Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


Closing the gap

17 July 2015

I rather like the optimistic tone of the government’s consultation on closing the gender pay gap.

Well, it might be optism. Or it might be bull headed refusal to face facts.

Chapter 1 starts: ‘Paying men and women differently for the same job is unlawful and has been for over forty years… Rather than signifying unequal pay, a gender pay gap shows the difference between the average earnings of men and women as a percentage of men’s earnings.’

You could certainly have the equal pay the law demands and still have a gender pay gap. But does anyone think that’s the case? Really? Or do we think the many equal pay cases of recent decades represent the tip of a rather large iceberg of unlawfully unequal pay?

There’s certainly room for discussion about how much of the gender pay gap is about unlawful discrimination and how much of it reflects other factors. But I fear starting with the assumption that we have complete compliance with the current law appears naive at best.

Similarly, the consultation goes on to note that women ‘tend to end up concentrated in sectors that offer narrower scope for financial reward.’ I’d like to have seen some recognition of the possibility that this is not a neutral process; and rather than women simply choosing sectors of low financial reward we, as society, assign low financial reward to those sectors where we find a lot of women.

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