The concept of the gender pay gap (the average difference between men’s and women’s aggregate wages) is widely acknowledged as an issue within the workplace and understandably many are aggrieved that such a gap exists in an age where equality is paramount. The Government is focussed on trying to tackle this issue with the introduction of new reporting regulations in April 2017 that will apply to over 8,000 large businesses. It is anticipated that this will be a significant step forward in combatting the existing gender pay gap divide. Companies and charitable organisations with over 250 employees will be expected to publicly report their gender pay gap as well as the number of males and females in each pay bracket. League tables will be published so that the worst offenders can be identified and those with a smaller gender pay gap can be rewarded through an enhanced reputation and higher productivity.

The gender pay gap has arisen due to a broad range of complex factors and interestingly, the European Commission has attributed a minimal part of the gender pay gap to direct sexual discrimination. Rather, differences in educational choices, the types of occupations sought, the positions held and breaks in employment between the two sexes can explain a large proportion of this gap. The majority of part time and lower paid workers are women and often there is less opportunity for promotion in such jobs. However, all professions are impacted by the gender pay gap including Hollywood actors and actresses and premier league football players, with female players earning tens of thousands of pounds and males in the millions. It is important that we understand the reason behind some of the choices that are made by our women.
Whilst investigating why the gap exists and how it can be minimised appears on many boardroom agenda, some argue that maybe we should be looking further back in time. Caroline Dineage, the Minister for Women, Equalities and Early Years recently rightfully noted that, ‘No one should ever be held back just because of their gender. We now have the lowest gender pay gap on record, but we still have to push further’. Current estimates suggest that it will be at least 50 years before the gap will close. Whilst many deem the gender pay gap as a workplace issue, this simply isn’t the case and differences can also be seen in early childhood. Much research has been conducted in the UK over the past few years, which clearly identifies a disparity in the amount of pocket money received by boys and girls as well as the amount given in the exchange for the completion of chores. One recent survey suggested that boys receive on average 20% more pocket money than girls which delivers a strong message to young people.

From an early age children receive powerful messages from a wide range of sources relating to their value, strengths and expectations of them in adulthood based on gender. Common gender stereotypes persist in a variety of external factors that teach girls from a young age that they are devalued. Let us consider some examples; The toys that children are given to play with clearly highlight this devaluation. Soft toys, toy kitchens and dollies suggest to girls that they are expected to play the passive domestic role whereas boys get to play with chemistry sets and adventurous pirates and superheroes. When children are given fancy dress outfits to illustrate what they want to be when they grow older, girls are often given nurse or hairdresser outfits, whereas boys are given police or doctor uniforms. Television shows only exacerbate the issue with only a reported 30% of main characters being female, suggesting that women are on the periphery to men.

Our use of everyday language supports these ideas and is effectively illustrated in the Always feminine hygiene advert which was created by Lauren Greenfield, the Sundance Film Festival award-winner. When asking a group of teenagers to ‘run like a girl’ they would run slowly, flailing their hands, maybe with an embarrassed expression on their face, whereas young girls would run as they normally would and as fast as they could. The video clearly demonstrates that from puberty many girls perceive the concept of being ‘like a girl’ as being weak and as an insult.

Twitter has been inundated with examples of primary school homework that devalues women. In one such example, children were asked to research a scientist and were asked to answer questions such as what did ‘he’ invent and if ‘he’ had a wife and children.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg and the result is that many females end up feeling devalued from an early age, As a consequence, a woman’s inclination to negotiate their salary in the workplace is often lowered. As such, understanding why women feel devalued and are accepting of such behaviour is one of many ways in which we can help to resolve this issue.

Undoubtedly, much progress has been made over the years and the introduction of new Government legislation will further benefit the problem of the gender pay gap. Yet this is a deep-rooted issue that requires a change in adult attitude and thought processes. By offering our children a wide range of equal opportunities and banishing gender segregation in all areas of life, we set to improve female self-worth and positive developments will no doubt follow in years to come.