Women may have been given equal voting power in 1918 thanks to the introduction of the Representation of the People Act, but 100 years later, it appears that many working women still don't have equal pay when compared to their male equivalents. 

The gender pay gap - that is, the difference between the average earnings of men and women in any role and in any given population - has become a hot topic in the news, with numerous headlines devoted to it during the last 12 months or so.

Most recently the Young Women's Trust published figures based on earnings information taken from the Office of National Statistics' October 2017 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. These figures suggest women in the UK are paid nearly £140 billion a year less than men, meaning the average working woman in the UK is paid £9,112 a year less than the average working man.

The difference in male and female annual pay varies around the country, with London workers affected the most. In the capital, men on average earn £15,054 more than women. Wales has the smallest gender pay gap, with women earning on average £5,600 less than men. But according to campaign group the Fawcett Society, the gap will take 100 years to close if progress continues at the current rate.

Despite these figures the government claims the full-time gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been - according to the Office for National Statistics, the average UK gender pay gap is currently 9.1% based on 2016/2017 figures for full-time workers.

And while the gender pay gap affects women and families throughout the UK, it may also have a negative impact on the economy. According to a report published by the House of Commons Women and Equality Committee in March 2016, closing the gender gap could improve UK productivity.

Gender pay gap reporting

In an attempt to address the issue the government introduced gender pay gap reporting in April 2017. This means any UK organisation with 250 or more employees must publish and report specific figures about its gender pay gap by April 5, 2018 and again every 12 months.

And while having a gender pay gap still won't be illegal, the idea is that reporting on pay gaps could help organisations understand the size of their pay gaps as well as spot issues that could be addressed to reduce them. Annual reporting will also show which organisations are making progress in closing their gender pay gaps, and which are not.

As of the beginning of January 2018, just over 500 companies had published their gender pay gap figures ahead of the April 2018 deadline. Many revealed wide gender pay gaps, all of which have been reported in the press - the widest was a gap of 64.8% by a women's fashion chain. Well-known banks and government departments are among the organisations reporting double-digit gender pay gaps, which means their pay gaps are all above the current national average.

Other inequalities

The gender pay gap isn't the only inequality many women face in the workplace.

Young Women's Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton outlines other inequalities women at work still face 100 years on from gaining the right to vote. "They are more likely than men to be on low pay, in insecure jobs and to face sexual harassment," she says. "Discrimination, high childcare costs and gender stereotypes shut many women out of the workplace altogether."

For instance, in December 2017 the Young Women's Trust published the results of a YouGov survey that found UK employers think men are more ambitious than women. When asked which qualities applied more to men or women, recruiters were 5 times more likely to say that men - rather than women - are ambitious. Yet an earlier survey by the trust found that almost half of young women say they would like to be the boss at work one day.

The charity's report on employer attitudes also found men were thought to be more confident and more likely to ask for pay rises and promotions than women.

"Young women do not lack ambition but too often they are held back by employers who - knowingly or not - discriminate against them"

Dr Carole Easton
Chief Executive, Young Women's Trust

Other findings from the Young Women's Trust survey

  • One in 10 employers are aware of women being paid less than men for jobs at the same level at their organisation during the last year
  • One in 8 large employers admit workplace sexual harassment has gone unreported in their organisation
  • One in 7 admit they would be reluctant to hire a woman who they thought may go on to have children
  • One in 3 say sexism in their workplace exists

How CABA can help

If you're a past or present ICAEW member, or a member of their families and have experienced issues of inequality at work - including the gender pay gap, missed promotions or harassment - we can help.

By calling our legal helpline, provided by LawExpress, you can get the professional advice you need, not just on employment issues but other things too, including family, consumer law, property, tax and more.

To arrange to speak to one of our expert legal advisors, call +44 (0)1788 556 366 (UK only). We also have a range of online legal fact sheets on employment that you may find useful.