The 100 Year Timeline of Gender Pay Inequality


Today, April 13th 2021, marks Equal Pay Day, a day that encourages everyone to get out and fight for employment equality. Though the British government now requires companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap data, the latest reported figures this month show a worryingly widening gap.

The gender pay gap is an equality measure that shows the difference in average earnings between women and men. The gender pay gap does not show differences in pay for comparable jobs – this refers to unequal pay, which has been illegal for 45 years.

Here, we timeline the 100-year history of pay inequality – both unequal pay and the gender pay gap – in the UK and Kent Business School’s Dr Samantha Evans gives her view on the issue.

WW1: Many women took on jobs while men were deployed in the army. One of the earliest ever recorded strikes was in 1918 by female tram and bus conductors, resulting in a settlement of a bonus pay to make them equal.

1920s and 30s: With women’s suffrage, women’s groups and trade unions encouraged women to demand equal pay and equal unemployment benefit as an election issue.

WW2: The issue of equal pay was again raised during WWII and was demanded by trade unions and women’s organisations from the 1950s onwards.

1968: On 7th June 1968, workers at a Ford plant in Dagenham, East London went on strike because they were being paid 87 per cent less than men doing the same job. Three weeks later, all of the female worker’s salaries were raised to 92 per cent of what was paid to men.

1970: The strikes at Ford contributed to the campaign for equal pay and the passage of the Equal Pay Act (1970). According to this act, men and women are entitled to equal pay and terms of employment. It was implemented formerly in 1976.  During these years employers often re-graded jobs by changing job titles to evade the Equal Pay Act.

2010: According to the Equality Act 2010 men and women are entitled to equal pay and conditions if they are doing the same job; like work (work that is the same or broadly similar); work rated as equivalent (different work, but which is rated under a job evaluation scheme as equivalent); or work of equal value (that is, work that requires similar effort, skill and decision-making). Under this law, it is possible to bring a claim up to six years after leaving a job.

July 2013: The Coalition government proposed upfront fees of £1,200 which workers will have to pay for taking employment tribunal cases against their employers. Government statistics showed 75 per cent fewer cases were subsequently brought over three years.

26 July 2017: Changes to the Equality Act came into force in April 2017, which meant that companies with more than 250 employees have been legally required to report their gender pay gap figures by the end of the financial year. Organisations were expected also to reveal the proportion of men and women who receive financial bonuses.

The Supreme Court also ruled that the Government’s employment tribunal fees were illegal.  The Ministry of Justice took steps to abolish the fees in employment tribunals.

2019/2020: The results for 2019 found that it had widened in favour of men, with 78 per cent of the biggest companies in Britain reporting a gap. Covid-19 meant that reporting on the gender pay gap was not able to be achieved in 2020.

Today: The gender pay gap widened across the UK economy in 2020-21, reaching 11.1 per cent (up from 10.6 per cent). Ad agencies recorded a higher-than-average gender pay gap, at 17.8 per cent.

“The fact that employers are still unable to address the gender pay gap in 2021 is symptomatic of the inherent challenges faced by women in the workplace,” explains Dr Samantha Evans, the Athena Swan lead for Kent Business School, an organisation that serves as a body of recognition for the advancement of gender equality in higher education.

“In making a real commitment to equal pay, employers will start to address the systemic discrimination that has meant men are earning more than women.”

To read more expert comments on equality in the workplace click here. 

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