – but if you want to believe that the startling gaps in wages between men and women can’t be right because ‘it’s illegal’, you’re sadly mistaken.

Wage growth

Looking at data provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on the median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) for full-time employees, it appears that woman have, as of 2017, just caught up to what men were being paid in 2011. Men’s pay has grown by 10.4% from £13.12 to £14.48 per hour whilst women’s pay has grown by 12.0% from £11.75 to £13.16 per hour. While the pay gap has marginally decreased, we’re still apparently six years behind.

Figure one – from the Office of National Statistics

This gap is also evident when you look at the figures for full time work versus part time work. For men, median hourly pay for full-time work was 65.4% higher than for part-time work, and for women it was 42.8% higher – a difference of 22.6%.

Top jobs

The Gender Pay Gap doesn’t just apply to your average worker – the full-time earnings of men in the highest-paid occupation group (chief executives and senior officials) is 5.3 times higher than that of men in the lowest-paid occupation group (elementary occupations). For women? They earn 4.5 times more.

There’s also a significant imbalance when it comes to who makes up this highest-paid group – 72.8% of CEOs and senior officials are men. What’s more, the small percentage made up of women who have managed to reach this group STILL aren’t being paid the same as the men. In fact, a 2017 report found that male chief executives in the FTSE 100 were paid a whopping 77% more than their female counterparts – of which there were six, by the way, compared to 94 men. As a member of the FTSE 100, you’re statistically more likely to be called David (there are eight of them) than you are to be a woman.

Looking at the top paid positions as a whole, in 2017 men earned a median hourly pay of £48.53 and women £36.54 respectively – a difference of £11.99 per hour. Similarly, men in the second-highest-paid occupation group (managers and directors) had a median hourly pay of £23.69 – £2.62 higher than the median hourly pay for women in this group. Discrepancies between companies is of course to be expected, but it’s impossible to deny the pay gap looking at the figures that are available to us.

Occupational segregation

The companies that have already released their data for this year maintain that men and women in the same roles earn the same money, and the discrepancy comes from the different jobs that men and women perform within the company.

To use the airline Easyjet for example, only 6% of its UK pilots are women, whereas 69% of its lower-paid cabin crew are women. When we talk about closing the Gender Pay Gap, we’re not suggesting that companies like Easyjet match the wage of a male pilot to a female steward. We do, however, look to address the reason behind so few women gaining those higher-paid jobs.

Occupational segregation occurs when employment within a certain sector is heavily skewed towards either men or women, most commonly because of how men and women are taught and socialised for certain jobs or sectors.

Figure two – from the Office of National Statistics

Men dominate sectors such as skilled trades, technical, machine operations, sales and elementary. In fact, the only two sectors where women appear more than men are administrative and secretarial, and care, leisure and other service. Anyone shocked?

Overall, women are still more likely to be in low paid and low skilled jobs. 80% of those working in the low paid care and leisure sector are women, while only 10% of those in the better paid skilled trades are women. What’s more, ‘feminised’ sectors tend to be less valued and less well paid – women make up 60% of those earning less than the living wage. Even if we got rid of the dodgy practice of paying female CEOs less than their male counterparts, working class women will still suffer from the effects of occupational segregation — a completely legal and widely occurring phenomenon.

Why is this happening?


Okay, we’ll be a bit more specific.

There are a couple of key areas that contribute towards the gulf of the Gender Pay Gap — education and childcare, both influenced by good old traditional, sexist gender roles and expectations.

We’ll start with education. As of 2017, only 23% of people working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are women. This is up on 21% from 2016, so there is an improvement – if only incremental. According to research by the Wise Campaign, the number of girls studying core STEM subjects drops off at the age of 16 – just 35% of girls choose maths, physics, computing or a technical vocational qualification compared to 94% of boys. These figures drop off even further when they reach degree or level 4 qualification level, with 9% of girls choosing to pursue maths, physics, computer science or engineering compared to 29% of boys.

Why is this? Because women and girls are less capable of excelling in these subjects? Or because women and girls are not encouraged in the same way as boys to enter into these ‘masculine’ fields of research and employment? (Hint: It is the latter.)  When women and girls are generally discouraged from going into the same high-paying fields as their male counterparts, it is often so normalised that they don’t even realise it’s happening. The stereotypes have been there since before they could walk — while baby girls are given kitchen sets and dolls, their brothers are given plastic tools and building blocks. By the time they reach the age where they’re choosing their careers, the accepted gender roles are so ingrained that it can be hard to break away from them.

Taking a look at childcare, it is, despite progress in recent years, still seen to be predominantly a woman’s duty. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015 (allowing parents to split the 50 weeks leave in order to look after their newborn), but research indicates that just 1% of new parents have taken advantage of this.

How much of that decision is made up of social pressure and expectation? We still live in a society where a mother looking after her child is ‘parenting’, but a father doing so is ‘babysitting’. A mother taking time off work to care for a new baby is the norm, but a father doing the exact same thing makes him some sort of feminist hero.

Women taking time off to have and raise babies is an oft-cited reason for the Gender Pay Gap, which ignores the wealth of unpaid labour being undertaken by stay at home mothers, the fact that not all women want to or can have children, and the fact that women are not the only ones who are capable of raising children.

All in this together

It’s tempting, if a privileged woman in a stable job, to look at our career trajectories and foresee ourselves being the exception to these statistics – to be in that 27.2% of CEOs that are women, perhaps.

But there’s something crucial that hasn’t yet been touched on, due to the lack of breakdown in the statistics – how many of those women in the 27.2% are white? How many of them are cisgender and heterosexual? How many are abled? What does the gender pay gap look like when you bring in race, sexuality or disability? And even more crucially: are we happy to climb over our fellow women from marginalised communities in our fight to claw our way towards true pay equality?

You might feel that your job pays you exactly the same as it does your male colleagues. You might feel that there’s just a small way to go in order to close the Gender Pay Gap. You are lucky, and that’s fantastic. For you. But it’s critical that when fighting to close the Gender Pay Gap, that we centre women of colour, LGBTQ women and disabled women in the conversation, because these are the groups most likely to be at the bottom of that barrel of statistics.

At the rate we’re going, it’s been predicted that it will take over 100 years for the gender pay gap to close. Here at The Nopebook, we say that’s not nearly soon enough.


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