While new legislation aimed at addressing this ongoing inequality is welcome, only collective action can end it, argues Steph Pike
The gender pay gap is the difference between male and female earnings. On average women earn just 86p for every pound men earn. Progress in closing the gap has stalled. There has been no change in the past three years. At the current rate it will take 100 years for the pay gap to close.
The causes of the gender pay gap are complex and reflect not only the discrimination and inequalities that women face in the labour market but also the wider oppression that women face in society. Some of the main causes are:
Despite over 40 years of equal pay legislation, some women are still paid less for the same work as men. Discrimination against women who are pregnant or on maternity leave is still common, with an estimated 54000 women a year losing their jobs when becoming a mother.
Women still play a greater role in caring for children or sick or elderly relatives. As a result more women work part-time or have to take career breaks.
Labour market segregation
Women are still more likely to be in low paid jobs. More men are in higher paid jobs and senior roles. Because of systemic oppression women’s work is valued less, and women’s competence and skills are undervalued, meaning women are promoted less and are often given smaller bonuses.
Law and the struggle for equality
Under a new legal requirement, companies with more than 250 employees will have to publish their gender pay gap data by April 2018. So far only 750 companies out of 9000 have done so. Companies can be fined for not publishing this data although at the moment there is no mechanism in place for doing so. However, companies cannot be punished for having a wide gender pay gap or for failing to address the situation. It is hard to see how this legal requirement moves us forward. It simply tells us what we already know - that women earn less than men.
We cannot rely on employers to solve this problem. It is not simply a labour market issue; it is systemic. Because of gender sterotyping girls and boys are encouraged and conditioned in different ways including the types of jobs they choose, the caring roles they adopt and how and when they are for promotion or pay rises. Encouraging more women to be CEOs will do nothing to improve the lives of the thousands of women in low paid or part-time work. We must take collective action to try and narrow the gender pay gap and fight the systemic oppression of women that causes it. But capitalism will never deliver a solution to the gender pay gap. Only the overthrow of a system that is at its heart exploitative can deliver liberation for women
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