British people don’t like to talk about money. To this day, the only people who know how much I earn are my boss, my boyfriend and one of my good friends. Beyond that, even if my girlfriends and I are having discussions about money, we all feel just a tiny bit squeamish to share actual numbers. Why is that? Is it the historic belief that talking about money is vulgar? Do we feel it’s crass to share the number that defines so much of our life? After all, our salary dictates much of how we spend our time – the mortgage we can borrow, the holidays we can go on, the shops we frequent. Why are we so afraid to share it with the people around us?
Beyond this, I fundamentally believe that our discomfort in talking about money holds us back in the quest to obliterate the gender pay gap. Although me chatting about salary with my friends – some of whom work in advertising, some who don’t – might not give me a robust view of the average or market wage I could expect for my individual role, it does make it that little bit more normalised as a behaviour. Throughout my career so far, it’s been very much frowned upon to discuss your salary with colleagues, and understandably. Discussing your salary with immediate colleagues opens up a can of worms. It can make things very difficult for managers and for companies, and it can make people very frustrated indeed. It’s also a very emotive topic, which makes it even more difficult to have a balanced conversation, and it’s almost impossible to come up with a concrete formula to evaluate what someone should be paid based on their skills, experience, the context of the role and the responsibilities they will have.
I understand all that. But isn’t that part of the problem? We’re shying away from this conversation because it’s a little bit difficult. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what we want conversations about equal opportunity to do? I believe we have to be ready to be uncomfortable - if we ever want anything to change.
Many companies will be quick to tell you that the gender pay gap is different to having equal pay. It’s not. Businesses would rather discuss the gender pay gap as it’s a rolled up, anonymised, average gap between the pay of men and women which is frowned upon – but legal. Paying a man and a woman differently for doing an equivalent job is illegal. But at their root, they’re both systemic examples of the fact that women have historically not been given equal opportunity and treatment to men. The fact that they are different terms with different measurement doesn’t take away from the fact they are both inherent signals of discrimination in one form or another, whether conscious or unconscious.
This is only my personal opinion and I am always open to being proved wrong, but I believe that if as a culture we were more comfortable and more open talking about the money we earn, it would remove some of the pain in the long term of ensuring equal pay and the obliteration of the gender pay gap. I’m not asking every business to publish everyone’s name along with their salary on a public forum. But wouldn’t it be a little bit easier to ensure that everyone was being paid equally, if there wasn’t a stigma on people when they actually talk about how much they’re paid?
This piece is published anonymously because it is not a critique on any one company or organisation.
Everyday Actions - what can I do?
Understand the definition of Equal Pay and the gender pay gap. This definition, courtesy of Campaign is very useful
The gender pay gap: key explanations
Any gender pay gap is a reflection of a form of inequality. Companies either do not have equality in more highly paid management or leadership positions, or they have unequal pay (where men and women are not paid the same for doing the same job – something that employers have a legal obligation to do). The third scenario is a combination of these two factors.
The gender pay gap is a measure of the difference between the average earnings of men and women across an organisation.
Equal pay refers to men and women in the same employment, performing equal work.
2. Visit this site for a full understanding of:
3. Use this government site to find the gender pay gap information for your company