The gender pay gap debate in the U.K. is reaching a boiling point as journalists at the Financial Times say they may strike after discovering that female editorial staffers earn 13% less than their male colleagues.
The gulf is “the biggest shortfall in a decade,” according to a union rep. A recent internal pay audit found that female employees at the paper make up the majority of those in the company’s £30,000 to £50,000 salary bracket, while men dominate the £60,000-plus pay bands. More than 70 male staff members earn more than £80,000, versus just over 20 women.
The FT says it takes the matter of gender pay seriously; that it has a “50/50 female-male split” among its workforce, “more women in senior roles across the newsroom and commercial teams than ever before,” and a long list of “active initiatives…to further that progress.”
The FT news comes amid the blockbuster equal pay fight at the BBC that ignited when the broadcaster disclosed a yawning divide between the pay of its male and female talent earlier this month.
Shortly after the revelation, 42 female BBC employees demanded that the company fix the pay gap immediately, not by the 2020 deadline previously proposed.
“[T]he BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now,” said the letter.
The letter’s signatories are right—gender pay gaps at the BBC and elsewhere are long-standing. So why all the outrage, why now?
What’s different about the pay gaps at the BBC and the FT is that real numbers—and in the Beeb’s case, real names—are attached to the problem, rather than national or industry averages that are tossed around on occasions like Equal Pay Day.
“What’s driving this is the disclosure; when it’s in your own backyard, that makes it real,” Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute told Fortune. “It’s not just some general thing that exists in the ether to banter about.”
In that case, fury over gender pay gaps in the U.K. will only grow from here. That’s because a law that took effect in April requires all U.K. companies with 250 employees or more to publish by next April data on their gender pay gaps that will be compiled into a public ranking.
“There will be nowhere to hide,” says Francke.
By contrast, companies in the U.S. still have plenty of cover. The U.S. has no laws mandating disclosure and one of the few measures promoting pay transparency—an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that applied to federal contractors—was reversed by President Donald Trump earlier this year.
The new U.K. law is expected to apply to 9,000 employers with 15 million workers—about half the nation’s workforce. Despite its wide reach, the law has faced criticism (including by yours truly) for lacking teeth. Once their gender pay gap figures are published, companies aren’t required to explain their gaps or do anything to narrow them.
But based on this month’s events, it seems that the new U.K. measure does indeed have a “stick” component—in the form of public outrage.
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