British women are 'too polite' to challenge pay equality

Models of a man and woman stand on a pile of coins and bank notes. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Archive/PA Images

Millions of women could be missing out on higher salaries, as 82% never negotiate their pay when applying for jobs, new research has shown.

A survey of 1,000 women by employment law specialists, Slater and Gordon, found half of female workers believe they are being underpaid.

Yet, nearly three quarters of those 71% admit they have not challenged their boss over the issue.

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 The fear of being “rude” or “ungrateful”, compounded by concerns that challenging pay could jeopardise benefits, such as maternity leave or flexible working, for 21%, is silencing women when it comes to money.

And once in the work place, things do not get better, as many women who discuss money with their colleagues (50%), discover their male peers are being paid more for similar or lower ranking roles (27%).

“There really is a split between the sexes when it comes to negotiating pay, not only when starting employment, but also once they are in employment,” Ruby Dinsmore, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said.

“Men are often far more forceful when it comes to negotiations and much more commercial in their approach, which generally results in higher salaries and better packages.

 “As they do this on the way in, they are in a stronger position to secure increases to their salary and benefits. Meaning the pay gap between them and their female colleagues doing the same or similar work continues to widen.

She added: “This means women, who may not feel as comfortable asking for more money, are disadvantaged by a system which rewards those willing to engage in negotiation.”

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Although many women said the prospect of discussing money at work is “uncomfortable” or “impolite”, research shows their fear is unfounded.

Of those who do enter into negotiations, 70% are successful, receiving some or all of the amount requested.

Despite many women struggling to fight for a pay raise for themselves, they are fierce advocates for colleagues.

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One in five had secured bonuses or raises for female colleagues and half of all women encourage friends and workmates to ask for more money.

Dinsmore said: “Workplaces must also be geared to spot and support all staff for their achievements.

“There will be many women who will ask for a raise or promotion to reflect their work, while others will not. A good employer must be able to identify and reward men and woman equally for the same or similar role.

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“The research also shows us women are worried about risking other benefits like maternity support or flexible working arrangements by asking for more money. This should not be a concern as the issue of pay and other contractual or statutory benefits shouldn’t be connected.”

One measure often used as an indicator of unequal pay between men and woman is the gender pay gap, which became compulsory for companies with over 250 staff to report in 2018.

The Office for National Statistics puts the UK gender pay gap for full-time employees at 8.9% last year, meaning woman are being paid just £380,000 on average over their lifetimes, compared with £643,000 for men.

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This gender pay gap has only shrunk by half a percent since 2012. While a gender pay gap is not unlawful, inequality of pay between men and woman doing the same or a similar role is.

The most popular things women name as responsible for the ongoing divide are men dominating senior roles (35%), unconscious gender bias (17%), women taking time off to raise children (32%) and sexism (30%). Only 6% put the gap down to women preferring lower paid roles or sectors.

A third believe the way to tackle the pay divide is through proper transparency during the pay, promotion and rewards process, to minimise the negotiation imbalance.

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Organisations are still learning to communicate about their pay gaps internally. Just over 10% were aware if their workplace publishes information on their gender pay gap.