Did you send an email to someone today and receive an out of office even though the recipient is working?  If you did, the recipient was one of hundreds of thousands of people raising awareness for Equal Pay Day in the UK.

Friday 10th November marks the day that women effectively stop earning till the end of the year (51 days a year) relative to men because of the gender pay gap – according to the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights.  This date has not moved for the past three years and according to the Office for National Statistics the mean gender pay gap is 14.1%.  In comparison, the gender pay gap is smallest in Italy and Luxembourg at 5% meaning that Equal Pay Day falls on December 13th.

In the UK, the biggest gender pay gap is in Financial Services where women earn approximately 39.5% less than men – that’s 60p for every £1 a man earns.  The gap is widest for older women in their 50’s, at 18.6%, but is growing amongst women in their 20’s, from 1.1% in 2011 to 5.5% this year.  This suggests that not only are we not making progress but we are actually going backwards.

Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970, which states that men and women must be paid equally for the same work, the practice of unequal pay still exists twenty years later – see the women of the BBC as an example.  In a renewed effort to improve equality in the workplace, a new UK reporting legislation comes into effect in April 2018 whereby firms with more than 250 employees must publish details of their gender split, roles and salaries.  This will provide a greater level of transparency on the issue.  Another major cause for pay disparity is the lack of women in senior roles.  There are many thoughts and reasons for this issue.  Sheryl Sandberg says women hold themselves back in different ways while Anne-Marie Slaughter points to workplaces cultures and the dual role of women as both workers and caregivers.  Clearly more needs to be done to tackle these issues and others such as unconscious bias and work life balance for women in the workplace.

The Equal Pay Act and new reporting legislation are all steps in the right direction but don’t go far enough.  The reporting will give us a better understanding of the problem but actions are what really matter.  It should be a requirement for organisations to make action plans to close the gender gap and to provide more support for women to reach leadership positions.  Governments can also assist by handing out penalties for those who don’t follow the new rules.  This is not just a women issue but an economic imperative – according to PWC, economic gender parity could add £188bn to GDP in the UK.  So, let’s raise awareness, put on our out of office, and promote real change within our organisations.