Equal Pay Day: women now work for free

Post author image. Charlotte Woodworth
Reflecting on Equal Pay Day, Business in the Community’s Gender Director Charlotte Woodworth sets out how organisations can close their gender pay gap.
Charlotte Woodworth smiling

Equal Pay Day fell last week. This is the moment in the year that women in effect start working for free. Each year, organisations like the Fawcett Society map the average gap in pay between women and men in the UK to the calendar year, calculating the point at which women essentially stop earning any money. This year’s average 11.9% gap in pay means this fell on 18 November1.

This day came after an extraordinary nearly two years of the pandemic. The various lockdowns, job retention schemes and working pattern changes have had a profound impact on the working world. However, some clear trends remain.

The gender pay gap gets worse as women age. The gender pay gap for full-time employees over 40 is four times greater than for individuals under this age2. A range of issues drives this widening. It is thought to kick in with a vengeance at the point when women (and men) start to have children. The motherhood penalty limits women’s careers as they age.

The gap is apparent in almost all industries and sectors, rare is the field where women earn the same, or even more than men. Of the industries looked at by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) (who calculate the gap) 98.7%, paid men on average more than women3.

In part because of the gap, women still dominate in low paid work – around one in five working women earn less than two-thirds of the UK’s average hourly pay, in comparison to around one in ten working men4. This is due to women making up the majority of part-time employment5.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Employers can take action to level the playing field and put an end to Equal Pay Day.

  1. Find out what is going on at your organisation. Carry out regular gender and equal pay audits. Business in the Community (BITC) members can download our Gender Pay Gap Toolkits or attend one of our Gender Pay Gap Reporting Workshops.
  2. As part of this, double check if an hourly discrepancy exists between the salaries paid to part time and full-time employees. Women are much more likely to work part time than men. Are better paid, more senior roles, restricted to people who want to work full time, long hours? If so, do something about it. Embracing flexible working patterns is known to have a positive impact on the gender pay gap.
  3. Be transparent in your approach to setting and discussing pay. Develop a clear salary framework with bandings to provide consistency and fairness. Make sure you don’t ask about salary history when applicants apply for jobs. This can see women ‘carry around’ low pay. BITC supports the #endsalaryhistory campaign run by the Fawcett Society.
  4. Ensure your organisation’s approach to recruitment and promotion has been stripped of bias. This will creep in unless you take proactive action to address it. For example, mitigate decision-maker bias at the point of recruitment and within performance management through design, training, software etc.
  5. Make sure your polices support carers with work-life balance. For example, ensure that your parental leave support package is fit for purpose. We know that childcare responsibilities are a major driver of unequal pay. However too many employers still struggle to stop their culture and approach ‘locking out’ carers from better paid, more senior roles.
  6. Use BITC tools and expertise to help you contribute to ending Equal Pay Day. Our Gender Pay Gap reporting dashboard allows you to track your progress against that of other employers/sectors. BITC’s Route Map to a more Gender Equal Future provides guidance on actions employers can take to advance workplace equality. Our toolkit on Becoming an Age Friendly Employer helps employers retain, develop and recruit older talent and shape work that works for older workers.


References and notes

  1. Office for National Statistics (2021) Gender pay gap in the UK: 2021, 26 October.
  2. This is representative of the mean, full-time, hourly gender pay gap taken from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) – which this year sits at 11.9%. A measure across all jobs in the UK, this should not be confused with mandatory UK Gender Pay Gap reporting legislation for organisations with 250 employers and over.
  3. Calculated from the data available from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). Of the data available for both male and female pay, only three paid women women more on average (welfare, hotel accommodation managers, horticultural traders).
  4. ‘Low paid’ defined as being paid less than two-thirds of median hourly pay. Women are still more likely to be low paid than men (17.1% versus 11.3%) according to the Office for National Statistics (2021) Low and high pay in the UK: 2021, 26 March.
  5. Devine, B. F., Foley, N. & Ward, M. (2021) Women in the Economy: Briefing Paper CBP06838, House of Commons Library, 2nd March.