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Mind The Gap – Does Equal Pay Day Drive Us Down The Right Track?

Mind The Gap – Does Equal Pay Day Drive Us Down The Right Track?

Today marks Equal Pay Day, the point in the year from which women are effectively working for free when average female salaries are compared against men’s. With the day comes important discussion around the inequality of women in the workplace and highlighting of the sad reality that women’s salaries still lag behind men’s in a huge range of jobs.

The Equal Pay DaMind The Gapy statistics show a clear imbalance in the financial rewards of women in the workplace. The UK gender pay gap is 13.9 percent, meaning that the average woman earns 86p for every £1 earned by the average man. Comparatively, women stop earning seven weeks before the end of the year.

But we must be careful to ensure we are looking at the full picture. Sometimes, statistics in isolation can fail to embrace the nuances of an incredibly complex issue – and may miss the issue or issues that truly need addressing. Our strategy for addressing the disparity can only be strong if we are highlighting the real problems – and Equal Pay Day can be misleading.

The image of women comparatively working for free until the end of the year is a strong one. It is provocative to illustrate in measurable, clear and relatable terms what women are missing out on – a clever way to demonstrate a real problem.

But the analogy can be misinterpreted. The chosen statistic does not compare like-for-like jobs and conclude that women are being swindled out of their due compared to their male peers – although sadly this is still true for many and must be unforgivingly addressed.

Instead, by comparing the mean salary for both sexes, the statistic is founded on the disparity in the types of job men and women secure in the first place, the chosen or available career paths and achievable job levels, and the societal trend and (accompanying business attitude) towards women being the primary carers in a family.

What we should all feel angry about is a combination of societal and business trends and outlooks. It isn’t that employers are necessarily giving unequal salaries for the same role, although this is still sadly rife. It is a whole range of societal attitudes towards women, and the responses and reflections of this in the workplace.

It is of course largely that women are still the default carer when it comes to children, and thus make up a vast proportion of part-time and underpaid roles, as they care for their family or return to work having had an ‘experience gap’. There is some data – although not fully up to date – which suggests that women actually outperform men in salaries in their 20’s, but that this drops off rapidly around the typical age of child-bearing.

Higher Wages Protest

It must be recognised that employers themselves are not entirely to blame for the lack of female CEOs (of the UK’s top 50 private companies, only six had female bosses). Much will be personal choice when it comes to family care.

But society across many avenues undoubtedly has a central role to play in continuing the stereotype that women are better or more suitable carers. In a sad vicious circle, the pay gap itself encourages women rather than men to be the partners to give up or take time out from their careers, so that the higher earning partner can continue their career uninterrupted. The general trend for women to partner with slightly older men, who by inference will tend to have more work experience, is also likely to add to the pay gap between couples and boost this tendency.

But employers patently ought to be doing far more to counter the prejudices around primary care.

According to The Fawcett Society, one in ten of the women who had returned from maternity leave had been given a more junior role. Approximately 54,000 women are forced to leave their job early every year as a result of poor treatment after they get pregnant or have a baby, according to The Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Employers cannot ignore this. They must recognise that months or years of 24/7 care for children is not an experience gap – responsibility, dealing with stress, leadership, stamina and time management are but a handful of the skills that primary carers employ day in, day out, and which ought to be recognised for what they are. The viral ‘World’s Toughest Job’ interview video is a fantastic illustration of this.

Until all this unpaid care work is valued and economised, we will never achieve gender pay parity. And of course, we will only have sustainable equality of pay when employers across all sectors offer genuine and viable flexible working for both men and women.

Another key element is, of course, the types of job roles that women typically take, compared to men. Only 14% of technology roles – a typically highly-paid career path – are held by women. Of those working in health and social care – a typically low-paid sector – 78% are women. Women take the majority of low paid roles – indeed, of those earning less than the living wage, over 60% are women. The statistics go on.

An enormous part of the solution will be down to encouraging girls from an early age, at home and in education, to pursue talents in sectors otherwise dominated by men. We are all responsible for this and must open our eyes to the gender boundaries and expectations we shape around young people from birth – from the toys, clothes and chores we give them to the language we use around men and women in general.

We must make sure to dig ever deeper when it comes to championing women’s equality in the workplace. Data like those upon which Equal Pay Day is founded are vital, but we have to see the bigger picture and not be blinkered by illustrative statistics. The real issues are much wider: a complex web linking employers, education, parents, couples, and – most importantly – society at large. Aiming to close the gender pay gap through targeting employers on one issue alone is not enough – the disparity is deep-rooted and must be confronted as such. Weeding out the prejudices will take stubborn attack from all angles.

#CharlotteProudman – Sexism and The Importance of Context

Alexander Carter-Silk & Charlotte Proudman

A young female barrister who named and shamed a sexist message on LinkedIn by senior lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk has today been subjected to a barrage of social media abuse and countless criticisms from journalists on her choice to publicly out the sender.

