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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

There is no excuse for the global problem of unequal pay for equal work

According to the World Economic Forum it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap

Patrick Mouratoglou, who began coaching Serena Williams in 2012, went on to say that offering advice to the 36-year-old American during matches could also stop her doing what she does best - turn matches around. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP
Patrick Mouratoglou, who began coaching Serena Williams in 2012, went on to say that offering advice to the 36-year-old American during matches could also stop her doing what she does best - turn matches around. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP

In 1970, the UK passed the Equal Pay Act, which prohibited less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment. It was an historic moment, finally embedding the principle of equal pay for equal work.

But during the five intervening decades, the implementation of the principle of equal pay for equal work has been what can only be described as a woeful, shameful failure. This failure is rooted not only at the level of policy, but also in cultural attitudes to women in the workplace. And it’s worth adding this is a global problem.

Thankfully, a harsh spotlight is being turned onto this problem. And it is a problem. Why should a woman be paid less than a man if the work she has done is the same? The data shows categorically that we judge work to be worth a whole lot less when a woman does it. As one internet meme characterises it: “Women: like men, only cheaper.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Gender Gap report, it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap. In the UK, women have created Equal Pay Day, which fell in 2016 on November 10. Due to the disparity in pay, they point out that after this day in the year women are essentially working for free.

Recent BBC revelations about their most highly paid stars laid bare the fact that women are paid significantly less. Now, cast your lens further to other sectors. Take sport, for example. There, women are also paid significantly less. The controversy continues about female tennis stars - they are told they don't draw as large a crowd.

What is fascinating in every instance are the excuses for the discrepancy. Women don't ask for enough, it is said. It's the fault of their agents. Women don't have the appeal of men. Before the Equal Pay Act, the excuse for men's higher salaries was that they had to support families and so needed more money; or that employers simply didn't need to pay women more; and that women should just get used to it.

But for women, who often do the most important yet thankless jobs in our societies, income inequality can result in the difference between poverty and a basic living standards. That is, however, beside the point. Equal pay for equal work.

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Read more:

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Then, there's the description about "women's work" and "women's jobs". "Women's work" is a catch-all for housework and childcare. It is uttered rather disdainfully, particularly by men who see it as beneath them. I'm not going to do that, they say, that's women's work.

Is it women's work because it carries no status, or does it carry no status because it is women who do the bulk of it? How bizarre that our societies consider the very fabric of life -- maintaining homes and caring for children -- as something of no status or importance, despite all the grandiose praise for motherhood and homemaking.

In the workplace, some sectors are dominated by women, and some by men - education versus corporate life, for example. The sectors where women dominate -- often thought of as 'women's jobs' -- are less valued and less paid. Or are they less paid because they are "women's jobs"?

We know as well that the gender pay gap is exacerbated by other intersecting factors, such as ethnicity.

Indeed, Black Women's Equal Pay Day was marked in the US earlier this week on Monday. Tennis star Serena Williams came out in passionate support. She pointed out that black women in the US have to work an additional eight months to earn the equivalent of white men. And they earn 17 per cent less than white women.

There's no getting away from it -- women's effort and focus is simply less rewarded. The first step is to admit we do it, and stop hiding behind pathetic excuses.