It is widely accepted that women are generally paid less than men in the workplace. Here are some facts:
Women can expect to earn £300,000 less than men over their working lives: there is a gap of £5,732, or 24%, in average full-time annual salaries between the sexes and this is more than four decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
It is estimated that this pay gap will be equalised by 2060, but I believe it will will be well before that and the reason is literally staring us in the face: it is the internet.
The Fawcett Society, a women’s rights organisation, said the analysis was the latest evidence of a financial price paid by many women after having children.
“The gender pay gap becomes a significant lifetime pay penalty. The gap widens for older women and becomes a significant pensions gap in retirement,” said the Fawcett Society’s chief executive Sam Smethers.
Commenting on the £300,000 lifetime gap, the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Far more must be done to tackle the UK’s gender pay gap. We need more quality part-time jobs, better-paid fathers’ leave and more free childcare from the end of maternity leave to help mothers get back to work after having children.”
Okay, so that’s what people say, but they are actually hamstrung by the reasons they give for the sizeable gap in pay; women will continue to have babies and an awful lot of fathers will decline paternity leave; it’s possibly an inherent/assumed competition thing. Talking of which, let’s have a look at remuneration in the world of in sport.
Do you remember that classic Fast Show sketch? The football manager, Ron Manager, is waiting for his post-match TV interview and a female journalist arrives and asks him a question. He says: “Where’s the bloke?” “What do you mean?” she replies; “Where’s the man for the interview?”
Well things have changed since then.
96 years ago, 53,000 people watched a women’s football match at Goodison Park and there were more than 150 women’s teams playing the game.
Yes, it was around wartime, and those glory days came to a halt in 1921. The Football Association deemed the sport “quite unsuitable for females” and banned clubs from loaning pitches to women. The ban lasted a full 50 years, condemning the women’s game to exist in the shadows.
Other sports were scarcely less hostile. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, thought women’s sport “the most unaesthetic sight human eyes could contemplate”. From 1928 to 1960, women were not allowed to compete in Olympic races of more than 200 metres, for fear they might get too tired.
So the history of women’s sport is one of wasted opportunities because of ingrained sexism. Men have enjoyed more chances to play, better coaching and better facilities. Women have been paid so little – if at all – that many of the best athletes have had to retire prematurely.
International sport remains a world away from achieving gender parity, but there are and have been massive shifts. In tennis, since 2007, women have earned equal prize money in all Grand Slam tournaments, despite playing only the best of three sets to the men’s five.
A spate of female teams have turned professional in recent years and their efforts have been better marketed. As standards and awareness have risen, it has been proved that a sizable audience does indeed exist for women’s sport.
Men’s sport might be near its peak. Professionalism has been in place for so long, and tactics and youth development structures are so well evolved, that the scope for further improvement is limited.
But it is not this way in women’s sport. In many games, professionalism is so new that there many achievements and records to be bettered. If women’s sport is to reach its potential, progress must be made in the boardroom as well as on the pitch.
Most sporting organisations remain crusty and male-dominated – only 16% of those on British Olympic committees are women and until there are significant improvements in this domain – 30% representation is considered the tipping point to change cultures in the workplace – then women’s interests on the pitch will always remain secondary to those of men.
Governing bodies are increasingly aware of the importance of women’s sport – not just for its own sake, but also because of its impact on the bottom line. Talking of which: England football captain Steph Houghton, the country’s best-paid female footballer, earns £65,000 a year; her male counterpart Wayne Rooney receives £300,000 a week.
That is down to crude economics: the difference is almost exactly proportional to the gulf in attendances between the Women’s Super League, watched by 57,000 last season, and the Premier League, watched by 13 million.
Howevever, in ten years’ time, the gap will have been dramatically reduced, as it will in the workplace and I believe that in both cases it will be due to the internet.
The internet is the only mainstream media outlet where women have a totally equal voice to men, it is the only platform with built-in equality; if you want to express your views, you can.
The world of social media acts like an echo chamber, where participants are bombarded with people’s thought and beliefs and it has a cumulative effect. If the MD of a company goes on Twitter and says anything negative about women in work, he will be slated, as Kevin Roberts, ex-chairman of MC Saatchi learned to his cost, having been fired for denying gender bias exists in the advertising world.
Forget locker-room chat, it has been replaced by conversation on the internet and you will be judged by your fellow users, at least half of whom are women, as surely as if you were carrying round a microphone; I really believe that the cumulative drip-drip effect of anti-prejudicial views is having speedy and substantial effects on societal norms, on what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Within a decade, because of this relatively new, but unparalleled and powerful medium, we will look back and wonder what all the fuss about equal pay was about and the same goes for any kind of discrimination; gender, race, mental illness, sexuality or disability.
On the other hand, the internet may not prove to be the dramatic catalyst; in which case women’s pay will never reach parity with that of men’s.