What I find not only disappointing but exceptionally frustrating is the vilification of a woman who has had the initiative and courage to expose the kind of everyday sexism that impacts on so many of us throughout our careers.

The message read:

“Charlotte, delighted to connect, I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!!

“You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.

“Always interest [sic] to understand [sic] people’s skills and how we might work together.”

Many commentators – social media users and professional journalists alike – have questioned why the comments made by Alexander Carter-Silk over the professional networking site have been pointed out in the first place.

Sarah Vine, in this morning’s Daily Mail, for example, claims that “the human race is in deep trouble” if comments which are “simple, straightforward compliments” cannot be made without offence and criticism. Hundreds have taken to social media to ask why a positive remark on a woman’s appearance should be so condemned, many hurling abuse at Charlotte Proudman herself for her “silly” complaint. Sarah Vine – depressingly, in my opinion – uses the term “Feminazi”.

The backlash against Charlotte Proudman's tweets add to the depressingly abuse of feminists across social media

The backlash against Charlotte Proudman’s tweets add to the depressingly prevalent abuse of feminists across social media

It appears that all these commentators have missed one crucial aspect of this sexism row – and of identifying and calling out sexist comments in general. It’s all about the context.

Take Ms Proudman’s LinkedIn profile photo, the subject of Mr Carter-Silk’s remarks. If she were to have posted this as a profile photo on Facebook, for example, friends commentating on her appearance with phrases like “stunning!!!” would generally be well-accepted. The context of the post is everything.

The same is true of catcalling. Being shouted at that I’m sexy, from across the street when I’m walking by myself isn’t a compliment – it’s street harassment. Someone telling me I’m sexy on Tinder or in a bar, after exchanging flirtatious looks, would generally be a compliment.

Whether or not a comment is acceptable is entirely dependent on a whole range of factors. One is to what extent comment on a woman’s appearance is actively welcomed. Others include the relevant location, time, platform, extent and nature of the comments and countless more entirely vital aspects of context which change the way we view any kind of comment, not just those made about a woman’s appearance.

What so many media and social media commentators seem to be missing is the context of Mr Carter-Silk’s approach. LinkedIn is a professional networking site, somewhere to promote your professional abilities, make connections for work and learn more about different sectors.

The comment being made by a strange man twice her age would have probably been seen as creepy in most situations, but the fact that this was made on a professional forum and followed up by an invitation to connect for work reasons means that this is quite clearly a case of misogyny. It is simply not acceptable to comment on a woman’s appearance in this context.

Some complaints have been made at the nature of the comments themselves, claiming that they are not destructive enough to be outed in this way. Such claims, in my opinion, clearly have no appreciation of the impact of appreciating or dismissing women in the workplace based on their looks rather than their skills, especially when held by people in positions of power. How are we supposed to close the gender pay gap, get more women into senior positions and increase female representation in STEM-based professions when our worth is so based on our appearances? This is a basic appreciation of the impact of long-held views, and comments in this context – even if not aggressive, cruel or physically dangerous – are clearly sexist.

Further criticisms have been levelled at Charlotte Proudman for naming and shaming the senior lawyer, rather than complaining but keeping the identity of the sender anonymous. But I think this is a totally baseless complaint. Yes, social media ‘mob justice’ can get out of hand. But it is in the public interest to expose those who act outside of societally – and legally – acceptable forms of behaviour. We call out politicians, celebrities and other public figures for comments which are unacceptable. Take, for example, the recent coverage of Ian Duncan Smith’s comments about non-disabled people being ‘normal’. We do so because it raises awareness of prejudices in today’s society, because it exerts pressure on those implicated to change their ways, and because it sends a message.

Why is it wrong to publicly shame those who behave unacceptably?

Why is it wrong to publicly shame those who behave unacceptably?


Naming and shaming Alexander Carter-Silk was, in my opinion, absolutely the right thing to do. The claim that Ms Proudman should have taken it no further than responding privately and referring her complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority takes away the opportunity for the perpetrator to fully understand and perhaps regret his actions: indeed, the senior lawyer’s ‘apology’ email to Ms Proudman after her private reply merely expresses his regret that she took offence, and takes no responsibility for the nature of his comments. He has, in fact, tried to explain away his remarks by claiming that he was merely commenting on the “professional quality of the presentation on LinkedIn which was unfortunately misinterpreted”. This is not a man who thinks there is a problem. Perhaps through the maelstrom that has surrounded his public shaming, Mr Carter-Silk and others like him will start to think otherwise.

It is promising that some in the media are picking up on the outing of everyday sexism that is so insidious and pervasive in our society. However, until critics from across social and professional media start to properly evaluate context, we can, unfortunately, expect many more hullabaloos over men and women who simply take a stand against unacceptable behaviour of all kinds.