The persistent gap in pay between men and women is one of the starkest examples of inequality in the UK today. Nationally, women can expect to earn roughly a sixth less than men, but the gap varies according to location and field.
Women in arts and entertainment earn on average 25 per cent less than men; in the financial sector this rises to almost 40 per cent. In 2010, 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women working in Dagenham – home of the first strikes for equal pay – typically earn a third less than their male counterparts.
But unequal pay isn't a mystery – we know the root causes, and we know how to tackle it. What's missing is the political will. Key to closing the gap is making sure employers – and workers – are vigilant. But last week, Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, announced she would not enact Section 78 of the Equality Act. This would have given the Government powers to require businesses with more than 250 staff to measure and publish any gaps in their male and female pay rates.
The Fawcett Society urges the Government to think twice about abandoning Section 78: all the evidence shows measuring and publicising the problem is key to tackling it. Monitoring pay rates isn't difficult; done correctly it can be a simple and inexpensive process that can happen alongside annual accounts. Enacting this legislation would also send a strong signal to employers that unequal pay has no place in the 21st-century.
Effective action on unequal pay also means changing dominant working practices. Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees and reforming the parental leave system have the potential to make a huge difference to employer practices and women's opportunities in the workplace.
Progress on equal pay is stalling. At a time when more women face losing their jobs than ever before, the Government must do more, not less, to tackle the problem.
Ceri Goddard is chief executive of the Fawcett Society, the campaign group for gender equality