The Gender Pay Gap

Despite the Equal Pay Act 45 years ago, women still earn less than men in Britain today. The difference in pay between men and women remains the clearest and most dramatic example of inequality for women.

What is the gender pay gap?

Overall, women can expect to earn significantly less than men over their entire careers as a result of differences in caring responsibilities, clustering in low skilled and low paid work, the qualifications and skills women acquire, and outright discrimination.

The current overall gap for full time workers is 13.9% 

What are the causes?

There are four big causes of the gender pay gap:


It’s illegal, but some women are still paid less than men for the same work – this can happen when a man and a woman are doing exactly the same role and receiving different pay, or where work of equivalent value carried out by women is underpaid.

Recent research shows that unfair treatment of women remains common, especially around maternity. 54,000 women are forced to leave their job early every year as a result of poor treatment after they have a baby.

Unequal caring responsibilities

Women continue to play a greater role in caring for children, as well as for sick or elderly relatives. As a result more women work part time, and these jobs are typically lower paid with fewer progression opportunities.

The pay gap opens up significantly once women hit their forties. Often as they return from a break to raise children, women find that their male contemporaries are being promoted ahead of them.

A divided labour market

Women are still more likely to be in low paid and low skilled jobs, affecting labour market segregation. 80% of those working in the low paid care and leisure sector are women, while only 10% of those in the better paid skilled trades are women.

Feminised sectors tend to be less valued and less well paid – women make up 60% of those earning less than the living wage.

Men in the most senior roles

Men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles – for example, there are just five female Chief Executives in the FTSE 100.

Where are we now?

Over the summer of 2015, the government consulted on proposals to require firms of over 250 employees to publish their pay gap. Read more about our response here.

Fawcett welcomes the government’s announcement that they will adopt our recommendation that the proposals should include the public sector, and that pay gap figures should include bonuses. New draft regulations are due in the new year and the Fawcett Society will continue to campaign to ensure they deliver for women and take us closer to equal pay.

What can I do about it?

Join in the action on Equal Pay Day on 10th November to raise awareness on women’s #EqualValue. Head to our Equal Pay Day campaign page for more details.

Here are some actions that you can take:

  • Have a conversation at work about pay and find out what your colleagues earn
  • Ask your employer whether they know about the new regulations which came into force in 2016, requiring organisations with over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap figure and see whether they did implement this change
  • Write to your MP and ask them what they and their party are doing to close the gender pay gap

Joining the Fawcett Society or buying from our shop also supports the work we do in fighting to end the gender pay gap.

What else can be done?

As well as mobilising individuals to make a change, we are calling for employers and the Government to take action.

We ask employers to:

  • Advertise jobs at all levels in their organisation as flexible, part-time or a job share unless there is a strong business case not to
  • Unblock the pipeline. Support women to progress to higher paid jobs. Tackle unconscious bias and use targets to measure progress and focus minds.
  • Become a living wage employer – over 60% of those earning less that the living wage are women.

And the government to take action in the following ways:

  • We welcome the government’s announcement that employers will be required to publish their gender pay gap, but we believe they should also be required to show how they calculated it and commit to an action plan to put it right. Alongside this there must be meaningful penalties for those who do not comply.
  • Create targets for apprenticeships and aim for 50:50 recruitment. Apprenticeships are publically funded but at the moment the ones in the highest paid sectors remain dominated by men. There is a £2,000 gender pay gap at apprenticeship level.
  • The introduction of shared parental leave is welcome but at the moment too few fathers will be able to take it. There should be dedicated period of leave for fathers paid closer to replacement earnings rate.
  • The government should build on the extension of free childcare by investing in our childcare infrastructure so that we have affordable, flexible and high quality care for children, enabling more families to balance work and care
  • Give women access to justice – remove harmful employment tribunal fees currently set at £1,200 which prevent women bringing equal pay claims and have resulted in a 80% drop in tribunal discrimination claims


Changes to the State Pension age has affected many women born in the 1950s. Fawcett have done some work on pensions, and you can read our State Pension age debate briefing here.

Where can I find out more?

These links will provide some more in-depth reading:

Fawcett’s written evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee on Women in Executive Management

Parents, work and care: Striking the balance report 2016

Fawcett’s 2016 Equal Pay Day Policy Briefing

Fawcett’s written evidence submitted to the Women and Equalities Committee Gender Pay Gap inquiry

Equal Pay: Where Next? A Fawcett report from the 2010 Equal Pay conference, marking the 40th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.

Office for National Statistics’ Publications on Pay and Gender.

The European Commission’s overview of the gender pay gap in the European Union.

The OECD’S report on gender equality in schools, and how that affects skils.

The Women’s Financial Assets and Debts report

Or read our blog post on how we calculated the gap and why.