Not knowing is half the problem.
For some people I speak to, the gender pay gap doesn’t seem to register as a reality. I can understand why millennials feel this: the idea that women are paid, on average, 18% less than their male colleagues for doing the same work is so alien to us as a generation that it is literally unbelievable.
But it is the sad truth. Not acknowledging it is either naïve, selfish or head-in-the-sand behaviour.
As a woman, I am likely to be earning less than my male colleagues, even just five years into my professional career. It’s not because my colleagues are selfish or believe in gender inequality. It’s not even that my employer really believes that. The problem is embedded process, institutionalisation, and the stubborn, persistent taboo of talking openly about pay.
It is well documented that women are less likely to ask for pay rises than their male counterparts. It is also well documented that women are less likely to push for a promotion, often believing themselves to be under-qualified, compared to men. I can attest to these facts. I am highly-educated, professionally successful, and always strive to do my best. Yet I have never asked for a pay rise at work. I have never contested the often below-inflation pay rises that I am “lucky” to receive each year.
Why do I feel lucky?
It’s because I am infected with my own particular strain of the common millennial plague that is imposter syndrome. I got a place on a consultancy grad scheme in 2011, in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the month when youth unemployment rose to almost 1 million in the UK. Graduating students were “lucky to get a job at all”.
That message, fed repeatedly through parents, employers and the media throughout your formative professional years, resonates and sinks in. I still consider myself lucky to have a job, lucky that I enjoy it and lucky that it affords me the flexibility to pursue other passions. It feels wrong to challenge the pay system. It feels wrong to question the employer that has been so generous in giving me a job if they are paying me fairly.
But I do know male colleagues that have challenged. I know male colleagues that have pushed for promotion or different roles. I know male colleagues who have threatened to leave for higher-paying jobs and then remained with my company. What I don’t know is how much they now earn compared to me.
That is why I believe so wholeheartedly in Sliips. It is because I felt demoralised on November 10th 2016. It is because that is the date from which I, as a female professional, was statistically working for free. It is because I look at my male colleagues and wonder.
As much as I would love to believe I am being paid fairly for the work I do, the truth is that I do not know. I don’t know because we ‘aren’t supposed’ to talk about pay. I don’t know because there is no view of what my peers are earning. I don’t know because managers don’t talk about pay with us openly. That needs to change. Until we have pay clarity, until we know there is no gender pay gap, until we know employees are paid fairly; every November when Equal Pay Day comes along female employees like me will look around their office and wonder: Am I being paid fairly?
Well, I believe the time is here when we should no longer have to wonder. Everyone should have the right to know whether they are being paid fairly, in any circumstance. If you believe this too, then join me by signing up to Sliips and opening up the conversation around pay.