No more being Ms Nice over wages

Yvonne Roberts urges women to be more forthright about pay. Only
then will current inequalities end.

Assertive and bold as brass; that, allegedly, is today’s
young woman. Magazines and newspapers portray her as the girl who
unabashedly asks for more and expects to get it – more
opportunities, more booze, more sex, more than her mother ever

So, why, when it comes to wages, are so many of today’s
allegedly fearless females apparently struck dumb?

The Equal Pay Task Force, set up by the Equal Opportunities
Commission to examine the gender pay gap, has recently confirmed
that the UK is the most sexist workplace in Europe. Women in most
occupations, whether they are at the top or the bottom of the
ladder, earn far less than men, often for no other reason than old
fashioned discrimination.

Women in full-time work earn 82 per cent of the male wage;
female part-timers only 60 per cent. Even in jobs where the sexual
revolution might have left at least a nick, the boys are better
off. Among stockbrokers, for instance, men earn £936 a week;
women £594. A mid-skilled woman without children will earn
£240,000 less than a man over her lifetime. If she rears two
children she forfeits another £140,000.

This month, the journal Economic Inquiry has published
a study by Sara Solnick, a US assistant professor of economics
which claims that women are paid more poorly partly because they
are willing to accept less. Men, in contrast, hold out for as much
as they can get. Or, to put it another way, when it comes to asking
for cash, girls go coy.

They also tend to keep their pay packets in purdah. While
Americans are open about the amount they earn the British help
their employers hugely by treating pay as an intensely private

Some businesses even insist on a confidentiality contract,
making it extremely difficult to winkle out iniquities.

The EOC’s Task Force came up with several recommendations,
among them tougher legislation and mandatory pay reviews for large
firms which would be required to publish pay audits regularly. The
government has already rejected the idea, demonstrating yet again
Labour’s fatal flaw – its ridiculous infatuation with

Fawcett, the women’s rights pressure group, has a
campaign, Mind the Gap, in which it is asking individuals to send a
postcard to MPs and prospective candidates asking what he or she
intends to do to about the issue of equal pay once the election is

The government’s choice is to pay the price of closing the
pay gap now – or bear a greater cost later as women reach a lengthy
old age on inadequate savings and pensions. What might spur it on
is if women voiced their discontent more vocally. What often acts
as a trigger is finding out that Fred, less qualified, less
experienced and a work mate for five years, has always earned a
couple of grand more than you annually.

Of course it takes confidence – or anger – for a woman to move
from gratitude at being employed at all, to a sense of entitlement
that she deserves the going rate for the job. Nice girls
don’t ask the men the size of their monthly bundle. But
“nice” doesn’t pay the bills. And speaking out collectively
need only take two words:

Just Pay.

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