U.K. companies short their female employees

Equal pay for equal work? Eh, not so much.

Published January 27, 2006 6:42PM (EST)

Bad news for British women: Nearly one in five of the biggest U.K. companies is breaking the law by paying its female employees less than its male employees to do the same work, the Guardian reported Friday. The finding comes from a recent review by the country's Equal Opportunities Commission, in which 870 of Britain's biggest employers underwent pay structure evaluations. Turns out, 16 percent of these companies have been significantly stiffing their female workers.

It gets worse: "The EOC said that the true proportion was likely to be higher as [the companies who participated in the study] were among the more enlightened employers, having voluntarily undertaken pay reviews," the Guardian notes. Given that only 34 percent of major U.K. employers have gotten around to doing government-recommended internal reviews of pay gaps between male and female employees, the EOC's chair says "even these figures mask the true extent of the problem."

The EOC review ruled out the possibility that the pay discrepancies are just a fluke. According to the Guardian report, this "gap between men and women's salaries  could only be explained by the workers' gender," with women "routinely being paid less for doing the same job as their male colleagues."

And why? Oh, you know why: "The survey also revealed that women were routinely missing out on senior jobs, starting on lower salaries and taking longer to get promoted, largely because they were more likely to take career breaks to have children." By contrast, the EOC found that big financial companies like Lloyds TSB featured "high-flying men reaping rewards in bonuses because the bank feared it might lose them." And "men were also more likely to negotiate higher starting salaries when they joined the bank."

So, remember: When entering a new job, angle for more money. Meanwhile, the Guardian story closed on a more cheerful note: The U.K.'s wage gap does seem to be closing, if gradually. "Last year the pay gap between men and women was 17% for full-time workers and 38% for part-time workers," the paper reported, "compared with 20% and 41% respectively five years ago in 2000."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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