Arabella Weir: The invisible woman, and other tales of the workplace

Are we still so grateful for being allowed to work that we dare not seek equal pay?

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Depressing new re-search shows that the gender pay gap is growing for women in senior jobs. It would appear that we (I don't actually have what you might call a senior job per se, but you know what I mean) are being paid 26 per cent less than our male counterparts. Great.

A female director in a service sector such as retail or business earns an average of £57,000 compared with more than £70,000 for her male colleague, the Institute of Directors' findings showed. The institute's own director described the findings as "extremely disappointing". No kidding. According to the study, we come in low at the start and then never catch up. And the picture is just as bleak in less well-paid jobs where men are ahead of women by £6,000.

How did we let this happen? Are we still so pathetically grateful for being allowed to work at all that we daren't demand equal pay? Do we still fear that we shouldn't really be there and suspect that rocking the boat will elicit unwelcome scrutiny as to our usefulness at work?

In a society that invites us to regard magazines such as Nuts, FHM and all the other "boys'" glossies as nothing more than a postmodern laugh, and where the most powerful female movie stars pose naked to publicise their movies, it's easy to see how the pay gap got bigger.

From my own experiences I am sure one's ability to demand equality is hugely, if not solely, dependent on the atmosphere in which one works. We surely all remember the female broker who took her firm to court after being asked to "wear a skirt for Japanese clients". Had her boss been one of a minority of men in that workplace it's very doubtful that he'd ever even have thought of making the suggestion.

I met a highly paid City man recently who proudly told me that, when a new member of his team made his first big "kill", tradition had it that he'd drop his trousers to his ankles and do a lap of honour around the office. I asked where that left a woman broker. He breezily replied that, in fact, they'd had "one" recently, but after she'd declined to do the lap by joking that she wasn't wearing any knickers, he'd had to let her go because she'd injected "too sexual a note" to the team. He added that being very pretty she'd conjured up an image that made it difficult for her male colleagues to deal with her thereafter. Presumably if she'd been ugly it would have been all right. What makes it possible for any man to dream up such an extraordinary ritual? And that's completely leaving aside the whole homoerotic element of it.

As the only permanent female member of The Fast Show cast I had plenty of experiences leaving me with the sensation that I wasn't valued as much as male colleagues. My frustration eventually took the form of writing a character called Girl Who Boys Can't Hear. There'd be a sketch in which a given situation needed to be resolved; my character would be the one with the solution, but it was only when one of the guys repeated her solution verbatim that everybody else heard it. To my surprise, the character was recognised straightaway by our audiences. I had, typically for a woman one might say, feared that no one would get the joke.

However, last week we did a live show in London to promote the launch of a new Fast Show compilation DVD. The next day, the only male teacher at my kids' school came bouncing up to me and said, "My mate came to see The Fast Show last night. Why weren't you in it?" I explained that I was, that I'd appeared in two sketches alone on stage, and then alone but later joined by the instantly recognisable Richard E Grant. "No, he said you weren't in it. He didn't see you." So, it turns out we're not just inaudible: we're invisible too – that is, unless we're nude. No wonder we get paid less; after all, we've got fewer clothes to buy.

The national lexicon has a new phrase – coined by a man, they say

Warming to my cause, let me run this story past you.

An article recently appeared in this paper's sister daily, The Independent, featuring Delaney describing the "creative process behind his best ads". One of them was the Barclays commercial starring Anthony Hopkins in which he said "Does my bum look big in this?" Mr Delaney proposes that this ad launched the catchphrase into "the national lexicon" and is proof that it was a "tour de force of writing..."

What an interesting notion, given that the ad was made five years after I'd first started regularly writing and performing the character Insecure Woman in The Fast Show whose catchphrase was "Does my bum look big in this?" and 18 months after my book of the same title had been on the bestseller lists for months.

Of course, the very act of making a fuss about this at all nails me as a girlie – my Dad's advice would have been not to have let anyone know that I had ever even read the piece in the first place.

My turn with the conch, darling...

Is it possible to win an argument with a spouse? Shouldn't a married person put all thoughts of winning out of their head for ever? Aren't all arguments between married couples simply a struggle over, as William Golding might have put it, who's got the conch?

I'm beginning to realise it's just not possible to exchange information with my husband. Obviously, by "exchange information", I mean get him to do everything my way and admit that I'm right about everything.

Predictably, I have a tendency towards being highly strung. My excuse, if you like, is that this energy is how the daily mountain is climbed – the shopping, the kids' lunchboxes, remembering their PE kits, guitars, recorders, homework on the right days, making supper, etc, etc, on top of working full-time.

However, instead of accepting that I do the lion's share and according me the due respect, my husband has developed a philosophical curve ball suggesting that perhaps "regular intake of broccoli and music practice aren't key to survival".

It's a win-win because, in the abstract, of course those things aren't on an astronaut's list when sent into space. But, for someone like me, who has been caught in a headlock by food and the threat of failure since I was knee-high, brassicas and being able to play 'Für Elise' are the linchpins of a successful future.

It's not as if I know anything at all about cooking or music, and left to my own devices probably wouldn't bother, but while my husband ponders the meaning of life, I feel as if I'm free falling through parenthood in danger of producing two kids who genuinely believe "you" is spelt "u", think Beethoven is a dog's name, and are riddled with scurvy.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

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