Drastic action is needed if we are to rid corporate Britain of this immoral gender pay gap

Young women enter the working world accustomed to the idea that they’re unlikely to earn as much money as their brothers, husbands and male friends – this immediately curbs their expectations

Josie Cox
Thursday 03 August 2017 00:01 BST
FTSE 100 companies pay male CEOs on average nearly twice as much as women in the same position
FTSE 100 companies pay male CEOs on average nearly twice as much as women in the same position (PA)

The BBC was last month castigated for cultivating a yawning gender pay gap within its top ranks. On Thursday, however, a new report serves as a reminder that we must not let our fixation on a single organisation’s failings distract from an injustice which is prevalent across almost every corner of corporate Britain.

According to the damning research compiled by the High Pay Centre and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, male FTSE 100 bosses earned an average of £4.7m in 2016, markedly outpacing the £2.6m average pocketed by their six female counterparts.

The highest paid woman was Alison Cooper, of tobacco giant Imperial Brands, with a salary of £5.5m. That was up from the £3.6m she was given in 2015, but still only just over an eighth of what advertising Tsar Sir Martin Sorrell made.

The report finds that overall FTSE 100 pay has actually shrunk since last year, marginally improving the ratio between worker and boss. However, we must not allow that silver lining to blind us to cold, hard facts: we have a deep-rooted, vicious problem when it comes to gender pay equality and it won’t get fixed – at the BBC or elsewhere – until we’re brave enough to employ the necessary resources.

Basic management theory dictates that salaries should serve to incentivise and attract the best talent for any given job.

As a vociferous proponent of equal pay, and also a manager of a small team, I fully believe that the right person for any given job is the candidate who is most qualified, regardless of gender, race, religion, background, belief or heritage.

But if Government, big industry and campaign groups really are as serious about levelling the playing field as they say, then perhaps the clue really is in the cash.

Unthinkable, I know, but what would happen if the average female FTSE 100 CEO was suddenly awarded a salary of £4.7m and the men were forced to make do with £2.6m?

Yes, (and perhaps ironically) money is unlikely to be the sole solution to the age-old injustice, but perhaps overshooting and creating a negative, temporary bias would set the process in motion, make us squirm and help us understand what really needs to be done to fix what’s broken.

Jeremy Corbyn backs BBC women presenters in gender pay gap dispute

I don’t for a second think all chiefs of Britain’s big companies are wholly motivated by the size of their pay cheques. I’m not convinced that Sir Martin wouldn’t do his job for two thirds of the money. And I don’t know if we’d get more female candidates in the final round of every executive job interview if we slapped an extra few million on the offer. But I think it’s worth sparing a thought for precedents and messaging.

After all, it is surely not unreasonable to conclude that the pool of top female talent for any given job would be greater if the pay gap weren’t an indisputable reality souring the image of our country’s private sector. If young women are educated and enter the working world accustomed to the idea that they’re unlikely to earn as much money as their brothers, husbands and male friends, we’re immediately curbing their expectations.

In fact, research last month indicated that female graduates are dramatically underestimating their earning power when applying for their first job out of university, asking for less, getting less and setting them on course for a lower income path over the decades to come.

Artificially adjusting the balance, forcing companies to pay a female CEO at least the same as the average of all her male counterparts, might seem a crude and maybe drastic measure, but it is plain that radical action is needed to break a system that’s outdated and immoral.

I appreciate the measures the Government is already implementing: campaigns to get young women into STEM subjects, a forced disclosure on gender pay across all public companies that employ at least 250 people, events, forums, reports and task forces.

The intention is noble but the results are lacklustre.

The BBC got us talking by publicly being shamed. Surely these results from 100 other companies should require us to do a hell of a lot more than just talk.

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